Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education candidate closing statements & endorsements

October 31, 2013

Below are links to candidate closing statements and endorsements made by various publications and interest groups.

Candidate Closing Statements

District 1 – incumbent Brenda Muhammad and small business owner Leslie Grant

District 4 – incumbent Nancy Meister and film consultant Taryn Chilivis Bowman

District 5 – IT consultant Mary Louise Palmer, realtor Charles Lawrence, IT professional Raynard Johnson and small business owner Steven Lee

District 6 – attorney and educator Eshe’ Collins, educator and small business owner Dell Byrd, retired teacher Anne McKenzie and community activist Shawnna Hayes-Tavares

At Large 7 – incumbent Courtney English and education administrator Nisha Simama

At Large 8 – attorney Tom Tidwell, real estate developer Mark Riley, attorney Cynthia Briscoe Brown, incumbent Reuben McDaniel, III and concerned citizen Dave Walker

At Large 9 – attorney Jason Esteves, quality consultant Ed Johnson, small business owner Sean Norman and education consultant Lori James

Candidate Endorsements (links below are to Financial Deconstruction recaps of endorsements)

Creative Loafing – D-1 Leslie Grant, D-4 Nancy Meister (I), D-5 Mary Palmer, D-6 Eshe’ Collins, AL-7 Courtney English, AL-8 Reuben McDaniel (I) or Tom Tidwell and AL-9 Jason Esteves.

BuckheadView – D-4 Nancy Meister, AL-7 Nisha Simama, AL-8 Tom Tidwell or Cynthia Briscoe Brown and AL-9 Jason Esteves.

Buckhead Coalition (run by former Mayor Sam Massell) – D-1 Leslie Grant, D-2 Byron Amos (unopposed), D-3, Matt Westmoreland (unopposed), D-4 Taryn Bowman, D-5 Steve Lee, D-6    Eshe’ Collins, AL-7 Nisha Simama, AL-8 Mark Riley and AL-9 Jason Esteves.

Continue Atlanta’s Progress (Mayor Kasim Reed’s super PAC) – D-1 Brenda Muhammad (I), D-2 Byron Amos (unopposed), D-3 Matt Westmoreland (unopposed), D-5 Steven Lee, D-6 Eshe Collins, AL-7 Courtney English, AL-8 Reuben McDaniel (I) and AL-9 Jason Esteves.

Atlanta Federation of Teachers – D-1 Brenda Muhammad (I), D-2 Byron Amos (I) (unopposed), D-4 Taryn C. Bowman, D-5 Mary L. Palmer, D-6 Dr. Dell Byrd, AL-7 Nisha Simama, AL-8 Rueben McDaniel and AL-9 Dr. Lori James.

Atlanta Progressive News – D-1 Brenda Muhammad, D-4 Tyran Bowman, D-5 Raynard Johnson, D-6 Anne McKenzie, AL-7 Nisha Simama, AL-8 Cynthia Briscoe and AL-9 Ed Johnson.

The Network for Public Education (NYC based and led by Diane Ravitch) – D-5 Mary Palmer, AL-7 Nisha Simama, AL-8 Cynthia Briscoe Brown and AL-9 Ed Johnson.

Please note that the statements submitted by the candidates have not been edited or altered in any way other than minor formatting changes.


At Large 8 Board of Education candidate closing statements

October 31, 2013

Tom Tidwell

My name is Tom Tidwell and I am running for SEAT #8, Atlanta Board of Education. I am very excited about serving as your elected board representative. No one had to recruit me or talk me into running. I want to serve on your behalf. I believe in the power of education. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” To harness this power, however, we must first change the culture of APS. I am a “can do” person, and I will work tirelessly to change APS from a “you can’t” system to one where we can actually get things done.

We need someone who will take a leadership role on the Board and its committees, not someone who says “a school board can’t do this . . . this is a part-time civic work commitment.” A part-time effort leads to a 51% graduation rate.

I have two young children in public schools, a 4th grader at Brandon and a 6th grader at Sutton, so I am personally invested in our schools. You will always get 100% of my effort towards improving our public education.

Every candidate says they want to improve education, but I am the only one with a clear vision. We need to move beyond political platitudes such as “revolutionize our neighborhood schools” and “give every child everything they need to succeed.”

Please visit my website, ElectTidwell.com, and compare my positions on specific issues with other candidates.

A vote for Tom Tidwell, SEAT #8, is a vote for hard work and common sense leadership. To improve education, we need to lower class sizes and put an effective teacher in every classroom. To accomplish this, we need to dismantle the bloated bureaucracy created while Riley was on the board. We need to cut the administrative expenses per student in half and lower the admin/student ratio from 16.7 per thousand students to the national average of 4-5 per thousand. These changes will save approximately $20 million annually, allowing us to eliminate teacher furlough days and hire enough teachers to lower maximum class sizes.

Riley and McDaniel have been on the Board for a combined 12 years, and they accomplished NONE of the things they are campaigning on. We need a fresh start and a change of leadership. We cannot move forward and make positive change if we continue to re-elect politicians of the past rather than parents for the future. PLEASE VOTE FOR TOM TIDWELL, SEAT #8. 

Mark B. Riley

We are at a crossroads for Atlanta Public Schools. At a minimum, nearly half of the school board elected next Tuesday will be new. The first order of business facing that board will be hiring a new superintendent—probably the most important decision a school board makes. Together, the new board and superintendent will set the direction for our schools for the next decade. By electing a reform minded school board we will greatly increase our ability to recruit a high quality, reform minded superintendent.

I am a parent of two APS graduates and a small business owner. I also run a charitable foundation focused on improving and expanding educational opportunities for children in the Atlanta area. Through that work I have been exposed to innovative educational reforms that are sweeping the country. In addition, I previously served on the School Board from 2002-2009. I know the job and will not require any on the job training.

What does reform mean? Reform means supporting our traditional public schools by empowering our principals—our school leadership—to make the major decisions affecting our children. These major decisions center on teachers—can the principal determine who is in our classrooms teaching our children—on curriculum and on the resources necessary to properly give students what they need to excel. We need to cut down on unnecessary administrative overhead and micromanagement from downtown and put those resources and that decision-making authority in our neighborhood principals’ hands. Reform means embracing innovative charters and technologies to provide real opportunity for all of our children, regardless of in which neighborhood they happen to live. Reform means looking to other school systems in the country, and even abroad, and being willing to adopt the best-practices here in Atlanta.

For the past four years we have seen scandal, dysfunction and outright in-fighting by our school board. It is time to put our kids before politics. I will bring seasoned and collaborative leadership to our new board.

On Tuesday, we can choose to continue business as usual, or we can choose to be bold and innovative – to strike a new course for our school system and our children. I choose the latter. I hope you will join me.

Reuben McDaniel, III (I)

Over the past four years, I have been committed to identifying and solving problems for the Atlanta Public Schools Board after the previous 8 years of neglect.  The problems have been vast and the solutions difficult, but the foundation for tremendous change has been laid and now is the time to capture that change.

My competitors are naïve and narrow focused about the issues.  I am the only candidate in this race that has the proven track record and experience covering all areas of required expertise with a pulse on the entire city.  I am committed to continuing the work by bringing that expertise and learned knowledge to the next exciting chapter in the history of the Atlanta Public Schools, without going through a disruptive period of change.

Specifically, I am committed to:  1) Selecting the best Superintendent for the System. I have already been through this process and know how to effectively evaluate candidates to get the best for Atlanta. 2) I will continue to work on the budget and financial systems to create an effective, strategy driven financial control system.  Given how broken the financial control systems were, there is no a quick fix.  Looking at the solutions my competitors have proffered, it is clear they do not have the experience to even recognize the problems, let alone fix them. 3) Every child will have an effective teacher each day. I will lead the policy work to make sure this is a part of our system policy structure.  And, 4) I will continue the work on making the administrative functions strategy and customer focused (like the work on the Excellence Project for our Human Resources Department) so that the decisions about building teams and resource allocation for instruction can better be handled at the school level.

This election should not be about personal agendas. It should not be about outside influence. It should be about truly serving all the students of Atlanta.  I am the only candidate in this race who has a history working with our schools all over the City.  I understand the unique needs and sensitivities of each of our communities.   I have the skill set to balance the often competing needs of the different parts of our school community.

I respectfully request your support on November 5th.

Cynthia Briscoe Brown

As we come to the last few days of this campaign, strong differences between my opponents and me have emerged, which can be summed up in the question, “Whom do you serve?”  By word and deed, my opponents give a variety of answers: they serve political power, big business, the corporate education industry, and those who would segregate students by race, class or parental involvement level.  The two incumbents in this race got us into the mess we’re in.  Mark Riley rubber-stamped Beverly Hall’s financial incentives and culture of fear and dishonesty, then gave his Board seat to Reuben McDaniel to continue the tradition of dysfunction and divisiveness.

Building the school system we all deserve takes the right kind of experience and leadership.  I’ve spent the past several months as I have for 20 years, connecting with, listening to, and learning from concerned parents, teachers, principals, APS employees and citizens in every part of Atlanta.  I’m more than ever convinced that we can have healthy, successful community schools which meet the needs of every student and teacher.  We can have a strong Board which works together to move our children ahead, instead of furthering their own careers. We can have a Superintendent who works with us instead of against us.  We can have a school system which is the shining star of our great city instead of the millstone around its neck.

For the past twenty years I’ve been serving children, parents and teachers.  My journey to this moment is clear and my record speaks for itself.  As a parent, volunteer, leader, and advocate for all our children, I’ve lived the good, bad and ugly of APS.  I know where we’ve been, which is essential to knowing where we need to go and how to get there.  I’m committed to working together with all eight of my colleagues on the next Board to ensure that every child, in every corner of our city, gets the world-class education they deserve.

Dave Walker

[Mr. Walker did not submit a closing statement, however the one and only statement Mr. Walker has made in this campaign (as far as I am aware) is as follows:]

I am the agitator here. Agitators clean things…I have, witnessed the Atlanta School Board for 35 years and they have been failures ever since. Part of them can’t spell CRCT. And what do we have? The biggest scandal in education in the history of the country.

Why would any citizen send the same people back with the same result? That is the definition of insanity. Don’t do that! Send the protestor – me. Send the agitator – me. You have a washing machine at home – an old one? It agitates. It cleans. Don’t send these people back. I am the protestor. I am now leaving the building.

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Atlanta International School holds town hall meeting to review Board of Education candidate’s positions on the sale of the AIS property [Updated]

October 31, 2013

[Update – Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) provided her comments – see below]

The Atlanta International School (AIS) held a town hall meeting this morning to inform school parents which of the Board of Education candidates “embrace” what school representatives referred to as “the public/private partnership” between AIS and the Atlanta Public Schools.

As previously announced, the Atlanta Public Schools administration had negotiated the sale to AIS of the property that the private school currently occupies under a long-term lease. The sales price established was $8.4 million, approximately $6 million in cash and $2.4 million in consulting services to assist APS to establish an International Baccalaureate program, initially in the Maynard Jackson cluster. The negotiated sales transaction required approval by the Board of Education prior to consummation, however, when the transaction was proposed to the Board, opposition to the sale was raised primarily on economic grounds and the transaction was deferred.

AIS officials strongly believe that the proposed transaction is in the best interest of both AIS and APS and conducted candidate interviews to assess their positions on the proposed sale. While not specifically endorsing any candidates, AIS officials indicated that certain candidates were in favor of the sale transaction.

Both incumbent and BoE chair Reuben McDaniel (AL-8) and educator Lori James (AL-9) were present at the meeting and voiced their strong support for completing the transaction with AIS.

McDaniel made a brief presentation and answered questions from the audience. During his presentation McDaniel said, “The public/private partnership will start at Maynard Jackson High School and the IB program will provide the school with a cachet it does not have now…. The price seems reasonable and the economics of the transaction are fine with me.”

Additionally, McDaniel stated that he was strongly promoting the transaction to his colleagues on the Board and that they should move forward aggressively with the sale. McDaniel said, “It is not about economics, it is about creating a great public/private partnership.”

In her presentation, candidate Lori James (AL-9) said, “I got real excited about the partnership between APS and AIS…. You have my support 100%.”

However, several of the candidates that were not at the meeting and whom AIS claimed supported the transaction, stated they had either not formed an opinion on the sale or significantly qualified their support.

In a telephone interview, Taryn Bowman (D-4), stated that, while she supports “private/public partnerships” to enhance the community, she has never stated a position on the sale of the AIS property and would need to look closely at the transaction before reaching a conclusion.

Leslie Grant (D-1), stated that she supported “private/public partnerships”, but has not yet reached an opinion on the specific transaction under consideration and would need additional time to review it to make an informed decision.

In an email, incumbent Courtney English (AL-7) qualified his support and stated that more information was needed regarding any potential transaction. In addition, English stated,

“that his support for the transaction would be contingent upon; a valid and reliable appraisal of the property, a fair price for the property, community input from the broader community that provided the chance to iron out any differences that included; AIS, impacted communities, parents and the school district, the inclusion/replication of AIS’ dual language program in the package of in-kind services, and ultimately that this decision would be in the best interest of kids.”

English went on to say, “that none of these conditions currently exist and that he would not be supportive of the deal in its current form and any information to the contrary is incorrect.”

Update – Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) provided the following comment:

Despite AIS’ assertions that they “conducted candidate interviews,” not all candidates were given an opportunity to express their views. I would have appreciated the opportunity to listen and learn from this important group of stakeholders, and I look forward to working with them to resolve this issue in the best interests of all stakeholders.

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NYC based The Network for Public Education, led by Diane Ravitch, issues Atlanta Public School Board of Education endorsements

October 31, 2013

The Network for Public Education (NPE), which is led by NYU professor and former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, announced its endorsements for the Atlanta Public School Board of Education candidates. The group has endorsed Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8), Ed Johnson (AL-9), Mary Palmer (D-5) and Nisha Simama (AL-7).

Per the news release issued by NPE, the organization stated that,

“…we support candidates who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, the privatization of our public schools and the outsourcing of its core functions to for-profit corporations, and we will support candidates who work for evidence-based reforms that will improve our schools and the education of our nation’s children.”

The following is the organizations reasoning behind each of the endorsements made.

 …Cynthia Briscoe Brown has played an active role in the Atlanta school community for decades. As an attorney, Briscoe Brown has helped several APS schools to form their own nonprofit foundations. An Atlanta native, she stands for strong communities and believes that all of the stakeholders should play an active part in the education system.

 Ed Johnson … is known as a staunch advocate for public education. Recently, NPE President Diane Ravitch recognized Johnson because of his stance against the privatization of education and the over-testing of children.

…Mary Palmer has distinguished herself as an advocate for children and families through her work as a board member of the Atlanta Council of PTAs. A certified teacher with a degree in Computer Science, Palmer has devoted the last seven years to working with students and parents of the Atlanta Schools. She will use this experience to engage the community and collaborate with families.

[Nisha Simama, a]n educator with over thirty years of experience … possesses a broad understanding of the education system, having served as the Executive Director of the largest Head Start program in the state of Georgia as well as an Assistant Professor at Clark Atlanta University. She brings to the race a lifetime of service to children.

Brown, an attorney, is challenging current incumbent and Board of Education chairman Reuben McDaniel, attorney Tom Tidwell, real estate developer Mark Riley and community activist Dave Walker for the At Large 8 seat.

Johnson, a quality consultant, is running against attorney Jason Esteves, educator Lori James, small business owner Sean Norman and substitute teacher Eddie Lee Brewster for the At Large 9 seat.

Palmer, an IT consultant, is running against IT consultant Raynard Johnson, small business owner Steven Lee and realtor Charles Lawrence for the District 5 seat.

Simama, who currently serves as an administrator at the private school Paideia in Atlanta, is challenging current incumbent and former teacher Courtney English for the At Large 7 seat.

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Atlanta Public School Board of Education meeting delayed until after the election

October 30, 2013

Talk-Up APS reports that the November Board of Education meeting, that had been scheduled on the eve of the election, has been moved to the following Monday, November 11, 2013.

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Atlanta Public Schools announces members of the new Principal Advisory Council

October 30, 2013

By way of Talk-Up APS (see here), the Atlanta Public Schools announced the members of the new Principal Advisory Council that will attempt to improve communications between the superintendent and the school leaders. The Advisory Council is intended to address “various issues that affect the efficiency of school operations.”

The first meeting will be held today and then quarterly going forward.

Per the Talk-Up APS,

The Council will help drive the mission of the school district, to educate all students through academic excellence, preparing them for success in life, service and leadership, by serving the superintendent in an advisory capacity.

The Council is composed of 19 members – five from the East Cluster; four from each of the North, South and West Clusters, one from a non-traditional school and one from a charter school (KIPP). The members were initially nominated by their peers and the final selection was made by Superintendent Davis. See a complete list here.

The Principal’s Advisory Council was first proposed during the resolution of the recent mess at North Atlanta High School in which the principal – Dr. Taylor – initially resigned, was promoted (the promotion was rejected by the BoE) and subsequent rescission of his resignation. See here for a complete list of stories on the drama (scroll down to middle of post). At that time, Dr. Taylor wrote in a letter that he was frustrated by the bureaucracy in the APS downtown office (see letter here).

It will be interesting to see if this Council will actually be effective in changing how APS operates or if it is all for show. My sense is that if Talk-Up APS begins to publish action plans and the status of changes, the Council will be making progress. However, if all we hear in the future are meeting date announcements and no status on action plans, then it is likely that this was simply a “prop” to get beyond the NAHS crisis.

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Board of Education candidate Steven Lee’s (D-5) education credentials questioned again

October 30, 2013

WSBTV confronted Board of Education candidate Steven Lee (D-5) with questions (video at the link) regarding a Doctorate degree he received from an unaccredited institution that,

… was named in a class action lawsuit as operating a “fraudulent Internet scheme involving the alleged sale of sham high school diplomas and university degrees.”

This story was initially reported by the Atlanta Progressive News this past August (see link).

Per the new report by WSB Amy Napier Viteri,

Currently Lee doesn’t refer to himself as doctor or mention it in any of his campaign materials. But Viteri checked and found several organizations and websites where he is listed as Dr. Steven Lee with a degree from a school that’s involved in a lawsuit for selling fake degrees online.

Lee was not pleased by the line of questioning and said,

“I’m offended that you would actually sit here and have a conversation to me as though I’m trying to perpetrate a fraud,”…
Lee said he’s joined the lawsuit and was unaware at the time Belford was an unaccredited institution that provides degrees based on life experience.

Mr. Lee became aware that the school was not accredited 10 years ago, but appears to have allowed the use of the “Dr.” title by organizations he is affiliated with.

… But Viteri found several examples where Lee was listed as Dr. Steven Lee, including a 2010 city website listing him as a member of the zoning review board and a press release from 2012 mentioning Dr. Steve Lee as president of the MLK Drive Merchants Association.

Lee went on to defend his use of the title,

… I’ve earned that piece of paper,” …”When I took the classes there was no documentation showing that it was not legitimate. Lee said he no longer references the doctorate degree because he’s running based on his community work in the city of Atlanta. He also said he has transcripts to prove he did the coursework for degree he earned.

However, when Viteri attempted to question him further, Lee became defensive and “walked away”.

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