Kanesha “KaCey” Venning is running for Atlanta Board of Education District 7 at large.
Candidate website: www.electkacey.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
Co-Founder & Executive Director – Helping Empower Youth, Inc. (HEY!)
Active member of Junior League of Atlanta
2021 Center for Civic Innovation Fellow
Georgia PTA member
United Way VIP Alum
Pathbuilders Insigna Alum
Points of Light Daily Point of Light Award Recipient
Center for Creative Leadership: American Express Leadership Academy Alum
Crisis Intervention Training, Certified for Youth, Atlanta Public Schools Police Department
National Center on Mental Well-being – Mental Health First Aid Trainer
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
The biggest issue is equity. More specifically, the lack of affordable housing as it impacts students’ academic achievement. We must close the achievement gap and when students are living in unstable conditions, it directly impacts how they are able to retain classroom and curriculum instruction. My professional career at Hands On Atlanta and Families First has allowed me to see the direct effect of instability and how to hampers a child’s ability to show up as their best selves in the classroom and on milestone tests. I have worked to support families, students and school staff to lessen the affects and have watched classroom and test achievement improve. I currently work with youth who attend APS and I have a direct, recent and real time observation of how changes in wrap around services and support of the family can improve a child’s educational experience.
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?
The lesson learned is that we have to prioritize educating the community and caregiver families like we focus on educating students around curriculum in classrooms. Educating those outside the classroom as to why mask mandates and hybrid learning are important is necessary. This has also highlighted to digital divide in a city that is booming as a southern Tech hub. While concerted efforts were made to ensure that devices were made available, large families were still sharing devices which limited how often some students could fully engage virtually. And while it was an amazing partnership to have Internet services made available at low to no cost, the services cannot work if families are struggling to keep the lights on. The pandemic highlighted how much work is still left to do to support families and students.
What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
The future for virtual learning can be bright. We shouldn’t shy away from it but embrace the opportunity to for a 21st Century learning environment. Especially, with the new hubs and Fortune 500 businesses moving to our city. In order to get there, we must address high quality daycare and afterschool care and learning pods as well. Not every family can afford to have their children stay home for a fully virtual educational experience. This is where we begin to build bridges with the city’s Center of Hopes and other community-based organizations that can help aid in and facilitate virtual learning. Students are inundated daily with how technology has and can change our lives even as professionals building careers to sustain our personal lives. Our educational experience must match that as we prepare students for life after graduation.
Atlanta Public Schools is operating under a recently adopted “equity and social justice” policy. What is your definition of those terms in public education?
My definition of equity is about dismantling [old] systems and removing institutional and systemic conditions – eliminating barriers as we rethink how we do school, prepare students for real-life, and restore fallen students with restorative and social justice. We must be transparent in our answers to hard questions as to why Black and Brown students are still trending towards the bottom in achievement in relation to their Asian and White counterparts. We must address the implications of race and socioeconomic status that ALL of our students are impacted by as they live in a city with the one of the widest wealth inequality gaps in the country. An honest look at this helps us to use equity as a lens to move towards educational justice for our students. This allows students, every student, to have what they need to succeed.
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?
I have not been privy to the inner workings for her administration to offer a concrete response. I would like the opportunity to work with her prior to making an assessment related to her contract. I have had the opportunity to meet with her and to chat with her in the community and the thoughtfulness and direct nature in which she responded to me and my team was welcomed and hopeful that she is one for collaboration and to always be in a state of learning as a part of her leadership style. Herring has had to make some tough decisions. I would ask that she is given time to see the impact.
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?
Yes, they should maintain. It is a complex nature and until we have more details on a clear path forward that involves equity we should hold.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
Working together to “fix” affordable housing should be a priority. In the sprit of both/and, we can also see partnership in some areas like: a more robust partnership with Centers of Hope where we can see the city support APS in high quality daycare and afterschool care as a start for ALL communities. Community Benefit Agreements that support schools and school support professional development, full and paid internships for high school students, continued free transportation for students, teachers and staff as well. Finally, something simple as city council members attending a school board meeting and vice versa is a great start as well.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
A lot of what I shared in the previous answer, but also to be more transparent and intentional on sharing the impact and effects on students and caregiver families when the city moves slowly or not at all to provide resources that support a families stability in this city. How children live absolutely impacts their learning growth. To ignore that means we are ignoring students.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
I would be honored to bring my 20+ years of working APS families in APS communities to this leadership role. I have been in the classroom and outside fully advocating for students and caregivers. I would love to bring a unique approach to policy making. That approach is having someone is actively working with students most impacted and can give a glimpse as to how policies work or hurt students. No one will work harder for our children. I have proven that in my work with my nonprofit and I have supported educators and school support staff by identifying ways we can work to make “home” a better place so that school becomes a welcomed place.
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