Almost two years ago to the day, a colleague said to me “There are no Black mothers on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education.” At the time I thought it was an unusual observation with little meaning. After all, we have Eshe Collins, the only African-American woman on the Board. And she has worked in early childhood and at GSU where I’m sure she has taught, influenced and learned from many student teachers. She taught in Atlanta Public Schools through Teach for America and has even been a policy clerk at The Children’s Defense Fund. That was good enough for me. And we have three white mothers and two Black fathers, one of whom just became a father since being on the Board. Two of those mothers have adult children who have graduated from APS and of the three current APS students remaining, two attend charter schools and one attends Maynard Jackson HS.
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Fast forward to yesterday when I had a discussion about what we want and need on our Board as we move swiftly into campaign season for ALL 9 SEATS! I reflected on the Black mother comment and we collectively realized that the Black mother is the number one constituent of APS. She disproportionately sends her children to the city schools, volunteers in the school, anguishes when her children are not doing or being served well and ends up running the PTA only after being begged and convinced nobody can lead it like she can.

 

And she is most affected when schools close, merge or are transformed with new staff and new ways of building culture and teaching both sets of 3 R’s (relevance, rigor and relationships AND reading, writing and ‘rithmetic). {Side note – why do we call them 3 R’s when only one of the 3 words begin with the letter r? Was this some sarcastic teacher’s idea of a sick joke?}

 

Black mothers keep working hard to make it work. Some seek out charter schools that require them to take a bus and a train to the school and arrive by 7:30 am. Some stay committed to the neighborhood school and give it all they have to serve their child effectively as well as those children whose parents never cross the threshold into their classrooms and can’t call their teachers by name. Some travel or move cross town to get their child to an APS school that has a diverse student population and a relatively stronger culture that includes rigorous learning, hands-on, real world and practical application experiences for its students.

 

So in that reflection of what it means to be a Black mother of APS, we came up with a set of criteria for any candidate for the APS Board of Education for which Atlanta residents will vote on November 7, 2017.

 

I hope this list of desirable characteristics for any candidate who wishes to serve or continue to serve the 50,000 students attending 106 schools. We are absolutely clear that this is not an easy job and challenges us to imagine what transformation really looks like. Where kids learn and love to read by the 1st grade, where school is a place to explore the world while building skills and becoming an informed citizen, where staff exude high expectations and love for the children, where parents are welcomed and understand their role in their child’s academic experiences and where students graduate with ideas, competence, and confidence to find their place in the world.
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Here is the list.
o Grounded in the community
o Open to new ideas
o Child-centered
o Parent or caregiver with students currently in APS
o Understands how a charter system operates
o Knowledgeable about charter schools, special education, curriculum and instruction
and social emotional learning.
o Supportive of the district’s commitment to innovation through the turnaround
approach
o Has the stamina to advocate for vocal and voiceless constituents

 

Please help by thinking of someone you know who fits this description. Perhaps we can wrap supports around that person leading up to the election and after they win. And perhaps at least one of those winning candidates will be a Black mother.

 

When we think in terms of education transformation, the involvement of our most valued asset, the parent(s), is critically important to the process. This is the premise for which the PLUS (Parent Leaders United for Students) academies exists and why HTI is excited to be paving the way for more parent engagement.