A fair shot at the American Dream depends on access to an excellent education. While APS have made significant strides recently, Atlanta is currently one of the most inequitable, least socially mobile cities in America, and this is partially due to our chronically failing schools.
But I believe that with high-quality early learning programs, strong leadership, teacher support, and resources--dedicated communities of students, families, and educators can transform students’ lives and propel them toward an opportunity-rich life. I know this because I live it.
As a teacher at KIPP STRIVE Primary (KSP) school, I work toward this vision with students each day. KSP is just one of many schools, both traditional and charter, that are creating transformational outcomes for students in Atlanta. These students are gaining the academic and social skills they need to successfully navigate the path to and through college, but many students in APS do not.
District 3 contains a diverse mix of schools with an even more diverse set of challenges ranging from school closures and underenrollment to annexations and overcrowding. Our district needs an experienced educator and leader who knows firsthand how policies made in the boardroom affect our children in the classroom.
Teacher and School Leader Recruitment, Training, and Retention: To ensure we have the best classrooms, we must start by having our best teachers. Teacher turnover is a not a problem unique to APS (47% of all Georgia teachers leave their schools within five years), and we must create a system of recruitment and retention by taking a close look at our incentives to keep our best teachers at APS. I will make sure that APS executes a talent strategy plan that provides meaningful professional development to returning teachers and grows new teachers who are eager to drive student achievement. We should bring in the voices of our best teachers as we examine our efforts to recruit new teachers and retain our high performing educators.
Expanding Early Learning Programs: Cities and localities around the country are expanding access to early learning programs because they know a rigorous educational experience before kindergarten can dramatically improve a child’s learning outcomes. But access to this pre-k is uneven and not uniformly accessible in our district. We must fix this by creating public and private partnerships that will fund pre-k programs so underserved communities can access high quality early learning. I will make sure the board prioritizes funding so we can expand access to pre-k, which I will do by creating and maintaining external partnerships.
Two of the most significant challenges to quality public education include:
A. Lack of consistent high-quality instruction in many schools across the district
B. Lack of early learning programs
I plan to address these challenges through teacher and school leader recruitment, training, and retention; expanded access to early learning programs; as well as increased local control and autonomy through continued support of our GO teams.
We must support the empowerment of APS GO Teams for budget decisions and school board policy recommendations. The needs of our schools vary greatly, and those closest to the issues should be empowered to address them. I will work to leverage our local governance teams by creating a more comprehensive structure of collaboration; a chain-of-command that ensures we hear the team’s ideas well before policy comes before the board for a vote. We must also train GO Team members in the intricacies of the board so they are prepared to serve and be most effective in this role.
The best way to drive student achievement is to make sure we are reaching kids from birth to age five. By age 3, children from low-income families have heard approximately 30 million fewer words than children from more affluent families. It’s unacceptable. Accordingly, one of my top priorities as a school board member is to make sure that access to Pre-K is truly universal. I would work closely with the city council and mayor’s office to do this because it’s imperative that students have the strongest foundation possible. But across the education continuum, we have to continue to implement policies that are grounded in research. The most important driver of student achievement is a high-quality teacher. We have to make sure we are attracting, retaining, and training high-quality teachers; providing a rigorous curriculum that truly prepares students for college; and ensuring that school leaders are setting high expectations and holding students to them.
During the past 11 years I have served in multiple leadership roles within East Atlanta, the larger NPU and our Cluster. I am currently fulfilling my second stint as President of the East Atlanta Community Association while also chairing the Education Committee. Desiring to work towards a more diverse and accepting community while promoting a better quality of life for all, my passion was directed toward our local elementary school. Serving as the Local School Council Chair at Burgess-Peterson Academy for three years prior to APS transitioning to a Charter System, I was then elected as the current Governance Team Chair and Cluster Advisory Team rep. Additionally, I served in Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools and currently chair the NPU-W Education Committee. As a committed community member and APS parent involved in the Charter System governance platform, my roles have already given me the opportunity to participate in the larger discussion around equity and academic success.
Early Childhood Education – Universal birth-pre k allows for the proactive use of dollars for the greatest impact on achievement as we improve elementary readiness. Partnering with board members that are like-minded while bringing partners to the table, we will build consensus and support.
Local Governance – Through sincere training APS can work to build a stronger and more productive voice within each of our schools. Teachers, principals, parents and community members can quickly make specific changes to impact the educational equity of their individual students. Using my experience at the local level as well as my current relationships within APS, we will continue to drive increased training and peer-to-peer mentoring in order to build trust within our system.
Equity and Generational Poverty
Through focusing on early childhood education with a universal birth to pre k program, we can reach more families and more children at an earlier age. By building capacity within our Governance Teams (GO Teams) through worthwhile training, relationship building in and outside of our clusters and peer to peer mentoring partnerships, we can produce strong, informed and involved teams in an environment where decisions related to student achievement and equity come from the bottom up while trustfully supported from the top down. Finally, by electing public servants across the city (mayor, city council and board of education) that truly believe that in order to acquire the equity we all want, the diversity we all need and the city we all deserve, we can focus on the root of our society…our schools.
Holistic Community School Model
To create equity it cannot only be about the academic needs of students, we must focus on the whole child. This holistic approach brings together teachers, administrators, counselors, students, parents & the community to produce a comprehensive plan for raising student outcomes. Collaboratively working together to address the challenges specific to problems associated with generational poverty we must focus in and outside of the school.
The 5H Holistic Framework (5HHF) consists of five protective areas; Head (cognitive development), Heart (social emotional), Hands (safety), Health(physical/mental), Home (family/community). By working together on all five areas the impact can be significant.
National Youth-At-Risk Journal, Spring, 2017
Educating Students in Poverty: Building Equity & Capacity with a Holistic Framework & Community School Model
Dan W. Rea, Georgia & Cordelia D. Zinskie, Georgia Southern University
APS took the right steps in developing the current Turnaround Plan as this creates additional layers of support and resources based on the needs of the targeted schools by giving flexibility to the individual school leaders to pick from a menu of intervention and enrichment items such as extended day, additional math/reading specialists, high impact tutoring, intervention blocks and vacation academies.
Universal birth to pre k Early Childhood Education
Having spoken about it above, I will reiterate that proactively spending our time, energy and dollars during these years will have the greatest impact on creating equity within our city by better preparing all our children.
Somewhere along the way we as a society have lost sight of the importance of vocational education. We have become enamored with a four year college degree, and we need to be reminded that one path is not better or worse, but rather two different paths for student achievement.
An APS parent since 2007 with three children - one each in high school, middle school and elementary school, along with my experiences at the state and local levels of education and leadership roles in Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) at the local, council and district levels, as well as, service on local governance teams, state, district, and cluster advisory panels and committees positions me as the longest, most engaged and active candidate. From the time I was a preschool room parent, I have been engaged as an active parent, volunteer, and leader to support schools and great experiences for students. My work experience includes marketing positions with The Coca-Cola Company and Wachovia Bank as well as service with the Consulate General of France in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Atlanta Public School budget process should annually review where it can allocate more flexibility in funding to support strategic waivers at the district, cluster, and school levels which will increase student performance, support and enhance student experience. We must continue to question where dollars are being budgeted so that we can move more dollars directly into our schoolhouses to support wrap-around services and enrichment.
This is not a priority driven by policy, however, a priority for every child to have the potential to succeed in education and life. The Board of Education and Superintendent must work with the Mayor and City Council to provide universal (birth to pre-K) options to all our communities offering both free and affordable programs. These centers must have the highest quality of educational and enrichment resources available if we are sincere in our efforts to level the playing field for all children entering Kindergarten.
Wrap Around Services - Many times there are circumstances outside of the schoolhouse that impact children, families and communities. We need to understand the deficits facing communities and get them addressed. The solutions will vary but can be solved through reallocated budget dollars and partnerships to ensure that needs are being met such as adequate healthcare, mental health services, additional tutoring, additional enrichment, safe affordable housing, adequate food, and birth to preschool education.
Invest in People - In the schoolhouse we must find and cultivate strong leaders and mentors. We must invest in professional development and encourage continuous improvement in methodologies and the art of teaching. We must manage students who need additional services by understanding the workload as opposed to the caseload - meaning no longer assigning a number of students to an educator and/or service provider, but understanding the hours involved in servicing the student.
Waivers from the state is the best educational reform to support the district. We know the benefits of public and private partnerships, the positive results of providing birth to preschool education, offering Saturday school, an extended calendar and school day, the benefits of extra recess and the options of various extracurricular activities, the requirements of family engagement, and the power a community can have in driving the direction of its school with strong leadership and flexibility. As a charter system, the ability for clusters to ideate and innovate on an educational framework which works best for its community, will leverage the educational reform/s needed. By allowing communities the flexibility to define expectations and deliverables with the BOE and district making it a priority to provide the resources and supports necessary for success, we will see new processes evolve and yield the excellence we know can be achieved for all students.
By supporting the charter system with its ability to apply for waivers from the state to enhance innovation and "best practices," and with the implementation of local governance teams which develop the strategic plan of the school and understand the needs and wants of the community, along with the cluster advisory teams which work on the educational framework of the cluster and K-12 vertical and horizontal alignments, we can address student achievement and increase graduation rates.
This structure supported by driving budget dollars into schoolhouses; ensuring universal preschool so that all children are "Kindergarten Ready" day one; rich options in CTAE - Career, Technical and Agricultural Education - coupled with dual enrollment in vocation, technical and 4-year colleges; a focus on continuos improvement and professional development in strong school leaders and teachers; and a well-developed plan in educational and instructional technology, will support growth in both.
I have experience helping people solve problems through evidence-based approaches and policy advocacy. I work with the effects of limited education and the impacts of policy every day. Good policy meets the demands of real-world situations. I bring public health training and research experience interpreting data to make policy that governs the education of our children and meets the needs of our school system. I am able to design studies and interpret results to answer critical questions for new data to make good policies. In an information age, data impacts every aspect of our lives including policy. I also offer experience gauging policy impacts and engaging policymakers.
I am motivated to serve on the school board because I am a parent and proud resident of Atlanta. My children attend APS and I am invested in our city. Hence, I offer my training and experience to benefit our school system. As a physician, my professional experience and training makes me unique among school board candidates. I am able to approach problems at the individual and population level. Well-formed policy begins with qualified policy-makers. The involvement of my expertise in policy decisions would be an asset to our school system.
If our children succeed, then our city succeeds. We must improve public education outcomes for our children and city. I seek to partner with EACH OF YOU to educate for success with evidence-based policy, community partnerships, and engaged people.
We face a critical challenge to return value to public education. If elected, my top priorities would be unequal education outcomes within our district and education funding. Atlanta Public Schools spends nearly double the amount per student as other districts in the state but has worse performance and unequal outcomes. Our system has received has received a grade of D since 2014 and 41% of graduates are prepared for college. Compared to state outcomes, APS has worse end-of course performance, lower graduation rates, and higher dropout rates for grades 7 to 12. Some schools have single digit graduation rates. Shifting policies that govern our school system is necessary to achieve high-quality and equal education outcomes that will prepare our children for productive adult lives and serve as a foundation upon which our city can thrive.
My top policy priorities require reducing education differences and increasing the impact of existing programs while reducing non-essential spending for fiscal responsibility. Reducing education differences can be accomplished by: 1) evaluating programs for effectiveness, 2) developing models to capture social barriers to achievement within clusters and communities, and 3) increasing cultural competence to narrow achievement gaps. It is also important to leverage industry and businesses to invest in Atlanta by funding education and community initiatives to lessen the reliance of education funding on the property tax structure.
Significant challenges to quality public education are unequal outcomes and retaining quality teachers. Despite a budget of $777 million that is more than the budget for Atlanta, APS was graded at D based on CCRPI scores from 2014 to 2016. A difference in education outcomes and financial investment undermines the value of public education.
Identifying factors that limit quality education, addressing those factors, and achieving spending efficiency is necessary. The first step is stakeholder engagement to create an environmental framework and intervention model for education barriers. Evidence-based approaches can be adapted to meet local needs. Collaborative agreements with the business community can fund education programs and offset property tax dependency for education funding. This can also stabilize communities and promote long-term education investments.
Recruiting qualified teachers may be accomplished by: 1) recruiting local teachers with community ties and investment in Atlanta; 2) professional development using data to enhance education; 3) external funding of curriculum innovation and grant-writing instruction by higher-education experts; and 4) better compensation and changing the APS work culture.
The school system must educate our children and maintain fiscal responsibility without sacrificing quality. Fiscal responsibility requires budget review for non-essential spending and review of the APS portfolio to meet short-term needs and long-term growth.
Educational reform ideas are promising when used in the proper context. Leadership with expertise in data evaluation is essential for reform. Policy is driven by problems and data can guide its development. Outcomes from data depends on the experience of policy-makers working with it. Leaders who are skilled in data evaluation compel good policy, program success, and program adjustments to changes. Poor policy decisions have lasting impacts that are seeded into society with each graduating high school class. School boards are sometimes sought by people with goals of higher office. However, once their service is complete, policy impacts on learners and communities remain. A promising area of education reform in our school system is improving legacies left to our learners by school leaders.
Successful education reform requires oversight by proficient leadership. Policy-makers that are proficient with data evaluation can discern its ability to meet barriers among constituents. Electing school boards that are capable of solving problems with data and good policy is essential for lasting educational reform.
Schoolhouse leaders that are proficient with data evaluation can impact education outcomes and identify problem areas. Academic and social data can comprehensively assess struggling learners. Solutions can then be designed for improvement before testing such as EOC and Milestones. Leadership development or pipeline programs can also achieve lasting educational reform.
I support the creation of intervention models established from environmental frameworks that reflect social factors for learners and communities, school system factors, and the effects of existing policy to determine achievement barriers for students. The coupling of programs such as the Effective Teacher Initiative, Family Engagement, and Social Emotional Learning with environmental frameworks and program evaluation measures can improve student achievement and education outcomes such as graduation rates with parity across local schools within the district.
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