Leslie Grant Challenging Muhammad for APS Board Seat

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(APN) ATLANTA — Leslie Grant, an involved APS parent and activist, is challenging incumbent Brenda Muhammad for the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education District 1 seat.

Muhammad, who is the longest-serving Board Member seeking reelection, was part of the so-called Gang of Five that ousted LaChandra Butler Burks as Chair in 2010, which led to the school system’s accreditation crisis.

Numerous APS Board seats are contested this year, and four seats are open, with four incumbents not seeking reelection.  

This race is likely to be one of the most-watched, because of Muhammad’s tenure–she has served for fourteen years–and because of the amount of money likely to be spent on the race.

Grant has raised more money than any other APS BOE candidate thus far as of the previous disclosure, raising some 30,643 dollars, including over 18,000 dollars in donations of less than one hundred dollars each.

Muhammad has raised 25,675 dollars, including a veritable who’s who of Atlanta’s Black political establishment.

Grant has a thirteen year-old daughter and a nine year-old son in APS.

She also started a small business, Chickin Feed, “as a response to the problem I was having of feeding my kids healthy foods,” she told Atlanta Progressive News.  Chickin Feed provides “tools to help parents feed their kids more healthy foods.”

The name derives from her nickname for little children, which, she says, is “little chickins.”

She has also been an advocate with Atlanta Farm to School, “trying to get Farm to School curriculum to local schools, get more farm food on menus at school.”

Grant has been involved with the founding of the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, a K-8 school, and served on its transition governing board.

She also founded the Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools (SEACS).  “We wanted a quality high school that people wanted to stay in this neighborhood to go to,” she said.

“I live in Grant Park.  It seemed a lot of people wanted to transfer to Decatur, Grady, or North Atlanta,” she said.

The group considered options and decided that improving Maynard Jackson High School is what most people were interested in, as opposed to trying to start a charter school, she said.

“I ended up on local School Council as a community member, trying to plug the community back into the school– it was pretty dis-engaged–[and] to get local resources into the school,” she said.

Grant became involved with the high school even before her daughter attended the school.

“Honestly I think there is a community push to get new leadership for District 1.  We have seen that through interactions with SEACS, and through conversations,” Grant said.

“I think APS is on the verge of being able to do something very dramatic and very positive.  There will be a new Superintendent next year.  I think it’s important to have someone [on the Board] who is able to sort of have a different vision for the future, to bring energy and engage the community in a different way,” Grant said.

“I think there is room for improvement with that,” she said, with respect to Muhammad’s leadership.

However, Muhammad’s biggest weakness–her connection to the board governance crisis that led to AdvancED/SACS CASI taking action–may not necessarily translate into a strength for Grant.

Grant tells APN she does not know how she would have voted in 2010, adding she believes Muhammad was privy to additional information the public did not have.  But she believes Muhammad should make that additional information, if there is any, known to the public.

“I know there were many pieces to that, that we weren’t privy to.  I do think it should always be done by the Charter, by the rules, by the book… if there were necessitating circumstances… around that, people should be made aware of that,” Grant said.

Grant is also a supporter of charter schools.

“They have been a tremendous tool for our community.  We have been able to engage a large portion of this community.  They are a tool to be used, we should use any tool we can,” she said.

“Charter is a word that is applied to a lot of different models.  There are sort of very healthy ones that come along that serve a need that’s not being served elsewhere,” Grant said.

“I don’t think we’ve been a pretty charter-friendly system,” Grant said, although APS has more charter schools than any other Georgia school system.

“I think the relationship between the two needs to be enhanced, more symbiotic.  It’s irresponsible to not look at the whole system,” she said.

“I think it’s important to get new folks in who didn’t put us there.  You don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” she said.

APN will provide an interview with, and counterpoint from, Muhammad, in an upcoming article.

(END/2013)

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