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 Paula’s responses.
QUALIFIED TO GOVERN
Q: What do you think is the most important role of the school board?
A: To collaboratively represent the public trust as effective stewards of the taxpayers’ investment in the education of Atlanta’s children
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: When Atlanta Public Schools announced the sale of the long-vacant David T. Howard School in Old Fourth Ward, I collaborated with concerned parents, the David T. Howard Alumni Association, the BOE, and City of Atlanta to preserve and renovate the 1923 building as Grady High School’s new feeder middle school. APS agreed to the project, saving decades of important Atlanta civil rights history and cherished alumni stories for generations of APS children. The David T. Howard school will reopen in the fall of 2020.
The highlight of this experience was sitting down with the David T. Howard alumni, who were willing to share their Segregation-era stories to craft the thesis that would ultimately compel the ABOE to fund the building’s restoration and reopening. Working with Atlanta community members who volunteered their historic preservation, architectural, and grant-writing expertise to assure APS children would get to know Atlanta’s historic 4th Ward community figures and experience the better world that comes from social justice in action remains personally awe-inspiring to me to this day.
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: President, Grady Robotics and STEM Alliance: 96% financial growth increase to support after-school robotics club program expansion from 25 Grady High School students to 5 APS high school robotics programs for 150 additional students including Washington, Carver, North Atlanta, and Jackson High Schools. Increased board participation and mentor growth by 30%. Ensured financial, in-kind, volunteer, and relationship-based support, assuring program expansion, long-term sustainability, and advancement of the organization.
Two-Term President, PTA: Leadership service to the board, committee chairs, and 500+ parent volunteers, and community partners to steward strong relationships in schools. Directed the development and follow-through of all work plans and budgets to encourage successful project completion and volunteer achievement, Conducted all board and community PTA stakeholder meetings and presentations. Partnered with administrators, teachers, and parents to define and prioritize school needs. Collaborated with GA and Atlanta Council PTA, Atlanta Public Schools BOE, City Council members, and community partners.
Two-Term Local School Council Chair: Served to bring communities and schools closer together to make recommendations to solve education problems, improve academic achievement, to provide support for teachers and administrators, and bring parents into the school based decision-making process.
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: Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Units: Their Past, Present, and Future!
Q: What is a new slogan for our city that could inspire Atlanta’s children and highlight who we are as a people?
A: Atlanta: Where Minds Meet
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: In addition to making myself available to all Atlantans in person, by phone, email, and social media, I believe there are existing communication channels in place that can be built upon and refined to provide even better interaction.
APS recently implemented a new governance structure that in many ways parallels the city’s formal community input structure. Each school has a governing body (GO Team) comprised of elected family members, faculty, and community representatives, similar to a neighborhood association. These meetings are open for the school community to attend. Schools within a high school feeder pattern (“Cluster”) have a collective body - the Cluster Advisory Team - which is analogous to the City’s NPUs (Neighborhood Planning Units). The clusters then have a district-level structure - the District Executive Committee where the cluster representatives can discuss issues that are more city-wide (slightly similar to APAB). Now that these structures have been deployed in individual schools and clusters, we have an opportunity to utilize them better as one piece of the communications infrastructure.
There is not yet a well-defined protocol for how GO Teams communicate with the district administration and ABOE, which opens an important opportunity to tie into one of the defining features of community engagement in our city - the NPUs. I will endeavor to create a more collaborative infrastructure for Cluster Advisory Teams to work with the NPUs represented in each school cluster. The NPUs are on the front line of the issues facing their communities and can possibly be partners to bridge school cluster needs to City and County departments and resources. All 8 District 2 NPUs have elected official space built into every monthly agenda; my participation at these meetings is an opportunity to keep an ear to the ground to better understand neighborhoods, law enforcement, City, and County leadership roles as they relate to our schools.
APS has several existing mechanisms for teachers, administrators and students that can be better utilized within a cohesive communications infrastructure: the District has access to the entire Google Suite including Google Classroom, and also Microsoft Office 365. Teachers and administrators use the Sharepoint feature of 365 for Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Very recently the Board approved and will be deploying Let’s Talk, a platform to capture stakeholder concerns and track resolution. Loads of opportunities for BOE communication and sharing are here.
As a parent, I have always appreciated BOE members who held informal monthly meetings. I intend to do the same thing, and at a time most convenient for working families. It’s also important to me to include students; they need to know as much about civic engagement as possible to be the next generation of good community stewards. Students can easily adapt and contribute to GO Teams, Cluster Advisories, and even PTA’s. I would be all for interconnecting student government with the GO Team and the District; students could regularly update the websites, develop apps or platforms, weigh in on the issues.
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: The 2020 census represents an immediate opportunity for our Schools, City, and County to collaborate to ensure that all of our students and their families are counted and acknowledged as part of our community, part of our fabric.
Because Atlanta is one of the top 5 urban cities known for undercounting 0-5 aged black children, I will work with APS, City of Atlanta, Fulton County and children’s non profit child advocacy groups like GEEARS and their recently formed Promise All Atlanta Children Can Thrive (PAACT) to help assure families who are hesitant or are unsure of how to be counted that the process and purpose - appropriate funding for School, City, and County programs - is clear and transparent.
STRONG INTEREST IN TRANSPARENCY
Q: What level of openness and transparency should the citizens of Atlanta expect from city government under your leadership?
A: Expect me to lead with the most transparency possible in the ABOE/City/County partnership, especially since our District charter often overlaps on issues specific to children and families with the charters of the city and county. Some ABOE members are already in the habit of sitting on City committees like Invest Atlanta or the Mayor’s initiatives on homelessness. I’ve seen a positive transparency culture shift through the current board members who are willing to devote their time to these groups and bring best practices back to APS for implementation and community awareness. This is a refreshing change I would be glad to continue.
Even the appearance of suspicion and secrecy are deadly to community trust. I will work to encourage our various government entities to freely share pertinent information and welcome questions and input. Lowest-hanging fruit here is restoring the practice of live-streaming public comment at BOE meetings.
Q: Please describe any policies, programs, or ideas you are considering to increase the transparency of city government, particularly in your office.
A: Though it hasn’t been the smoothest roll-out for City taxpayers, the new City of Atlanta Open Checkbook is a promising public tool. I’d like to duplicate this sort of transparency for our Fulton and Dekalb taxpayers as applicable to ABOE.