Simama Challenges English for Seat on APS Board
(APN) ATLANTA — Nisha Simama, a former Interim Board of Education (BOE) Member for Atlanta Public Schools (APS) for the District 2 seat, is now challenging at-large Board Member Courtney English for Seat 7.
Simama was selected by the torn and divided Board to serve as an Interim Member, with the intent that she could help the Board Members work together to regain full accreditation from AdvancED/SACS CASI.
Simama served out part of the remainder of Khaatim El’s (District 2) term, following El’s resignation in 2011, while a Special Election was held. Simama served from August 2011 until January 2012.
Byron Amos then won the Special Election, and since January 2012 has been serving out the remainder of El’s term.
Simama currently works as a multicultural coordinator for Paideia School, a private school in Atlanta.
Simama’s husband, Jabari Simama, previously served as a Member of the City Council of Atlanta (District 3), from 1987 to 1993, and more recently worked for DeKalb County.
Mr. English is perhaps the most ethically challenged Member of the Board, who twice misused APS credit cards by running up multiple inappropriate personal charges; deceived his constituents about it, as first reported by APN; accepted pro bono services from a company, Alisias, that was seeking a contract with APS, as first reported by APN; and, more recently, promoted a company he has claimed to work for, Child First USA, for work with APS.
English was also one of the so-called Gang of Five Board Members who decided in 2010 to change the BOE’s by-laws regarding how to change the Chairperson of the Board, then ousting LaChandra Butler Burks (District 5) as Chair.
Simama first came to Atlanta in the 1970s as a graduate student. “I was particularly involved in the housing projects, kind of doing political education work, working [with peers] in the neighborhoods as graduate students, to get into the communities to do political education,” she said.
Simama has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northern Illinois University and a Masters degree in Urban Education from Atlanta University.
“You can’t do urban education without doing a whole a lot of politics – the political arena, metropolitanization, how schools are part of communities,” she told Atlanta Progressive News.
Simama went on to be a teacher. “The first thing I did was teach third grade at East Lake Elementary as an assigned substitute teacher. That was in the 1970s,” Simama said.
“I did elementary and middle school, a little bit of high school teaching,” she said.
Simama and her husband left Atlanta for two years, returning in 1980, where she started working and teaching urban education classes at Clark Atlanta University.
“I left there and I ended up running later in the 1990s the largest Head Start program in the State of Georgia: three hundred employees, and one thousand children throughout Fulton County,” Simama said.
At Paideia she teaches such classes as African American Studies, Introduction to Sociology, and a class called Freedom Fighters, which focuses on Nelson Mandela.
Simama decided to apply for consideration for the Interim Seat because she thought, “the School Board needs somebody down there now who can talk to people. I said okay, I’ll give it a try.”
“I got down there and said this what I want to do, this is what I do. It’s on the policy side that we need support for the kind of progressive programs our children need,” she said.
“I tell people all the time I don’t know a lot of things, but one thing I do know is education. I know education, I love dealing with education, and I love health; those two go together for me,” she said.
“I worked very, very hard with folk to get us off probation,” she said.
“One of the first things that I did, I didn’t have a dog in the race. It was easy for me to find out where everybody was. The first thing I did was call up every single Board Member individually and talk about what they thought were the pressing things we needed to do to be removed from probation,” she said.
“I got varying responses. In each case, I asked, what does it do to get us off probation? What does it harm the Board?” she said.
“I knew the fundamental issue was there needed to be a group of adults who were committed to getting off of probation, because it was only hurting us,” she said. “Everybody knew where I stood on that issue.”
“In the final analysis, we had a unanimous vote in terms of voting that this Board would only change its policies with a supermajority, which, according to all of the sources, was in line with the charter. To me it was a no-brainer,” Simama said.
“Generally speaking–I’m a fighter now, don’t get me wrong–I also believe we need to bring sensibility, common sense, and talking about the common good for the masses, as opposed to what’s of interest to a small group or a small minority,” she said.
Simama tells APN that, if on the Board in 2010, she would not have supported the rule change.
“First of all, we have certain principles and policies that are in place in a governing authority. If you have certain principles that are there by law, that’s what they’re there for – you cannot go out and change those things because you want to do something else. You have to look at your laws and go through all the steps,” she said.
“My understanding is, all of the legal advice is, that should never have happened. If it does harm–if doing this, if there’s a potential to do harm to the district, to the system–then you need to think about it twice, or three times or four times. The actions we take today may reverberate and have a negative impact on our system,” she said.
As for charter schools, “Charters are here to stay. When I was on the Board, we approved the charter of a number of schools. But I don’t think we need to get into thinking charter schools is the panacea to save public education.”
“APS has very good schools within the system that aren’t charters,” she said.
“What I think we’re saying is, we’ll try everything. Charter schools have the same progress and achievement as do public schools,” she said.
“I’m very clear on one thing: education is not a place where people need to start thinking about starting to make a profit. It is not a profitable venture. It’s a venture we have to give resources to because every child deserves the best,” she said.
“One of the things that has to happen is, we’ve got to take the good models we have in our system, and make those our primary models,” she said.
“Some schools went charter because that’s where they see the money coming in at – you’ve got all these business partnerships,” she said.
“We can’t do it in totality, because once you turn it all into a charter system, you have the same problem as a public school system. I’m not for having us taking public taxpayer money and paying for private education,” she said.
“A lot of the charter schools are paying so much money to these private firms that are siphoning off indirect costs,” she said, noting also that the turnover rate at charter schools is also high.
“We can’t leave some people out because they can’t afford it, can’t get in, they don’t fit, they don’t learn the same way,” she said.
“We’ve got to be concerned about labor practices as well,” she said, noting that APS teachers work from day to night. “There’s nothing as hard as teaching.”
As for why she’s running for the city-wide seat, “I feel very strongly that we need someone prepared to preserve the integrity of APS,” she said.
“We need someone in that seat who is responsible, going to make good decisions, and is not going to have ethics violations following him,” she said.
“I am a uniter, not a divider,” she said.
“We also don’t need to have someone, I think, who is committed to the privatization of education… I’m not so sure that that’s not where my incumbent is coming from,” she said.
“Take a look at his disclosures. You might find a lot of his funding is coming from outside of the state, connected to large charter groups,” she said.