Oct 24, 2023 - Education

APS board candidates on the biggest challenges for schools

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The Atlanta races on next month's Nov. 7 ballot will determine who gets elected to five different school board seats

To help voters, Axios Atlanta asked the candidates a question:

  • What's the most important issue facing Atlanta's schools today, and how, specifically, will you address it?

The following responses were edited for length.

DISTRICT 1 (includes Grant Park, South Atlanta and Benteen Park):

Katie Howard (incumbent): The first-term board member is running unopposed, and she says APS lacks the focus and support needed to address the district's low literacy rates.

  • Howard plans to work with her colleagues to set and monitor narrowly defined goals that will hold the superintendent accountable for implementing effective strategies.

DISTRICT 3 (includes Morningside, Virginia-Highland, East Lake):

Ken Zeff: The former Fulton County Schools superintendent says APS' inability to hang on to a superintendent — it's had four in the past five years — is "a revolving door that is costly for taxpayers, and it takes away our focus from student achievement."

  • Zeff says the school board and superintendent must agree on a "common strategy around literacy" and empowering school communities.

Michelle Olympiadis (incumbent): No response.

DISTRICT 5 (includes Collier Heights, Adamsville, Grove Park):

Erika Mitchell (incumbent): Mitchell has held her board seat since 2018. She says the inequality in funding, academic achievement gaps, and disciplinary disparities is APS' greatest challenge.

  • Mitchell wants to increase funding for schools in low-income communities to provide programs for low-income families and teachers to reduce disciplinary disparities.

Raynard Johnson: This software development project manager wants to address the illiteracy rate by offering free after-school literacy tutoring programs for APS students at the city's recreation centers.

  • He wants to staff these programs with education majors at local colleges to help those students fulfill their student-teacher classroom hours for their degrees.

DISTRICT 7 (At-large, or citywide, seat):

William Sardin: The registered nurse told Axios the district needs to hike teacher salaries and increase support staff to retain teachers.

  • "[O]ne of the main drivers of dissatisfaction is pay. The other issue is the challenge faced by teachers and staff concerning leadership asking more and more with less and less support."

Tamara Jones (incumbent): The first-term board member says APS' "illiteracy crisis disproportionately affects" Black students, English language learners, and children in poverty.

  • Jones says APS needs to invest funds into materials "supported by scientific consensus of how young brains learn to read."

Alfred "Shivy" Brooks: The high school teacher told Axios that frequent turnover in the superintendent's office has destabilized APS.

  • Addressing the problem requires "vision alignment, clear expectations, comprehensive selection processes, onboarding, performance evaluation, community engagement, and long-term planning."

DISTRICT 9 (At-large, or citywide, seat):

Jessica Johnson (incumbent): The executive director of an educational nonprofit says she will address poor literacy skills with "evidence-based literacy programs" and give teachers specialized training.

  • She will also advocate for more funding to provide "science of reading" resources and literacy coaches at each school.

Nkoyo Effiong Lewis: The consultant and lawyer says APS needs to improve its accountability. Doing so, she told Axios, requires setting expectations and "data-driven decision-making."

  • She'd also push for increased transparency in how the superintendent and district operate and involve parents, guardians and community members in its work.

The bottom line: Find your polling place, and print a sample ballot at the Georgia secretary of state's My Voter Page.

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