Jason Esteves (incumbent) is running for Atlanta Board of Education Seat 9 At Large.
Candidate website: www.jasonesteves.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Current job: VP of Legal, Equix Inc. PSO Memberships: 100 Black Men of Atlanta – Leadership Atlanta (2022) – Outstanding Atlanta (2020) – Treasurer, Democratic Party of Georgia – Board member, Latin American Association – Past Chair, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The biggest issue facing APS families is the recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it has been academically, emotionally, or in some cases, physically, the virus has impacted our students and APS has to fill gaps that go beyond what is happening in the classroom. I am the best candidate to address these issues because I have spent eight years building relationships and partnerships that have helped (and continue to help) address the needs of our families. Whether its access to legal services, mental health supports, or food, I will continue to ensure our families get the resources they need to thrive. Further, I have also led efforts to pass an equity policy, which will also help address the academic disparities that have plagued the school system for decades and were exasperated by the pandemic.
Q: 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?
A: We’ve learned that school systems need to remain nimble and stay focused on our students. The political debate has been vicious, but APS and the Board have remained focused on doing right by students and our staff. During the pandemic, that’s meant mandating masks, implementing surveillance testing for students and staff, significantly increasing mental health supports, and feeding thousands of families on a daily basis. Although some of these actions have been debated, they have undoubtedly helped keep our students and staff safe. As we move forward, we have to stay focused and not get distracted by the noise.
Q: What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
A: Virtual learning is here to stay. APS had the Atlanta Virtual Academy (AVA) prior to the pandemic, which allowed middle and high school students to learn asynchronously. We’ve expanded it to include live teaching for elementary school students. The enrollment in AVA has more than doubled as a result. I anticipate that families will continue to choose that option for students who have thrived in that setting and APS will continue to provide it as an option. We also made it easier for all of our students to learn virtually by becoming a 1:1 technology school system, which means every child in APS has their own laptop/ipad and, if needed, wifi hotspot.
Q: Atlanta Public Schools is operating under a recently adopted “equity and social justice” policy. What is your definition of those terms in public education?
A: I am proud that as chair, I appointed an equity taskforce that drafted our equity policy and that the board unanimously passed it. Given the challenges many of our students face inside and outside of the school house, it was incumbent on APS to recognize two things: 1. that systemic barriers to success exist in policy and practice and (2) that those barriers are rooted in racism and prejudice. As a result, we (APS) have a responsibility to help remove those barriers, whether it is through policy, practice, or advocacy.
Q: 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?
A: She was given a difficult task–to lead a school system in the middle of a pandemic–and she is doing that job well. I admire her grace and resilience during these challenging times and her willingness to continue to listen to a diverse community needs and adjust (even when those needs and opinions conflict with each other). I look forward to Dr. Herring having the opportunity to focus more on academics than on COVID-19.
Q: 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?
A: I advocated that the Board of Education take that position with regards to the DAFC and am happy to have appointed Erica Long to represent APS on the DAFC board of directors. We all agree that the DAFC must change its focus, and until it does, it should stop granting tax abatements to developments are in areas that don’t need the boost. The DAFC needs to focus on areas of the city that are under-developed.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
A: APS and City Council can work more closely on community development projects, even when they don’t directly involve students, because we know that those projects have an indirect impact on our schools. There is also opportunity to address poverty in the City, which would also increase opportunities for success in our classrooms.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
A: APS and the Mayor must work together to address poverty and economic disparity in the city. Our two entities have the resources to get the job done–we need to collaborate and have the political will to get it done. I have no doubt that when we address poverty in the city, all of the major issues impacting our families–crime, homelessness, economic opportunity–will be mitigated.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: APS has made significant progress since I was re-elected four years ago. I have worked hard with my colleagues to shore up APS’s finances and redirect more money than ever to school sites and classrooms. We empowered school leaders and neighborhoods to drive the direction of their schools. And, most importantly, we prioritized equity in policy and through practice. Because of these actions, graduation rates have gone from 51% to 80.3%. We increased our partnerships, which means more students have access to key wraparound services. We have increased the number of students across the city taking AP, IB, and college prep classes, and started the Atlanta College and Career Academy in partnership with Atlanta Tech. And due to investments in our teachers and staff, there is even more interest to join APS and stay here to help our students thrive. I’m asking for your support to continue that work.