Aretta Baldon is running for Atlanta Board of Education District 2.
Candidate website: www.arettabaldon.com
Q: What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
A: Self-Employed | Shades of Light, LLC; Atlanta Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board; L.E.A.D. Advisory Council; Board Member Black Men & Women of Valor; Georgia Aquarium Education Committee; Atlanta Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc (Photography Chair); National Alumnae Association of Spelman College-Atlanta Chapter
Q: What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
A: The biggest challenge facing my constituents is that only 20% of the children in District 2 are reading, writing and doing math on grade level; and it is reflected in the 59-point gap between black and white student achievement. After my last two years on the School Board, I know our children can do better. I’ve already begun doing the work by ensuring that this has been a focal point for APS over the next five years via the development of the Strategic Plan and the board’s shift to a student outcomes focused governance model.
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: The pandemic exposed the inequities in education, income and resources. The main lesson I learned is that the communal nature of schools demands a comprehensive strategy to ensure safe practices, including masks, social distancing, effective communications and even vaccines where applicable. The Digital Divide due to inequities in income and resources was also amplified as we went to a digital learning model. We owe it to our students to provide them with the tools and equipment for learning in the 21st century. I also became aware of the mental health impact of isolation on not just students, but faculty members as well.
Q: What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
A: Virtual learning will most certainly be an integral part of APS. We have to make sure that we clear the hurdle of the Digital Divide by providing options for students based on their needs.
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 in education means that every child has what they need to graduate and are college, career or life ready. Social justice in education refers to a commitment to challenging social, cultural, and economic inequalities imposed on individuals arising from any differential distribution of power, resources, and privilege.
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: I think Dr. Herring has done a great job transitioning into leadership during the middle of a global pandemic. She has balanced our core business of teaching and learning with the challenges of keeping our students and families physically and psychologically safe while a highly contagious virus attacks our communities. Under Dr. Herring’s leadership APS was one of the first districts to institute surveillance testing; one of the first districts to mandate masks for 2021-22 school year; and she has taken steps to assess and support all of our scholars with a individual and wholistic learning plan and to equip our leaders and teachers to be educators of the 21st century.
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: The fact that Microsoft is bringing a campus to Atlanta without tax abatements surely signifies that the need for incentives is likely no longer necessary in order to stimulate growth. Given the impact on APS, I believe abatements should be granted on a much more limited basis in the foreseeable future; using the direct impact of the project on children and families as the measuring stick.
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: After school programs and truancy reduction are two areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the APS Superintendent and the Board. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Increasing options and opportunities for civic engagement would lead to a reduction in crime and build bridges between students and the community at large.
Q: What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
A: A superior school system is a credit and benefit to that system’s municipality. The Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board can work with the Mayor and City Council by developing graduates who are prepared for their next step, be it college, career or life. By developing a comprehensive and collaborative plan to ensure children are in school during school hours, APS can assure that higher achievements will be the ultimate result. When the children do well, everyone does well.
Q: Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
A: I am a 17-year homeowner of Washington Park, a graduate of Spelman College, a former parent organizer and a mother of an APS, pandemic graduate. I had to make some tough choices and big sacrifices to ensure she received a quality education; but that isn’t an option for all families. Our students deserve an opportunity for a better life and should be able to receive a quality education right in their neighborhood public schools. The tough reality is almost 80% of children in District 2 are not reading, writing or doing math on grade level. We must be bold and courageous. I have remained true to serving in that capacity, in partnership with our families and community, to push APS to address our children’s needs with urgency. With your vote and support, I will continue to be a champion for families, teachers, and principals that are working hard to ensure our children receive a world-class education.
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