Tamara Jones is the incumbent for the APS Board District 7 At-Large seat, seeking re-election for a second term. A Georgia native, Jones won her 2021 election with 67% of the vote against Kanesha Vennings. Jones has a background in architecture and urban planning. The Sizemore Group, where Jones worked as an associate from 1995-2003, was the consulting agency APS used for its current facilities master plan submitted in April 2022. An APS parent for 17 years, she has lived in Inman Park since 1996 and is married with three children. One is currently enrolled in an APS school.
Background & Experience
- Bachelor of Arts, Wake Forest University (1990)
- Master of Architecture, Georgia Tech (1995)
Jones serves on several boards including the Atlanta BeltLine Affordable Housing Advisory Board and the WABE Advisory Council. She also manages two youth swim teams.
- Total cash on hand: $6,372.30
- Largest contributors:
- Several $500 donors, including Sharon Gay and Nicole Horn
- Advocates for improving APS’s long-term literacy rates
- Focuses on basic needs like staff, safe learning environments, and transportation
- Aims to involve community members and families in decision-making processes
- Plans to introduce Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit system as a model for more open and inclusive governance structures
Where did you grow up and how has your personal background influenced your perspective on public education?
I am a Georgia native who received my education in public schools in three different states. I attended elementary school in Cartersville, GA, middle school in New Jersey, and high school in Connecticut. Growing up day to day around classmates from different backgrounds, characteristics, and walks of life helped shape the adult I grew to be (and still growing).
We all interact daily with people who are different from us in some way, but connection comes from continually learning from others. My experience informed my view of the purpose of public education. Education is not just getting qualified for a job or becoming “more competitive”; it is the cultivation of human flourishing. If we accept that the purpose of education is the cultivation of human flourishing, we are all required to care deeply about equipping others with the knowledge, opportunities, and support to live a fulfilling life.
We want to know about your involvement in the community. Please list any volunteer or mentorship activities, professional boards you sit on, and community organizations that you’re affiliated with.
- Member, Urban Land Institute
- Atlanta Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board
- Atlanta Joint Committee for Education
- WABE Advisory Council
Why should voters support your candidacy for the Atlanta School Board?
I have served in this seat for the past two years and have the experience and training that is required to meet the needs of this moment. I know what this job involves and what it doesn’t, and how to do it. APS is hiring a new superintendent, and we need to polish up our basics: every child’s right to read; enough qualified staff in our schools; safe and welcoming learning environments, transportation, and nutritious food that kids actually want to eat. We need to fund school operations first before other projects so that the individual learning needs of each child can be met daily.
This is my 17th year as an APS mom, so I am not just a board member – I am also a fellow parent with kids in our system.
I do not serve on the school board as a “gateway” to launch a political career. This is my pinnacle and not my stepping stone. I am fully committed to being present and available, doing this work for our children. At this juncture, APS needs experience and focus over personal ambition. That is why I am asking to be reelected for a full four-year term to continue the work to build a transparent and collaborative culture that nurtures a city of well-supported readers.
The Atlanta School Board did not renew the contract for former school superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, and hired Dr. Danielle Battle as the interim superintendent on Aug. 7, 2023 while they conduct a national search.
Why do you think there’s so much superintendent turnover at APS — and what do you think can be done to address it?
The average tenure for an urban school superintendent nationally is three years. Some of our neighboring metro school districts have had more turnover than we have. Still, high turnover is never desirable. Boards can create conditions for longevity by working effectively together as a board. Creating clear operating procedures and norms, communication channels, and structure are critical to carry out the work of supporting a superintendent while holding each other accountable.
Setting focused goals that provide clear direction to administration and a system of progress monitoring that values honest examination of problems and openness to shifting tactics. Being a school board member is hard work, the vast majority of which is unglamorous.
Effective board members want to do the work, collaborate with each other and the administration, and keep the focus on student outcomes and not resume building. But even the most effective boards face difficult decisions when a change in leadership approach is needed. In those situations adults and their relationships must take a back seat to the needs of children.
What qualifications and qualities do you believe are essential for the next superintendent?
Transparency, clear communication, and willingness to collaborate. The organization needs a culture shift from “command and control” to “trust and inspire”. Our district is structurally set up to take advantage of shared governance with a leader who is not afraid to allow GO Teams, Cluster Advisory Teams, and the District Executive Committee to serve as genuine advisory bodies. Families, students, staff and communities want to be an authentic part of decision making.
Steps need to be taken to flatten the layers at the central office and examine which investments and interventions are yielding results and which need to be retired. While there are a lot of high goals for the district, not all can be top priorities (if everything is a priority, nothing is), so a keen ability to focus on the levers that will yield the most results is critical. We are beginning to see some changes in this interim phase, and I am excited for the progress to continue with our next leader.
APS is in the third year of a five-year strategic plan that ends in 2025. What are your thoughts on how that plan is going, and what would you do differently? What should the next five-year plan address?
We have made incremental but modest progress toward the goals established. I believe the goals are too broad and need to be narrowed so the district can focus more deeply on a few high-impact levers, such as literacy. The right to read opens the door to knowledge acquisition in all subjects.
How should the District best address the understaffing and retention of teachers and staff?
The current APS Board, like the Boards before us, has members who have been classroom teachers. It was a priority in this year’s budget to include raises for teachers and staff, to bring compensation more in alignment with surrounding districts, as well as stipends for hard-to-fill positions. This is a good start but more is needed.
Exit surveys indicate issues other than money were top causes for leaving. Teachers are asking for, among other concerns, more respect and support from administrators, a reduction in mandated district testing, and more flexibility to choose professional development opportunities that meet their needs. Teachers serve on GO Teams and CATs, so giving those bodies a real advisory role would further elevate the formal voice of teachers.
We can also get more innovative with hybrid teaching models – allowing students to virtually participate in classes at other APS schools, and find a way to incorporate options like AVA and Georgia Virtual School classes into the in-person school day.
Rising housing costs mean that more teachers are living further away from the city – commute time is one of the reasons given in the exit surveys. We are currently planning to revitalize eight surplus APS properties, and workforce housing for teachers and school staff is one of several anticipated uses so that more teachers can live in the city and communities where they teach.
More than 5,000 APS students have a disability or special needs. What can the school district do to better serve those students, especially when it comes to allocating resources to schools?
The district needs to recommit to its obligation to our students with special needs, thoroughly examine how IEPs and 504s are being served, and devote the resources and personnel to ensure that individual learning needs are being met. I would like to see us explore consulting with organizations who have demonstrated positive results with unique programs and approaches with differently-abled and neuro-divergent students.
Only about one-third of APS students are at or above the proficient level for reading and math with reports saying that COVID learning loss is still a factor. How can the District ensure children meet or exceed the reading and writing standards?
This statistic has stayed mostly constant for nearly 20 years. One of the reasons I ran for this seat two years ago and was elected was because I believed it was necessary for the board to adopt a Literacy Policy that establishes criteria for permissible reading instruction methods, training, and materials. The board does not pick curriculum, but it can through a policy mandate that all children receive explicit structured literacy instruction aligned to scientific consensus of how young brains learn to read. I serve on the Policy Committee, and we are currently finishing a draft of that policy developed in consultation with experts in the field. After the adoption of the policy, the board will need to make budget choices in order to commit the funding to see it implemented.
Identify three ways the Atlanta School Board can better involve youth, parents and caretakers in the Board’s decision-making process?
We have the opportunity to learn from Atlanta’s NPU model to empower our school and cluster governance structures and make them more open and inclusive, and serve as real advisory bodies as required by state law.
We can also lean in and facilitate collaboration between NPUs and Cluster Advisory Teams, and foster cross-cluster dialogue by making the District Executive Committee (APS’s equivalent to APAB) a standing committee, instead of an ad-hoc committee.
The Student Advisory Council (currently high school students) has been hosting Breakfast with the Board at each high school once each year, and compiles their concerns and recommendations into a report and presentation delivered to the board at the end of the school year. These students are exploring ways to amplify student voice at the middle and elementary levels as well. The administration and the board has the obligation to hear from students in our schools and incorporate it into decision-making.
Is the APS property tax burden too high for most Atlanta residents? Do you think commercial property owners are paying their fair share of APS property taxes?
Skyrocketing taxes over recent years have caused financial pain for households all over the city, whether they own or rent. Some families are finding it necessary to leave the city. This is mostly due to increased assessed values of residential properties. A great many commercial properties, on the other hand, are undervalued for tax purposes and those are not paying their fair share. I support exploring a more meaningful homestead exemption that would give tax relief to households who desperately need it.
Seat 7 At-Large candidates
- Brooks wins APS runoff election
- What Atlanta School Board voters were saying on Election Day
- Tamara Jones takes an architect’s approach to the “unsexy” work of the school board
- ELECTION RESULTS: 2023 Atlanta School Board
- What Atlanta School Board voters are saying on Election Day
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