Tamara Jones is running for Atlanta Board of Education District 7 at large.
Candidate website: www.TamaraForABOE7.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
I am an architect / urban planner, self-employed.
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
The biggest issue facing APS constituents is lack of transparency in communication and engagement. Families, communities, educators and students – all over the city – feel shut out. I have been an APS parent for 15 years, serving in leadership positions on governance teams and committees. Even though “collaboration” was added to the district’s mission statement, it remains elusive. I see the need for the school board to formalize a strategic stakeholder engagement framework that is similar to Atlanta’s NPU system, which was created to ensure that every community in the city has a voice in city planning issues that affect them. APS stakeholders and communities deserve no less. Likewise, different APS clusters need to interact via a structure analogous to APAB. Transparent, equitable collaboration will build trust and caring, and help dispel suspicion. My background in community master planning has given me years of experience in this type of collaborative 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?
Schools as well as the district are required to have an emergency operations plan in place. For many years FEMA and DOE have had sample plans that include sections on pandemic flu and other infectious threats. Covid exposed how under-developed our district’s plans were for this type of threat. In particular, it highlighted how we did not have a Continuity of Learning Plan that would address more than just short term school closure. Now is the time to go back to those sections of the plan and fully develop them with the knowledge we have now about how it can be done better, so that multiple levels of if/then levers are spelled out so they can be executed in a sequence that can be anticipated. Also, pertinent sections of that plan about “what to expect” should be shared with families as appropriate.
What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
I see a bright future for virtual learning in specific circumstances. It is definitely not something that works for everyone. Two of my children graduated during the pandemic, and one spent his entire senior year learning virtually. That turned out to be a very good fit for him, and afforded us the opportunity to travel a bit. We have the opportunity to think creatively about how to weave in virtual options going forward – and not simply just enrolling in Atlanta Virtual Academy vs. enrolling at your home school. There will be some who want to do all of their work virtually, but I think the real benefit will be how to use it to be more nimble in other ways: students who are out sick; opportunities for work/study; parent learning opportunities; enrolling in AP classes not offered at your home school, etc.
Atlanta Public Schools is operating under a recently adopted “equity and social justice” policy. What is your definition of those terms in public education?
Fair, moral, and redemptive. Many have defined equitable education as meeting students’ unique needs. This is indeed the goal, however what does not get discussed enough is how to *determine* those needs. What policies, mechanisms or processes do we have in place to facilitate identification of supports needed? I applaud the adoption of academic and behavioral/emotional screeners this school year, but we need to be even more intentional. One possibility is to update the board’s attendance policy to use it as a tool for investigating barriers to attendance rather than simply policing truancy. There are many reasons for chronic absenteeism beyond apathy and disengagement including physical and mental health issues, homelessness, bullying, anxiety, food insecurity, and having to provide child care for younger siblings. The first step toward removing barriers is identifying them, and we have not devoted enough resources toward that.
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?
It is very difficult to be objective from the sidelines. The pandemic threw an impossible curveball even to the most tenured superintendents, and Dr. Herring took the job in the midst of it. She inherited an undeveloped Emergency Operations Plan (see answer to previous question), a haphazard communications apparatus, and an underdeveloped, disconnected and muzzled engagement infrastructure (GO Teams, Cluster Advisory Teams, and District Executive Committee as well as other Advisory groups). I hope that the unglamorous work of shoring up this critical infrastructure will commence this year.
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. DAFC is not accountable to the taxpayers of Atlanta as currently structured. They have been using tax abatement to the detriment of not only APS students but needed investments in truly underserved communities.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
The Joint Commission on Education was a good start, but it has not met in years. In my opinion that commission is comprised of people at too high a level (councilmembers, board members, mayor, superintendent) to actually get work done and invites the interference of politics. A better working structure would be standing committees that consist of department heads who can collaborate on specific initiatives. This structure needs to be authorized in a way so as to withstand changes in personnel.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
I am the only current APS parent running for Seat 7, and through my extensive schoolhouse and district wide involvement for the past 15 years I have been under the hood of APS long enough to see where critical foundations need shoring. In addition to the engagement infrastructure mentioned earlier, one critical piece of our foundation needs urgent attention: literacy. On GO Teams at the middle and high school level I’ve seen what happens when students arrive with significant reading deficits. It is devastating to their self esteem as well as their ability to access content in all subjects. Reading proficiency in APS has not meaningfully improved since my oldest daughter started APS in 2007. During that time we also have not changed the way we teach reading despite overwhelming scientific research proving best practices. Literacy is a social justice issue that we can and must address.
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