Atlanta Board of Education
Atlanta public schools - District 2
The Center for Civic Innovation sent each of the qualified candidates for the District 2 Special Election a “job description” questionnaire. Below are Ed’s responses.
QUALIFIED TO GOVERN
Q: What do you think is the most important role of the school board?
A: This I know, not think: The Atlanta Independent School System (AISS) Charter assigns overarching responsibility for control and management of the system to the school board. The charter goes on to provide for operationalizing that responsibility by stipulating twelve, more specific roles and responsibilities for the school board as well as for the superintendent. The respective twelve roles and responsibilities the charter stipulates for the school board and the superintendent work interdependently, as a system; meaning, no one role and responsibility so stipulated is necessarily any more or less important than any others. Thus asking what one thinks is “the most important role of the school board” invites thinking reductively and simplistically about both the school board and the schools system that can only lead to a less capable school board and public schools system, as is the case today.
Q: Please describe, in sufficient detail, one professional accomplishment or contribution of which you are most proud. These examples should illustrate skills and capabilities you think apply to governing the City of Atlanta schools. These accomplishments may have occurred at any time in your personal, professional, or public life.
A: This seems a peculiar question, one that seems to conflate the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Independent School System (AISS), also known as the Atlanta Public Schools (APS), and perhaps CCI not knowing the two are different and separately chartered entities. City of Atlanta has no schools; rather, APS has schools, all located and operated within City of Atlanta.
In any case, kindly know I do not operate from positions of pride; I aim only to operate from positions of service and influence and leave pride of accomplishment or contribution to those I serve. As an example having relevance to the school board, I offer my intervening in the work of the school board’s 2002 AISS Charter Review Commission and with the commission’s Chairman, Dr. Thomas W. Cole, then‐President of Clark Atlanta University.
I intervened to influence Dr. Cole to not lead the commission into revising the AISS Charter to provide for institutionalizing behaviorism and dehumanizing behavioristic practices in school board policy, as the commission had initially drafted it. Not sufficiently appreciative of the issue, nonetheless, Dr. Cole invited me into conversation with him. Out of our conversation came Dr. Cole’s commitment to me to lead the commission to instead draft a humane provision. Fulfilling his commitment, the commission revised its draft provision to state: “Adopting district‐wide policies that support [providing] an environment for [continual] quality improvement and progress for all decision makers in the district, as well as for students” (inserts mine, as I had initially offered them). This and a similarly stated provision for the superintendent are what the AISS Charter states, today.
Had I not intervened, the AISS Charter today would instead state this purely behavioristic and demoralizing and inhumane provision: “Adopting district‐wide policies that provide incentives for progress and consequences for failure for all decision makers in the district, as well as for students. These policies must meet or exceed the state polices that provide incentives for progress and consequences for failure.” My initial response to this was:
“Hell, no! You are not going to do this to the children!”
The recognition of accomplishment and contribution goes to Dr. Cole, not to me.
Q: Please list or describe no more than 3 current and past activities you participated in as a private citizen (not an elected official) in which you have acquired skills and perspectives that will make you a stronger school board member. Include your role in the activity and the year(s) in which you were involved.
Examples include but are not limited to Neighborhood Planning Units, neighborhood/ community associations, PTA, GO Teams, etc.
A: I care to list and describe but one “role,” which is Advocate for Quality in Public Education.
This is my deeply and uniquely personal role that had paralleled my professional consulting work since c. 1990 to include relevant transfer of knowledge and practice development occurring between the two. The role, for me, is a self‐actualizing one (ref. Maslow) that requires neither compensation nor acknowledgment from others. My knowledge and practice in this role, as had been in my consulting work, stem from knowledge of Systems Thinking, especially in the style of the quality philosophy, principles, and teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. In this regard, my advocacy and “role” is known in certain leading circles locally, nationally, and globally. And I am always humbled that some in those circles would even deem my voice worthy enough to extend through their noted works.
It is because I had developed the knowledge to learn to know in ways that merely acquiring “skills” cannot possibly afford, it was my voice that warned as early as 2002 that Atlanta Public Schools was being driven into a crisis by then‐Superintendent Beverly L Hall, Ed.D. Few people listened. But after the CRCT test cheating scandal emerged fully into daylight in 2009, some people who had not listened were honest enough to come say: “Mr. Johnson, how could you have known? We should have listened to you.” I knew because I had learned to know.
Knowledge has rational predictive power; “perspectives and skills” do not. “Perspectives and skills” by themselves will inhibit school board capability. So, knowledge, not merely “perspectives and skills,” will be the strength I shall bring to Atlanta Board of Education, with the aim of catalyzing it to start living up to the 2002 revised Atlanta Independent School System Charter and to move APS onto a path of continual quality improvement as the public institution it is supposed to be and off the path of “innovative” disruption and eventual destruction it is currently on.
Q: If you could choose one subject/class to teach in local schools to ensure Atlanta’s kids understand their city, what would it be?
A: It would be a course in Civics and Democracy, and Systems Thinking.
Q: What is a new slogan for our city that could inspire Atlanta’s children and highlight who we are as a people?
A: I am not a proponent of sloganeering and exhortations that aims to inspire. Sloganeering, in general, is a sign of poor quality leadership. It is often a way by which would‐be and so‐called leaders escape lacking the competence to provide for civil society to live and continually advance democratic practices even closer to democratic ideals. Implicit in sloganeering is manipulating people. Where sloganeering works, that very likely means civil society is of low quality democratic practice and so depends on elected officials as leaders to tell the people what to believe, what to do, and how to behave. In civil society of high quality democratic practice, there would be high levels of trust in elected officials as the people’s representatives.
The inarguable fact is, the extent to which the city engages in sloganeering, then that, in and of itself, “highlights who we are as a people.”
DEMONSTRATES PEOPLE-CENTERED APPROACHES
Q: How will you hear from the people who make up our schools – teachers, administrators, students, and parents? Describe specific mechanisms (technologies, meetings, etc.) as well as how you will use the information.
A: The Atlanta Independent School System Charter, Revised, provides for the school board to hear from all members of Atlanta civil society, through individual Board members as well as the Board as a whole. In meetings of the whole Board, where it is appropriate, I will work to catalyze the school board to actualize hearing from, as well as responding to, Atlanta civil society members on any manner of issue per the AISS Charter, with perhaps the technology known as Let’s Talk that APS recently acquired being a key enabling mechanism. I have rendered a draft model process for accomplishing this. Still, to surface issues and direct them to this process, I, as an individual Board member representing District 2, will continue the frequent emailing I already do and, additionally, conduct surveys and facilitate regularly scheduled town hall meetings.
PROACTIVE & RELENTLESS RELATIONSHIP-BUILDER
Q: Think of one major Atlanta issue indirectly impacting education in District 2 that needs to be tackled with a collaborative approach. How would you build relationships across the city and region with other governments, community groups, non-profit organizations, or private enterprises to affect change in our city?
A: This question seems to beg articulating with Jim Collins terms a Big Harry Audacious Goal (BHAG). The BHAG is certainly one way to go. I, on the other hand, understand and hold great appreciation for the “Butterfly Effect,” an aspect of Systems Thinking that teaches accumulations of effects from small, seemingly insignificant actions can yield great consequences. One such small, seemingly insignificant issue indirectly impacting education in District 2, as well as in other districts, is littering and dumping, as well as poor curbside cleaning on the part of the city. It takes a certain level of learned selfishness to toss soda cans, cups and straws, beer and liquor bottles, cigarette butts, and other trash out the car window, or to simply drop trash where one stands or is walking. Naturally, children watching and continually exposed to such behavior and accumulations of litter will learn litter and littering are normal. The situation evidences a city willing to be okay with vicious cycles of worsening personal dignity, worsening self‐esteem and esteem of others, worsening social and health wellbeing, and worsening personal and neighborhood economic value, among other such effects.
To tackle this issue, I have entreated both city government and the school board and superintendent to institute “Litter Bug Education” rather seek to impose fees, fines, or any manner of sanction for littering. Like sloganeering, punishing people begets compliance, and compliance is not education. So I ask city government to institute Litter Bug Education mainly for adults residing in heavily affected neighborhoods and communities. And I ask the school board and superintendent is to institute Litter Bug Education for the children in appropriate curricula and courses, in especially the early grades. With both city government and the public schools system collaborating, the aforementioned vicious cycles will eventually reverse and turn into virtuous cycles to not “affect change” but rather to continually effect improvement in overall quality of life, work, and play for all, both children and adults.
STRONG INTEREST IN TRANSPARENCY
Q: What level of openness and transparency should the citizens of Atlanta expect from city government under your leadership?
A: This question asks about “city government.” However, Atlanta Independent School System, aka Atlanta Public Schools, is not city government. Atlanta city government and the Atlanta public schools system exist by authority of their own respective charters. Moreover, I do not seek “leadership.” I seek to represent. As a democratically practiced member of my neighborhood recently stated: “Citizens do NOT need ‘LEADERSHIP’ but strong ‘REPRESENTATION’ and a ‘VOICE’ from the beginning.”
As for openness and transparency, citizens of Atlanta can expect nothing less from me, except of course where prohibited by law and policy, provided neither such law nor policy functions to subsume any of morals, ethics, and democracy. I have little respect for law or policy that would seek to undermine any of morals, ethics, and democracy. Accordingly, citizens of Atlanta can expect me to, for example, influence the school board to start livestreaming or otherwise broadcasting so‐called school board Community Meetings, which currently are anything but that. No law or policy prohibits livestreaming the meetings; only the current board’s authoritarian and condescending belief about certain Atlanta citizens does. I know this firsthand. And to demonstrate my level of openness and transparency even now, this Center for Civic Innovation questionnaire bearing my responses will be shared publicly with an audience of thousands.
Q: Please describe any policies, programs, or ideas you are considering to increase the transparency of city government, particularly in your office.
A: This question also asks about “city government.” In addition to my response above, I will catalyze the school board to effect greater openness and transparency by calling for a forensic audit of the APS fiscal process, including budgeting and spending and especially spending in the category of Instruction. I will also bring greater openness and transparency to the operations of the superintendent’s management of some 300 partners, including partners running or involved in running public schools as well as private actors owning and running charter schools.