Brenda Muhammad to Defend APS Board Seat
(APN) ATLANTA — Brenda Muhammad, the longest-serving member of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education who is seeking reelection, plans to defend her seat from challenger, Leslie Grant.
Previously, Atlanta Progressive News interviewed Grant regarding her positions on the issues, and why Grant is challenging Muhammad for the District 1 seat.
Unlike four of her colleagues who are not seeking reelection, Muhammad tells APN, “I have some unfinished business. Our children have some needs that need to be addressed, that we just have not addressed to ensure success for all of our children.”
Muhammad wants to start a Career Tech high school “because all of our kids are not going to college. We have lost more children because we don’t offer, we don’t address their career needs. We have IB (International Baccalaureate) schools, but not all the kids in that area are going to benefit from the IB program.”
“Another reason I want to run and be there the next four years, is to make sure I am able to, in my role as Board Member, to fulfill and complete a project I’ve been working on for twelve years, to make Maynard Jackson [High School] the school of choice in the district,” Muhammad said.
“For far too many years, families were requesting administrative transfers to go to Grady or North Atlanta,” Muhammad said, echoing comments that Ms. Grant also made in her interview with APN.
“It was so ironic in reading what others have said about how they’ve been working, and in the last two to three years, I’ve just gotten people to really look at Maynard Jackson,” Muhammad said.
“If we’d have had the support and interest years ago, we could have had that addressed long before,” she said.
Muhammad told APN that she was instrumental in working with Grant’s husband, Don Grant, to form Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools (SEACS), and that initially, Leslie Grant was not involved.
“She was involved doing her Chickin Feed thing,” Muhammad said, referring to a small business that Grant ru
ns to provide healthy eating curriculum for parents and children.
Muhammad said that while Leslie Grant recently became involved with advocating for Maynard Jackson High, that it is because of Muhammad reaching out to community members to encourage them to do so; and that Grant only became focused on improving Jackson when it became clear it was the only option.
“They got involved after I went and pleaded with them, and they realized they didn’t have a high school and they couldn’t go to North Atlanta or Grady,” Muhammad said.
Grant did not return a voicemail left by APN seeking comment about a week ago.
Muhammad said she also wants to start an early learning center in District 1.
Muhammad defended her participation in the so-called Gang of Five that changed the rules and ousted LaChandra Butler-Burks as Chair in 2010, an action which led to AdvancED/SACS CASI putting APS on accreditation probation.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to go to that extent,” Muhammad said.
“Let me tell you what my goal was, to get to the bottom of what was going on. I was one of those who pulled the fire alarm, I don’t regret having done that. It’s unfortunate it included that part, we had to go that far to change the rules, to get to the bottom of what was going on,” she said.
When asked whether the cheating scandal would have been investigated by the proper authorities anyway, even without the change of the Board Chairperson, given that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper already was devoting significant resources to investigating the issue journalistically, Muhammad said she believed the change was necessary to bring about the investigations.
“If we didn’t do what we did, we’d still be doing the same thing. Why would we think if we didn’t have any intervention that it would have been anything different?” she said.
“I hated that it had to be that way, for several reasons in regards to that vote, and this young sister was serving as the Chair at that time,” she said.
“We had to do what we had to do… I don’t want to dwell on that,” she said.
Muhammad said that although SACS recommended that the Board revisit their policies, “we have to this day not revisited the charter.”
Muhammad complains that the current charter–which, incidentally was pushed in the legislature by then-State Sen. Kasim Reed–provides the Board with little oversight authority over the Superintendent and the administration.
She said that she spoke with the current interim superintendent, Erroll B. Davis, Jr., about changing the charter, but that Davis advised it would be better not to attempt to do so at this time, seeing as how charter amendments require approval of the legislature.
Inviting the Georgia Legislature to open up APS’s charter for review may result in the legislature making changes not sought by the Board, she noted.
Meanwhile, Muhammad said she has been a strong supporter of charter schools and that she has supported every charter school proposal that has come before the Board, even if the Board did not ultimately approve the proposal.
“I’ve been supportive of charters when it was a bad word – I supported Neighborhood Charter Schools,” she said.
“My colleagues on the Board, you would’ve thought I was a monster. I call it one of my success stories, the Neighborhood Charter School. I’ve supported every last one, one hundred percent. I don’t think there’s been one that I haven’t supported,” she said.
Muhammad is a veteran Atlanta politico, who campaigned in the past for Hosea Williams and State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, she said.
“I’ve been knowing folks, I’ve been involved out here for forty something years,” she said.
Muhammad also serves as the Executive Director of Atlanta Victim Assistance, Inc., and got involved in victim assistance since the murder of her son.
Accordingly, she says she does not care for the term Gang of Five that was attributed to her and her colleagues.
“I hate that. I am offended by it. It’s against everything that I stand for. My work is in violence prevention and victimization. A gang is just deplorable… I look at it as something offensive,” she said.
During the Gang of Five debacle, however, Muhammad was seen as the least entrenched.
For one thing, she was the only one of the five who did not rely on the services of the controversial, pro-privatization Alisias PR firm, or of pro-privatization attorney Glenn Delk, noting she hired her own attorney.
According to an invoice submitted by Alisias to APS for payment, there were hours upon hours of phonecalls between Gang of Five members and Alisias, plotting a deceptive public relations strategy that included creating fictitious people and email accounts. However, only one call was logged with Muhammad.
“I know I never had any conversation with ‘em. I got my own lawyer,” she said.
“Everyone referred to me as the voice of reason… then there were people with ulterior motives who were representing other people,” Muhammad said, declining to elaborate who she was referring to.
“At the end of the day they asked me to serve as the Chair,” she said.
Previously, Grant criticized Muhammad, by saying she had had time to change APS but had failed.
“If she was expecting all of APS to change from me, then I’m sure she will be disappointed if she wins, unless she wants to run against the whole board – I’m just one of nine. I can do my part,” she said.
“She and others who have new-found passion for APS – if they had been involved before – maybe I could have done a whole lot more,” she said.
“As far as this activism, I’d like to know where this activism came from, I’ve never known Leslie Grant to do anything other than this farming thing, or Chickin Feed, until she started running for this seat,” she said.