Candidates for school board in south Atlanta’s District 6 say the school system has done a bad job educating poor kids.
All four have worked in metro Atlanta schools, most of them as employees of Atlanta Public Schools. Most see a disturbing pattern: schools in low-income areas they say are poorly maintained and equipped, and unable to reverse high dropout rates.
Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, a homemaker and parent, said she’s visited just about all the district’s schools, and noted the smell of urine on the south side while schools to the north were comparatively well-maintained. She urges parents on the southside to check out schools across town to see the differences for themselves.
“What I tell parents is if you only eat at McDonald’s, you’re never going to know fine cuisine,” said Hayes-Tavares.
She and two other candidates — former Fulton County teacher Dell Byrd and former APS teacher-turned lawyer Eshé Collins — say equity is a top concern. The fourth candidate, Anne Wofford McKenzie, a retired APS teacher, says she worries about the graduation rate and class sizes. The candidates are vying for the school board seat now held by Yolanda Johnson, who is not seeking re-election.
McKenzie, who has run three times previously, complained about the influence of business interests and their money on the campaigns.
Collins, the youngest candidate at 33, recorded nearly $43,000 in contributions with $13,000 still on hand, as of Sept. 30. Hayes-Tavares was reporting more than $12,000, half still in the bank.
(Unlike those two, who filed electronic campaign reports, McKenzie filed by mail, and her report was not immediately available. Byrd, whose is registered with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission under her full name, Advis Dell Wilkerson-Byrd, had not filed a report as of last week.)
Among those who contributed to Collins are school board chairman Reuben McDaniel, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, former Atlanta chief operating officer Greg Giornelli and City Councilman C.T. Martin, who donated through his own campaign fund. Collins, an alumnus of Teach for America, also got contributions from TFA’s political arm, Leadership for Educational Equity. Teach for America is a program that recruits college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income communities, often in charter schools.
Supporters of Hayes-Tavares include current school board members Johnson, McDaniel and Brenda Muhammad, whose own political campaign funds donated cash. Former board member Khaatim Sherrer El also gave her money, as did a campaign fund for State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell.
All the candidates except Byrd have had liens against them, though all were paid. Hayes-Tavares also was also cited by a Clarkston police officer in 2011 for speeding near a DeKalb County special education school attended by one of her children. She pleaded guilty.
Byrd, who resigned from Fulton and now manages her own investment properties, likened schools to prisons and said teachers are powerless to bring change. She wants to impose it from the top. “Teachers can’t do their jobs,” she said. “Teachers are treated like cattle.”
McKenzie said she’s running a fourth time since 2001 to provide a “role model” for students. She said school board members have been divisive and selfish in competing for power. “I think it was all about trying to project themselves to higher positions instead of getting along,” she said.
Like Byrd, Collins said she felt “powerless” as an APS teacher. She decided she wanted to be involved in educational policy, so she went to law school, then worked for the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington. She now runs the Jumpstart program at Georgia State University, placing volunteers at early childhood learning centers. She said she knows parents who had to pull their asthmatic children out of southside schools because poor maintenance had led to mold and poor air quality. “The schools in South Atlanta are the lowest-performing schools in the district,” she said. “We cannot continue ignoring certain parts of the city.”
IN YOUR SCHOOLS
Seven of nine seats are contested in the Nov. 5 Atlanta school board election. One of the first tasks of the new board will be to pick a new superintendent for the 50,000-student district still reeling from cheating revelations. In south Atlanta District 6, competitors include property manager Dell Byrd, attorney and former elementary school teacher Eshé Collins, education advocate Shawnna Hayes-Tavares and retired teacher Anne Wofford McKenzie. They’ll replace outgoing board member Yolanda Johnson. Coming Sunday: A look at the issues shaping Atlanta school board elections.
ONLINE VOTER GUIDE
Before heading to the polls, you can look through a voters’ guide to see how your candidate answered questions and create your own customized ballot by visiting ajc.com/voterguide.
Read our previews of the other APS races, and learn why several challengers are taking aim at board chairman Reuben McDaniel.