Stephen Spring is running for Atlanta Board of Education Seat 7 At Large.
Candidate website: www.springboard2021.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (Education and Outreach Programs Manager) and Agile Mind (Mathematics Equity Consultant)
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The biggest issues are institutional. I have worked as in public education for 30 years – teacher, curriculum developer, research scientist, professional developer, math equity consultant, and even served an elected official as a policy chair of a school board. My advanced degree work is in educational leadership and educational policy. The term I am running for is two years and I am not beholden to any interest group outside of those committed to serving children and families. Being uniquely qualified to interrupt, in these two years, my priority is to defund standardized testing structures at the institutional level. This is the most critical institutional change needed for our children. Children in our schools whose mere existence is tethered to outcomes measured by these narrow tests are denying students 60 days of instruction – year after year after year. This will change when I am serving on the board. That is a promise.
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: There are many lessons learned. First, our children and families have been asked to ‘pivot’ over and over and over. And, our resilient Atlantans have done that and it has not been easy. All of us have had to re-evaluate our priorities and make real changes in the past two years. Many changes were needed just to figure out how to make it through the day or to the next; others were transformational shifts in the ways in which children, their caretakers, and the city will forever view their families, their communities and their education. I argue that Atlanta Public Schools leadership, and in particular, the Board of Education, missed opportunities to transform over the past two years. When faced with challenges, we need to deal with the crises at hand – but if ignore the real openings for substantive change, then we are not stepping up in the same ways that the children and the families have done in the City of Atlanta.
Q: What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
A: Virtual learning has been an option for some time. In 2012, Senate Bill 289 authorized school districts to provide this for students. Atlanta’s Virtual Academy, which just reopened enrollment until October 22nd for all students and families. Is virtual learning the same as in-person learning? No, and our parents know this. During 2020 and 2021, I tutored small groups of children all over Atlanta in middle school mathematics and talked with them and their families. This small data set of a few dozen families was enough to let me know that in-person learning provides for deeper content engagement, social well-being, and the community and school connections that society relies upon in order to be healthy. I do believe that virtual learning should always be available – some students learn better through this medium.
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: Equity is a fair and just outcome that allows every Atlanta Public School student to thrive and share in a prosperous, inclusive school buildings and classrooms. Equity is attained by enacting philosophies, policies, and actions that intentionally dismantle generational power structures and other structural disparities that create and continue privilege. Racial equity rectifies intentionally racist policies, founded in white supremacy, that have and continue to marginalize Black and brown students and their communities. Racial equity requires the deliberate prioritization of the individuals and communities most impacted by systemic oppression, racial injustices, and ongoing racial disparities, without burdening the individuals most impacted with the responsibility of replacing the defective system.
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: As the only candidate for Atlanta School Board’s Seat 7 that has actually served as an elected official as a school board member, I know that there are procedures in place and information that the School Board peruses in order to fully understand the role of the superintendent and to do an effective evaluation of Lisa Herring’s job performance. In an earlier response, I called out the missed opportunities to be transformationally leading Atlanta Public Schools. This is actually what called me to run for this very important At-Large position on the School Board. I have the research and policy knowledge and a track record of leading real change. To sum it up, I am uniquely qualified to interrupt.
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: Yes, Atlanta Public Schools are complex institutions with very real needs. Maintaining funding streams in order to meet the educational needs of the students and families is necessary.
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: When I served as the policy chair when on a school board, I was effective in getting two policies in place – (1) free public transportation for all K-12 students, teachers, and other school staff. This took two years of hard, political work and (2) merging city and school support services for children and families to create both service and financial efficiencies. These are both possible in Atlanta. In the immediate, the City of Atlanta provides internet access for all school children and their households. The City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and Atlanta Public Schools can work together to provide valuable, credit-earning, mentorships for middle- and high-school students. I support, 100%, a shift from the failed policy mindset of “College for All” to “Living wage Credentials and/or College for All”. We are graduating way to many students who are left, at age 18, without real experiences and real credentials to lead Atlanta, the state, and this nation in dynamic, emerging economies.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
A: Aside from what was mentioned above, two other ideas. Create a youth workforce that both pays high school students and allows them to earn credits towards graduation. Community service requirements exist in most Atlanta Public High Schools and this would support these programs with relevant, experience- and character -building opportunities. Our youth must get involved with the workings of the City of Atlanta in all ways. They will not only learn how to serve and how to participate, but will offer ideas that can improve how we adults do our work as well as the systems in which we do our work.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: Spring is a servant leader. Stephen Spring is running to serve in this two year position as a calling to serve students and to interrupt systems. In his decades of dedication to public schools, he has engaged in civil rights work at many levels, from passing anti-tracking school policy to clandestinely participating as an ACT-UP member to distribute clean needles during the height of Washington, DC’s AIDS epidemic. Spring has not only the knowledge, but the tough skin and political stamina to stand up and enact change.
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