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.