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.
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.