Candidates for the Atlanta Public School Board's District 2 seat officially presented themselves to the public at two forums this week organized to assist voters in the November 8 special election to fill the seat vacated by former board President Khaatim Sherrer El.
Lindsey Street Baptist Church, 550 Lindsey St., hosted the first forum in its sanctuary on Sept. 15. Four of the five candidates—Byron Amos, Angela Brown, Dwanda Farmer, and Michael Jeter—participated (Donald Walker, a diabetic, was ill and unable to attend.) The candidates at that event answered a range of questions about their ideas for reform as well as strategies for increasing student graduation rates and test scores.
On Monday, Sept. 19, all five candidates attended the second forum, hosted by Southwest and Northwest Atlanta Parents and Partners for Schools (SNAPPS) at Brown Middle School. As the audience listened to the candidates' responses and observed their demeanor, SNAPPS President Shawna Hayes-Tavares urged those attending to “make sure you vote your conscious, but also on the issues.”
Hayes-Tavares asked each candidate to sign a Board Commitment letter, pledging to (1) serve the interest of the district, (2) hold quarterly town hall meetings, (3) visit each school in the district, (4) join all PTAs in the district, (5) attend one Local School Council meeting at every school, and (5) attend SNAPPS meetings in the district.
Byron Amos, Dwanda Farmer, and Donald Walker singed the commitment pledges. Michael Jeter told Hayes-Tavares to take his word that he would be a committed representative for District 2, and Angela Brown said that she needed to review the commitment before signing it.
Below are some questions and candidate responses from the forums.
What is the responsibility of a board member?
Byron Amos: 1) Primarily to listen to the electorate and govern accordingly; 2) Ensure fiscal responsibility; 3) Hire and fire Atlanta Public School employees.
Angela Brown: 1) Govern; 2) Let those policies that will protect young people; 3) Budgeting.
Dwanda Farmer: 1) Governance; 2) Hiring and firing personnel; 3) Enacting policies and procedures as to how the board will conduct business.
Michael Jeter: 1) Govern; 2) Create policies; 3) Enact policies.
How will you help children affected by CRCT cheating scandal receive tutorial, and how far back are you willing to reach?
Byron Amos: One of Amos's priorities is establishing a mentoring program, which is especially needed in District 2. “There is no reason why every young person in Atlanta Public Schools should not have some type of mentor,” Amos said. He added that the he supported having students paired with community mentors and tutors to improve their educational experience.
Michael Jeter: Jeter advocates involving “individuals that have stakeholdership in the community” such as teachers and business leaders who can provide extra support to students affected by the cheating scandal. “It's a shame we've gone two years and not helped those children already," Jeter said, "we need to do it quickly.”
Dwanda Farmer: Farmer wants to “reach throughout the community” to seek help for those affected by the CRCT scandal. “I'm all for making those who created the problem help us solve it,” Farmer said, referencing her idea to seek support from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce throughout the rebuilding process.
Donald Walker: Because students who have already graduated were under the Atlanta Public School System when cheating occurred, Walker intends to help all students having difficulty “regardless of how far back” he must reach.
Angela Brown: Creating policy is key for Brown. “We can create policy so this won't happen again," Brow said. "We also have to involve our teachers and teacher organizations” to devise the optimal solution."
Do you support repeal of state legislation that gives all authority to the superintendent?
Byron Amos: “Yes, and if there is a candidate in here who would not support that change, why are you running for office?" Amos said. "That needs to be one of the first things on our agenda.”
Angela Brown: “Yes, I would support a repeal of the legislation, but the timeline is important,” Brown said, stressing that immediately introducing a controversial and potentially divisive policy change is not necessarily beneficial to a board that is trying to heal itself and the system it serves.
Dwanda Farmer: “My number one priority is a review of our charter," Farmer said. "We need to have a balance of power with our superintendent.”
Michael Jeter: Jeter insists that we need to cooperate with current Superintendent Erroll Davis, and then “make changes after we've considered the modifications.”
CLOSING REMARKS ABOUT THEIR CANDIDACIES
Byron Amos: “We need someone who has a real vision, a real plan to move us forward . . . I have a track record for getting things done in the community.”
Angela Brown: “I believe I'm the best candidate for this position because I'm the one who's spent the majority of time working with young kids. The same way I came to you with a spirit of integrity is the same way I'll lead with integrity.”
Dwanda Farmer: “I believe the best example of what someone will do in the future is what they have done in the past.” Considering my past experience, I can “improve performance of our schools.”
Michael Jeter: “I'm a business owner. I'm a parent – a concerned parent. I'm not a politician. We need to pull together and get past the smoke and mirrors and elect someone we can trust.”
Donald Walker: “I am the only certified teacher in this election. I plan to restore trust in board members . . . 'it's not what you say, it's what you do.'”