Cynthia Briscoe Brown is running for Atlanta Board of Education District 8 at large.
Candidate website: www.cynthiabriscoebrown.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
Atlanta Board of Education, Seat 8 At Large. I have been an attorney in Atlanta for 35 years but am not practicing full time. Current and former Board memberships include: Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta; AETC (governs WABE and ATL/PBA); Calvin Center, Inc.; Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning; Committee for Teaching about the United Nations/Atlanta; North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools (NAPPS); and multiple school-based PTAs and foundations.
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
As a citywide representative, every child and resident is my constituent, and the greatest issue is making sure every child gets everything they need to succeed in school, career, and life. When Atlanta’s children get the education they deserve, they thrive and our city thrives. My many years visiting schools, listening to and learning from stakeholders, and turning ideas into action have made a difference: the graduation rate is up almost 30 points; more students are prepared for college; our Atlanta College and Career Academy prepares students for good, well-paid jobs; our strategic plan emphasizes closing gaps and preparing every child for their next step; our Student Success Funding Formula directs more resources to schools and students who need them most; and Social-Emotional Learning empowers our kids to be responsible members of their community. I will spend my next four years continuing, expanding and accelerating our work.
The pandemic has brought unique challenges to public schools, including mask mandates and hybrid learning. What is a lesson you have learned from these challenges?
During pandemic APS became the most comprehensive social service agency in Atlanta, including food, clothing, technology, mental and physical health, public safety, hygiene and family services. The lesson is that we can find creative ways to meet all the needs of students and employees even under unprecedented circumstances. The challenge is for us to continue to be creative in meeting every need, because for a child every new circumstance is unprecedented.
What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
The future of virtual learning in APS is bright. Discovering all the positive and significant ways we can incorporate technology and virtual learning into APS has been a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud. Giving out over 60,000 devices and becoming a 1-1 District at every level opens so many possibilities: offering a wider range of advanced and specialty courses to all students through Atlanta Virtual Academy (AVA); continued learning during bad weather or other emergencies; deeply personalized instruction for both remediation and acceleration; and connection with courses, students, and learning opportunities across the world. Challenges remain, including teacher training and wifi accessibility in every home, but the steps we took in the past 18 months pointed us in the right direction.
Atlanta Public Schools is operating under a recently adopted “equity and social justice” policy. What is your definition of those terms in public education?
As an author of APS’ historic Equity Policy, I believe it is one of the most significant achievements of my eight years on the BOE. Equity means ensuring every child gets everything they need to succeed in school, career, and life. Every dollar, decision, program, and person must advance equity so every student can fulfill their potential. APS also has a responsibility to advance social justice, which is righting wrongs, eliminating barriers, and closing gaps occurring as a result of inequitable systems, policies, or practices. Our new Center for Equity and Social Justice and Chief Equity Officer help us embed the precepts of the Equity Policy into everything we do so that it becomes second nature.
APS Superintendent Lisa Herring is over a year into a three-year contract that the next Board of Education will have to consider extending or replacing. What is your opinion of Herring’s job performance?
Dr. Herring joined APS at an extraordinarily difficult time, when she had to focus on the overwhelming crises of COVID-19 and social unrest while still managing the daily operations of the District. Her opportunities to meet staff, visit schools, and engage with the community were extremely limited and made it hard for her to develop relationships with the APS family. I appreciate Dr. Herring’s efforts to listen, learn, and respond with respect and grace, even when others did not extend her the same courtesy. As we emerge from pandemic, I’m enthusiastic about the future and see her expanding her focus to move APS forward quickly and effectively.
The Board of Education last year demanded that the Development Authority of Fulton County cease granting tax abatements to developments within the City of Atlanta. Should the board maintain that position and why or why not?
DAFC should be prioritizing and promoting development in underserved areas of Atlanta. Handing out tax breaks to projects in highly desirable neighborhoods, which would likely happen without them, does a disservice to the city as a whole and limits APS’ ability to fund world-class education for every child. I was pleased we were able to negotiate the appointment of an APS representative to DAFC and expect to see the Authority move toward serving all citizens by promoting healthy, well-planned development in neighborhoods where it’s most needed.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
As a founding member of the ABOE-City Council Joint Committee, I believe there is much we can do together to benefit students and families. Free citywide wifi would secure virtual learning for every student and also give adults connectivity to apply for jobs, social services, and participate in their communities. Partnering to build intergenerational spaces in parks brings families together outside of school and provides healthy, safe social opportunities for all citizens. APS and Council should be colleagues and thought partners to address all the challenges Atlanta faces, including income inequality, racism, and poverty.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
The Mayor, City Council, Board of Education and Superintendent should work together as coequal entities for the benefit of every child and adult in Atlanta. As partners and colleagues, we have the ability to close income gaps, provide safe and affordable housing for every citizen, end childhood poverty, and ensure every resident has the education to succeed in school, career and life. Disrespecting or disregarding any of these entities hampers the ability of our city to become the best it can be.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
I am the daughter, daughter-in-law, and parent of APS alums with a 35-year record of community-building volunteer and leadership service to all our kids in every school and neighborhood. From the strategic and policy-making level to addressing the concerns of individual students and employees, I have advocated for meeting the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of every student, especially taking into account the unique intersectionalities of each one. In this time of uncertainty and change, my depth and breadth of knowledge and experience are essential as we reckon with our past, recognize the impact of the past on the present, and use that knowledge to propel us into a brighter future.
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