Round-Up of APS Headlines from this Past Week

November 30, 2013

Board of Education Election

Board of Education & Committee Meetings – None this past week

Other Atlanta Public School News

Non-APS News and Opinion of Interest

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28, 2013

We have much to be thankful for in this great nation. May your day be blessed with the gift of family, friends and the abundance that we are surrounded with.

Board of Education candidates for AL-9 run-off election answer APN’s questionnaire

November 25, 2013

Board of Education AL-9 candidates Jason Esteves and Lori James provided answers to the Atlanta Progressive News questionnaire. Esteves received 34.3% and James received 30.7% of the votes to qualify for the run-off election that will be held on December 3rd. The answers to the entire questionnaire can be found here.

Overall, the answers provided by the candidates are consistent with the answers they have been providing on the campaign trail over the last couple of months.

On their overall position on public charter schools, the candidates responded (excerpts),

ESTEVES: I support good public schools regardless of whether they are traditional or charter schools… the next school board has the opportunity to ensure our traditional schools become just as successful as our most successful charter schools by … attracting great teachers and principals, mobilizing parents and the community, supporting those stakeholders, and encouraging them to work together in the best interests of our children.

JAMES: I believe that there are great schools, both traditional, charter and private… Charter schools were originally conceived as innovative public schools, free from the bureaucracy of school districts and designed to nurture new effective educational models.… we need to implement current policies that allow current schools to eliminate some of the restrictions and bureaucracy that stifle creativity, independence, and local school control.

When asked if they had “any concerns about charter schools”, they responded (excerpts),

ESTEVES: I want to ensure that all of our public schools, including charter schools, are serving a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and special needs students. …  Our task as a Board will be to study the best practices of our most successful public schools and work to apply them to the traditional schools that are not giving students a great public school education.

JAMES: Yes my concerns have to do with: 1. The provision of services for students who have special needs, or other instructional, medical or behavioral concerns….2. Charter schools living up to the original concept of a charter school.

APN also asked if there were any circumstance that would lead the candidate to vote against a public charter school application. The candidates responded (responses in their entirety),

ESTEVES: There are three red flags that would disqualify any charter application.  I would not vote for a charter school application (1) where the application does not satisfy the requirements of the Office of Innovation; (2) where the parents in the surrounding neighborhood do not support the proposed school; or (3) where the proposed school does not offer parents in the surrounding neighborhood anything different from what APS currently offers.

JAMES: One circumstance that I would vote against a charter school would be if it did not meet the requirements, described and documented, by APS policy. I would have to look at other charter school applications on a case-by-case basis, paying attention to issues such as: the overall desire of the community; whether the school is able to provide services stated; whether it will meet the needs of the community/students; and the enrollment criteria.

Overall, my sense is that both candidates are comfortable with the public charter school approval process followed by APS and they would continue to rely on it. Additionally, both candidates acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned from good public charter schools and that these lessons should be applied to the traditional schools.

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Round-Up of APS Headlines from this Past Week

November 23, 2013

Board of Education Election

Board of Education – Runoff Candidates

Board of Education & Committee Meetings – None this past week

APS Cheating Scandal Trials

Other Atlanta Public School News

Non-APS News and Opinion of Interest

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Candidate forum – D-6 candidates Collins and Byrd face-off

November 22, 2013

Last night, SNAPPS held a forum for the eight candidates that are in the run-off election that will be held on December 3rd. Due to some candidate scheduling conflicts, the format was altered a bit and only the two candidates vying for the District 6 seat – Eshe’ Collins and Dell Byrd – were at the podium at the same time.

Candidates Lori James (AL-9) and Cynthia Briscoe Brown (AL-8) answered questions at the beginning of the program. Their opponents, Jason Esteves (AL-9) and Reuben McDaniel (I) (AL-8) answered questions at the end of the program.

As Collins and Byrd addressed questions at the same time and, were both given the opportunity to immediately follow-up on each other’s answers, their portion of the debate was very informational.

The following are some of the questions and extended excerpts of their answers.

Q1 – What would you recommend to increase the graduation rate across the City?

Byrd: ….the first thing I would recommend is that we take care of home. We take care of our community. We take care of our teachers and we increase parental involvement as best we can. But by improving our surroundings in our community I think that in terms of real estate, in terms of business in terms of civic organizations. All of those things contribute greatly to graduation rate going up if we improve what is going right in our front door.

Other things we can do to increase the graduation rate is to attract and keep good teachers. I was a teacher for 10 years in Fulton County Schools. I considered myself a great teacher, but the administration did not think so. So they did not keep the good teachers and it has been my experience as I watched teachers come and go through the system, the ones who seem to be the ones that cared the least were the ones who come around. The good teachers somehow, they got run away – like me – for whatever reason.

So what I am saying is this – take care of your faculty and staff. Attract good teachers, pay them well  and make sure you are taking care of them and everything else will fall into place – graduation and all – because with a community comes real estate, with real estate comes family and with family comes students.

Collins: … for our high school students, we have to give our students the motivation that is going to keep them moving forward and that is why I truly believe that building public and private partnerships will give our high school students the opportunity to develop themselves [and] graduate in four years.

…I think we always forget is to truly invest in early education. If we start investing in educating our children as early as possible, you invest in the family first and foremost and early on and you build the momentum for an entire life process. …we continue that process of supporting our classrooms and our great teachers. And with that, as our students continue to matriculate through the elementary schools and high school process, then we will see progress in our graduation rate.

Byrd follow-up: Although we know it is important that we catch the kids early, so often when I was teaching high school it is amazing how those kids slip through the cracks and are illiterate in high school. So my thing is that most importantly those ninth graders who are on the brink of  being in adulthood and middle school grades, we need to focus more on those kids to make  sure they make a smooth transition from middle to high school and put in place programs  that will keep them on track and focused so that they can go on to post graduation.

Collins follow-up: I firmly believe that if we start early we can actually build to the momentum that we need. So were talking about students slipping through the cracks, if we build the proper foundation as early as possible, then we won’t have to worry about our children slipping through the cracks… So when we talk about high school we can’t start at high school, we need to start years and years before that.

Q2 – If you had to vote right now on our system structure – IE2, system of charters, stand pat, etc. – what would you choose today?

Collins: You have to look at a multiple of things and multiple issues that we have now to properly decide what our operating system will be. So when we talk about school autonomy we need to look at what school system structure will actually gear towards allowing our local schools to have more autonomy. If I had to choose today, I would choose based on community input that we need to have about what would be best for our schools district and moving more towards school autonomy, I truly think a cluster of charters would be the prime choice…

Byrd: My choice would be – none of the above. Anyone of the [choices] would have pros and cons. But the beauty of public schools and the reason why I am a public school advocate is that public schools cannot choose – they have to take all students.

Collins follow-up: The fact is that we have to choose because of the state legislature. We do not have the option for “none of the above”. We have to choose the best operating system that will meet the needs of schools, support our teachers, embrace our local school traditions and build a public school system that is one of the best.

Byrd follow-up: Charter schools get to choose and they get the best. Public schools – we do not have a choice – we have to deal with what we are given. So why not take all of what we know and apply it to a better public education for all students. Because all students – no matter what your nationality, no matter what your socio-economic class is, they are going to need to be literate is we want America to be the America we want it to be.

Q3 – How would you deal with shrinking budgets and overcrowding in our cluster?

Byrd: I am not sure that I have the answer as to shrinking budgets and overcrowding in the cluster. But I will tell you this – you establish a team. You surround yourself with people who are experts in certain fields and you let them do their jobs. I do not think it is my job to balance the budget. I do not think it is my job to deal with the overcrowding per se. But as a Board member, all of us have that responsibility.

Collins: Tackling a balanced budget is one of the main jobs of a Board member… As a Board member, I will be looking to find ways to shrink cost in other areas – in other line items – to expand the opportunity to address the overcrowding in the classroom in the current cluster. What we do know is that our children learn more when the class ratio is as low as possible.

Byrd follow-up: What I mean when I said that I personally can’t do it is that we are a team – it takes nine members to make up a Board. Me alone – I have no power. But with a majority and like minds, of course we can address shrinking budgets and overcrowding. I don’t particularly care for clusters and that is a whole different category that I do not want to get into. But I will tell you that I am still a public school advocate… Public schools are not going anywhere. They need people like me to fight for their causes. So I stand firm with public schools.

Collins follow-up: I really find it hard to believe that you [referring to Byrd] do not support clusters if you are supporting the community…

The candidates then presented their closing statements that were consistent with prior statements made by the candidates.

Board of Education candidates in D-6 run-off election answer APN’s questionnaire

November 21, 2013

Board of Education candidates Eshe’ Collins and Dell Byrd, who are competing for the District 6 seat in the run-off election on December 3rd provided answers to the Atlanta Progressive News questionnaire. The questionnaire is the same one issued to candidates prior to the initial election in November and focuses on the Gang of Five issue and charter schools.

On the question regarding their positions on the Gang of Five issue, Byrd voiced her opposition to the actions taken by the Board as she believed it violated the Charter. Collins is more circumspect in her answer, but she states that “I would have done everything to get to the bottom of a scandal that robbed thousands of our children from their right to a quality education.”

The balance of the questionnaire relates to public charter schools. On their overall position, the candidates responded,

BYRD: I am for any and all education as long as its equal and equitable; however, I am a product and advocate of public education. [Response shown in its entirety]

COLLINS: Every parent wants a great education for their children.  I support all of our public schools and think that great public school choices should be available to all our kids. … [Collins also indicated that lessons learned from successful schools should be implemented across the District.]

When asked if they had “any concerns about charter schools”, Byrd responded (in its entirety),

One concern that I have with charter schools is the impact they will have on public schools by taking away students, and in turn, funding from public schools that are already doing without.

Byrd’s answer seems to ignore the fact that APS charter schools are public schools. Also, she only addresses the issue from the funding (or revenue) side. The piece that is missing, and that balances the equation, is that the traditional schools also no longer have the expense associated with the students that moves to a public charter school. The net impact on funding for students in the District resulting from the transfer of students traditional schools to public charter schools is at worst – zero. At best, due to the lower per student funding for public charter schools in APS, the impact is likely to result in additional funds available for traditional school students (unless the administration function retains the savings for itself).

To the same question, Collins responded (excerpt),

Whether it is through student admission process or parental involvement guidelines, charter schools must be held accountable for ensuring that admission is open to every child.

Their answers to the question posed represent a very clear distinction between them – Collins focuses on the equality of admission standards, while Byrd focuses on the misperception that public school charter funding is to the detriment of traditional public school funding.

On the question “Do you believe APS, or any district within APS, is already unduly oversaturated with charter schools?”, the candidates answered (both responses in their entirety),

BYRD: I cannot say for certain if APS schools are “unduly oversaturated” but, I have witnessed an increase in charter schools in the city of Atlanta recently.

COLLINS: Although, Atlanta has the most charter schools than any other district in the state, 13% of Atlanta Public Schools are charter schools. The district has worked diligently to maintain a fair and balanced approach to charter schools. However, improving the quality of our traditional schools must remain as our top priority.

Collins’ reference to 13% is correct, however, I would add that when calculated as percent of total student enrollment; public charter schools represent approximately 8.25% of students in APS. Beyond that, I will let the readers determine which answer is more informed.

APN also asked if there were any circumstance that would lead the candidate to vote against a public charter school application. The candidates responded (responses in their entirety),

BYRD: I will vote against a charter school application when it is the will of my constituents.

COLLINS: A charter school application would lack my support if, after careful review, does not meet the criteria set forth in the Board’s Policy on Charter Schools, which includes an innovative curriculum that drives high student achievement and a well-defined plan for addressing the needs (academic and non-academic) of students in need of remediation and students with disabilities, homeless and gifted students, as well as does not have the support of the community at-large.

Both answers indicate the candidates would look to the level of community support as a prime factor regarding their support for public charter school petition in the future. However, Collins expands beyond this and would also look to the extensive analysis and assessment made by the administration, which to-date has a pretty good track record in recommending approval of high quality public charter schools.

As everyone is aware, public charter schools are a “hot button” issue in this election and most of the candidates, including Collins and Byrd, seem to want to distance themselves from the controversial issue.

However, as voters, you must assess which of the candidates is more informed and thoughtful on the issue.

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Last night’s Board of Education candidate forum was a disorganized mess!

November 20, 2013

With little time before the upcoming run-off election on December 3, I eagerly looked forward to one of only two scheduled candidate forums. Last night, the Concerned Citizens Atlanta Public Schools (CCAPS) held the first one at Douglass High School.

What a disappointment – the forum was a disorganized mess and appeared to be more of a platform for the CCAPS leader to rant versus informing the community about the candidate’s views.

The two-hour forum started, as they all do, with an appeal to join the organization sponsoring the forum – but then it fell apart. The moderator started on a 20-25 minute rant on – actually I do not have a clue what her topics were – as they were far-ranging, fragmented and disjointed. It was so bad, that finally an audience member asked “To the audience, is anyone keeping up with the discussion? I came to hear the candidates.” To which the audience loudly agreed. Then, to top it off, the moderator gave herself a round of applause for her efforts and then finally turned to the candidates.

The candidates that appeared – including D-5 candidates Mary Palmer and Steven Lee, D-6 candidate Eshe’ Collins, AL-8 candidate Reuben McDaniel (I) and AL-9 candidates Lori James and Jason Esteves – were given an opportunity to give opening statements.

Then it got interesting – some of the audience members launched what appeared to be a coordinated attack on AL-9 candidate Jason Esteves. He handled himself well in dealing with a series of hostile questions. It was also interesting to note that the moderator made absolutely no effort to balance out the questions between opposing candidates and Lori James (AL-9) was not subjected to any line of questions regarding her experience and background.

Eshe’ Collins (D-6) expanded on her background and experience as a teacher, lawyer and current early education program director at GA State with responsibility for budgets, administration and successful outcomes. Her opponent, Dell Byrd (D-6) did not attend the forum.

Mary Palmer (D-5) discussed her background as an IT professional, her current work as an education coach working with student athletes in APS and then expanded on her connections into the community and her activist role on behalf of the students and parents in the District.

Palmer’s opponent, Steven Lee, arrived late to the forum and gave an opening statement that was focused on his leadership positions in two non-profit organizations and his work with students that had dropped out of school. However, and to the apparent surprise of the audience, Lee then immediately left the forum and was unavailable to answer questions.

Reuben McDaniel (I) arrived late and gave his  opening statement that included his three objectives for a next term – to ensure every third grader is reading proficiently, to establish a hook to retain every middle school student and to provide every high school student a mentor that helps them transition from school to the workplace. McDaniel was not asked any further questions. His opponent, Cynthia Briscoe Brown did not attend the forum.

To wrap up the forum, there was one more unusual twist. Ed Johnson and Charles Lawrence – both candidates that were not successful in the election – were given an opportunity to address the audience. Both candidates graciously thanked their supporters and indicated that they would continue their efforts towards reforming the school system.

There will be another candidate forum on Thursday, November 21 at 6 p.m. at Cascade Elementary School.  Given the importance of the upcoming run-off election on December 3, we can only hope that the forum will solely focus on the candidate’s views.

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