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Jennifer McDonald is running for Atlanta Board of Education District 4.
Candidate website: www.jenforaps.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
I am on a Management team overseeing Global Strategic Alliances in the technology industry.
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
The most tremendous issue impacting our district as a whole is closing achievement gaps. The unique circumstances brought on by the pandemic highlighted disparity in our district for access to resources, people, tools, solutions for both academic recovery and social/emotional recovery. I am the best candidate to address these issues for District 4 because I am both a current APS parent and a parent-leader who is living this experience. I am an active part of the conversation of how to remedy and engage with families, teachers and Administrators across our cluster.
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?
Flexibility and communication from our school leaders was incredible but the access and availability of technology resources as well as social / emotional support was a significant challenge. The pandemic highlighted the digital divide and that hard impact on many of our APS families. Additionally, when 50,000 students transition to virtual schooling, food security and lack of access to meals at school became an immediate and tremendous challenge. We know community and partner collaboration matters and APS families drove an initiative to quickly bring these groups together to create and sustain ongoing food access for thousands of families.
What is the future of virtual learning in APS?
Atlanta Virtual Academy has been pivotal and responsive to needs in our community. While it existed prior to the transition to entirely virtual learning in 2020, it has seen increasing need and made adaptive changes to support those needs. Remote and virtual learning can be highly successful because it can be tailored for all types of learning to address all types of learners. In order to continue to be successful, the Social Emotional Learning components must also be prioritized with academic learning. It would make it even more robust to include signature programming.
Atlanta Public Schools is operating under a recently adopted “equity and social justice” policy. What is your definition of those terms in public education?
Given our very diverse district, our equity and social justice policy means we must be flexible in how we approach the identification of student/family needs, resources to address and how we are measuring success. All students deserve access to resources, opportunities, learning environments and leaders to ensure they are college, career and life-ready. It is also about identifying what stands in the way of their success and how to remove those obstacles. Further, we must advocate for all students and drive further, deeper parent/family/guardian engagement. In a diverse school district, we must really look at how to reach every caretaker and make them aware of programs and options available.
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 appreciate Dr. Herring’s willingness to join APS and lead in the most unprecedented times. She also knows some of our challenges existed well before the pandemic. We know communication, transparency and a clear understanding of community engagement and feedback are incredibly important to all of our APS families and this is very true for District 4. We had some challenges around the initial bell schedule proposal and I appreciate Dr. Herring’s candor in lessons learned from that experience. It is also important to families in our district there is transparency to the evaluation process and hope that that process is made available and clear to constituents.
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?
So many areas of APS still have food deserts and lack of safe, affordable housing options, these are areas the Development Authority should continue to work toward resolving. Ideally, this Board is set up to bring additional resources to communities. There is a very serious need for transparency and oversight when public monies are being utilized. Do all developments receiving the abatement make sense? I am very proud that APS now has a strong voice on that Board.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta City Council to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
At an APS Facilities meeting held this summer and a survey distributed to our cluster, we know the first priority is safety. We have to see Atlanta improve safety which extends far beyond the school district. Parks and community centers fall under the City of Atlanta and we need greater partnerships to provide safe and productive after school programming. There is tremendous opportunity to drive high quality programming for youth through joint work by APS, the City and local community leaders.
What are some areas of opportunity for the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board to work with the mayor and City Council?
Our goal is for all students to be active community members in our city. We are educating future Atlantans who will be community, corporate, civic leaders. When food security, housing security, safety, access to resources and opportunities are everyday issues, we must collaborate as a city, across all levels of leadership, to address how we are setting these students up for success, how we are measuring that success and how are we holding ourselves accountable for gaps.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
I am living the APS life every day. As a current, active, engaged and proud APS parent and APS parent-leader, I am grateful for all I have learned over the past decade about our district, our clusters, our strengths, our areas to improve, our leaders and our families. I have also spent 20 years volunteering in our community and developed connections with families that sit inside our district but outside of APS. Their input must be included. I am also grateful for the support of the current APS BOE District 4 seat holder, Nancy Meister, who has given invaluable insight and input and publicly endorsed my candidacy.
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