Q. Why are you running for school board? What are your qualifications for this office? What ideas are you bringing to the table as a school board candidate?
A. “I am running for school board because I have been keeping a close eye on CCSD policies for many years and have been at times impressed and other times appalled by the decisions made by the board. Over the years, I think the budget that the board has approved has had some sound reasoning and justification. Early childhood education has consistently been funded and supported, along with school-based initiatives aimed at interventions for both learning and behavioral issues. I have also found the partnerships that CCSD has forged to support student learning over the years (AACF, Envision Athens, ExperienceUGA to name a few), have led to some positive outcomes. For more specific examples, The Athens Community Career Academy, established in 2011, and working with local restaurant entrepreneurs to enhance community gardens, family and consumer sciences, and school lunches are both relatively recent endeavors that have had a noteworthy impact in the community.
On the other hand, the achievement gaps that continue to widen, despite heavy investments in testing, packaged curricula, and personnel, persist in our county. Improving educational outcomes for students in historically marginalized communities will require creative policy initiatives and community trust, not a single program or a savior equipped with pedigree or credentials. Additionally, heavy investment and follow-through in programs that provide a holistic approach to education are needed, rather than testing.
Having grown up in Athens-Clarke County, I attended elementary, middle, high school, and ultimately UGA. I have a personal interest in seeing CCSD thrive. I now have three children, my oldest is in Clarke Central and my younger two will soon be in Timothy Road. I have a personal investment in CCSD through my children’s education. Professionally, I spent several years working under a rural demographer, where I assisted with many community assessments, the Georgia County Guide, and feasibility studies for both governmental and non-profit organizations. I have a solid grasp of data interpretation/analysis, and how it can facilitate in sound decision-making when used appropriately. I also have a degree in public health and worked in health policy and management. Having managed federal grants, I understand the limitations and reporting criteria of federal funding. And having now spent many years in educational administration, I also received my doctorate from the UGA Institute of Higher Education in 2017, I understand educational policy. I understand the barriers that exist in decision making, but the possibilities that can open up with creativity and bravery. I’d love to be a part of the conversations that may lead to bridging the trust in our community and making further strides in reducing the inequities in our system.”
Q. What is your vision for public education in Athens-Clarke County? When you allow yourself to dream big about what education can look like in our community, what images, values and commitments do you envision? What part do you believe the school board can play in advancing these visionary aims?
A: “If I could dream big, I would see a shift in our investment move towards a comprehensive, fully funded, 25-year outcomes based early education infrastructure, funded by CCSD for at least the same number of years. We in the CCSD community talk about the glaring achievement gap between white students and students of color. If we are to adequately address these issues, an intense and more rigorous focus needs to go into early childhood education, preferably injecting substantially more federal dollars into Early Head Start/Head Start Programs, increasing the eligibility criteria and infrastructure to support early head start and increase access to all children for Head Start. This would fall in tandem with increase in earmarked dollars from the CCSD general funds, and a more solid investment from the state with regard to better access to PreK lottery funding (Bright from the Start), which is currently around $3.5M, and dwarfs in comparison to state HOPE funding to institutions of higher education. State higher education funding, at the pace and rigor that we’ve seen over the past 20+ years, has achieved astounding economic outcomes for Georgia. The same can absolutely hold true for early childhood education. Four years sooner/Four years later, would be my goal. This program would include increased funding, operation, and capacity for birth-2-years, and guaranteed access for every student in CCSD from 2-6, with a year-5 evaluation at entry point into CCSD elementary schools, and continuous evaluations through senior year. This could potentially alleviate some of the lag that many children without access to the same resources in early childhood have when they enter public schools. A lag that widens with each year of schooling. The 25-year earmark for funding would give the program substantial time to develop, mature, and add evidence-based educational practices at intervals. And most importantly, a 25-year investment provides adequate time for us to see the true outcomes of a real investment in creative policy implementation. Through partnerships and a consortium of stakeholders and community leaders, putting the same efforts into the first 4 years of education that we put into higher education for a select few, would give this community a real opportunity at seeing what a long-term high stakes investment in our district could do to mitigate the generations of social inequality that produce the educational outcomes we continue to argue about today.
The BOE would participate in this effort by being the policy arm of the initiative, and enveloping this program into the other daily responsibilities of the board.
I would also like to see the BOE entertain a partnership with UGA for the Early College Initiative. This would closely resemble the Early College Program that currently operates between Georgia State University and Atlanta Public Schools, and would increase opportunities for students to enroll at UGA who would typically not under the traditional dual enrollment programs.”
Q. What do you believe is the role and responsibility of the school board in interfacing with the superintendent? With teachers and school administrators? Students and parents? The broader Athens community?
A: “I’ve given this a lot of thought, with the recent fallout between the Board and the previous superintendent. I also see and experience this type of leadership dynamic here at UGA. I firmly believe that there is a system of checks and balances that exists between any leader and the appointed governing board. The check happens at the point of contract negotiation and approval and the balance comes at the point of evaluation and contract renewal. This is why it is crucial to continuously monitor and assess leadership through an objective lens, and let the leader’s strategic plan play out until the point that you are then appropriately positioned to evaluate, renegotiate and renew (or terminate). If the strategic plan, and multiple levels of assessment do not meet the board’s standards, then both parties can walk away. What I do not support is micromanaging and bullying. At the point of evaluation, it is the board’s responsibility to adequately evaluate and have a consensus on how to move forward with regard to leadership. The board fracturing, in-fighting, and ultimately sowing discord in the larger community should be an indication that it is time to pause and reflect. Should a board wish to have more authority over the daily functions of the district, then there should be more concerted efforts to rewrite the bylaws that govern that board.
Having said that, I also believe that the board should provide oversight of the experiences, morale and personnel matters of the district’s staff and educators. This can reflect in the spending initiatives, policy approvals, and personnel management that the board has the authority to oversee. In the event that morale is low across the district and there is massive hemorrhaging of qualified staff, the board should do everything in its power to empower the staff. The board, when it is all said and done, should do what is in the interest of the children, which will almost always mean siding with the educators, and supporting policies that give them autonomy in their classrooms, continuing education and professional learning experiences than enhance their pedagogy in the classroom, and a voice in the decision making process. With regard to students and parents, my responsibility as a board member, is to represent the needs of the constituents in my district; thus, my opinions and thoughts on any matter presented to the board are second to the wants and needs of my constituents. I will listen to the experiences of my constituents, and seek to support those policies that will most benefit students in district 6. With regard to the broader Athens community, I would like to increase my civic engagement and broaden my relationships with community, advocates, leaders, and small business owners. Everyone plays a part in the lives of children in this city and it will be my goal to engage with the community more than I have been able to in recent years due to family obligations.”
Q: What will you do to foster a climate of trust, transparency, and accountability among the superintendent, fellow school board members, teachers and the community?
economic security of, and ensure the equal treatment of Athenians of color; especially black Athenians who continue to be most targeted by past and present systems of oppression?
A: “I will never demand that any district leader, fellow board member, teacher, or community member meet with me or listen to my opinions, against their wishes or better judgment. That is not the job of the board. The BOE is a policy-making body and as such acts as a liaison between all parties, not as the district’s representative. If there is a concern from any of the parties listed, BOE members are to first, determine which stakeholder is responsible for the issue and take that issue directly to that stakeholder; and second, determine which policies may best align with addressing the issue. As a BOE member, it is completely inappropriate to personally address issues or try to speak on behalf of the membership. The correct course of action is to take the issue to the appropriate administrator, or Board President for discussion as a body. Following the rules that are outlined in the board’s policy manual is an absolute priority for fostering trust, transparency, and accountability.
Further, I will be public and clear on my positions, I will not create allies that determine my voting patterns, and I will always communicate with leaders, members, teachers, and the community clearly about where I stand on any position, decision, or vote. I have various modes of communication, including a website, where I hope to maintain dialogue with community members throughout my term, to better understand their needs and vote on their behalf. With regard to accountability, I will try to keep a consistent message that I advocate for equity in our school system, throughout my term. That is the best I can do, and hopefully, in the next term I will have an opponent who may challenge me on the decisions I have made, and then we will let the voters have the final judgment.”
Q. Education researcher Dr. Bettina Love writes about the importance of acknowledging and teaching about racial violence, racism, resistance and social change in order to transform a fundamentally unjust education system. In CCSD, students face stark racial disparities in discipline practices, CCSD schools struggle to recruit teachers of color and nearly 30 percent of children in Clarke County live in poverty. What role do you see yourself having as a school board member in talking about and redressing racism and poverty in our local education system?
A: “In a perfect world, all levels of CCSD curricula would include all of these topics more robustly as a matter of educational priority. The reasons we have political apathy in our youth has a connection to a failure in adequately teaching every single student about their own place in the fabric of this country, no matter how complicated, ugly, and divisive it may seem. In a more perfect world, our public schools would be equally and adequately funded across all geographic census tracts, and we would begin to see some of the historic housing, voting, and economic inequities wash out, as opportunity for improvements on everything from facilities, to technologies, extracurricular activities, to hiring/compensation would become more achievable.
What we have the power to do today is try to empower our educators, build morale, and enact policies that mitigate these inequities in access and opportunity. An example, if it helps, is the district’s budget, which per-capita is around $14,000/student annually. Currently, administrative costs, consulting fees, and other expenses not directly related to children’s classroom experiences, account for a bigger chunk of that $14,000 than I think necessary. Every dollar that is used for anything other than the daily activities of teachers and students needs to be closely scrutinized and eliminated, where possible. Moreover, rather than blaming parents for their ‘lack of involvement’ of ‘failure in investing’ in their children’s education, we need to focus more time on creating supportive programs and economic opportunities to CCSD students so that they have positive experiences that will transfer into the way they engage with the district when they become parents. To end the cycle of systemic racism, bias, and mitigate the effects of poverty, the BOE should prioritize and support those programs and policies that most directly affect the everyday lives of the students most impacted by these issues, without reservation or apology.”
Q. Some students face difficulties getting access to online materials during non-school hours, particularly necessary wi-fi access for e-textbooks and online school assignments. As a school board member, what would you do to make sure each and every student has access to the tools necessary to be successful in their education?
A: “We need to support policies and funding fpr wireless access to every single CCSD student. Period. This couldn’t be more clear and evident as a BOE priority than it is with the COVID-19 Pandemic. This should actually be a priority for the ACC Mayor and Commission as well. The entire ACC community should have access to reliable hi-speed internet. If this Pandemic hasn’t made the case to invest immediately in fixing this disparity, then we are not learning from our mistakes.”
Q. What is your opinion on the number of school resource officers in the schools? What do you think their role there should be?
A: “The CCSD 2020 Budget outlines an agreement between ACCPD and CCSD for five sworn officers to provide services to 24 sites, and an additional six SROs assigned to the 4 middle schools and 2 high schools. The SROs cost $325,000/year, which is paid directly to the ACC Unified Government. The 2020 Budget added an additional $100,000 for an Assistant Chief of Police, bolstering the CCSDPD personnel and presence in the schools. They list a series of strategic reasons for this number, and I do not have enough knowledge of the disciplinary issues that plague the schools to determine their past effectiveness. What I do know is that we need more social workers, nurses, counselors, and funding for initiatives that could potentially provide the same listed outcomes that are a justification for 2020 increase in CCSDPD personnel. If I were to make a call on the need, I would question both the number and the cost to the district. I would argue to shift the $325,000 to Social Emotional Staff and an increased investment in the arts.”