Esteves, James Responses to APN’s APS BOE Questionnaire (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — In the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education At-large Seat 9, candidates Jason Esteves and Lori James are in a Run-off for the seat being vacated by Emmett Johnson.
Neither Esteves nor James returned their questionnaires timely to APN during the General Election.
APN reported over the summer regarding Esteves’s connection with Teach for America, which has a sister political organization that is pushing its TFA alums to run for office. The story–about Esteves and three other TFA alums running for APS BOE–eventually got picked up by a Washington Post education blog. TFA’s model is generally consistent with privatization, and many former TFA’ers are at the heart of the pro-charter school movement.
To date, two of the four TFA alums have been elected or reelected, including Matt Westmoreland (District 3) and Courtney English. Meanwhile, Esteves–as well as Eshe Collins in District 6–are in Run-offs.
Esteves has endorsed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s PAC, Continue Atlanta’s Progress; and by the Buckhead Coalition.
James has been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers.
APN endorsed Ed Johnson in the General Election.
Following the General Election, APN re-opened the questionnaire response period for any Run-off candidate whose questionnaire had not previously been published.
In recent days, both candidates’ campaigns provided responses as follows:
(1) If you had been on the Board in 2010, when the so-called Gang of Five voted to change the rules regarding how to oust a Chair, and then ousted LaChandra Butler Burks as Chair, would you have supported the initial rule change? Yes or no, why or why not?
ESTEVES: Before voting for any change, my first priority would have been to work with my colleagues on the Board to find a resolution that did not put our schools’ accreditation at risk and jeopardize the educational opportunities for thousands of kids. If elected, all of my votes on the Board will be driven by one metric: whether a specific policy improves the school system’s ability to ensure that children across the City, regardless of where they live, have access to a great public school education.
JAMES: Hind site [sic] is always 20/20, if not more. Atlanta was going through a challenging time in 2010. I would hope that the decisions made by Brenda Muhammad, Khaatim Sheerer El, Nancy Meister, Yolanda Johnson, and Courtney English were for the reasons they stated, having to do with conduct unbecoming of a Board Chair, and not an “illegal coup d’etat,” as has also been stated.
Although SACS CEO Dr. Elgart threatened the accreditation status of APS, due to what he described as “The Board’s continued failure to adhere to its policies, as well as state and local laws,” the Judge refused to reinstate the Chair. This causes me to believe there was a lot more going on than was observed or discussed openly. Therefore, the only answer I could have for this question is that I would have followed what I believed to be the rule of the Charter and the law, utilizing counsel when appropriate.
(a) What is your overall position on charter schools?
ESTEVES: I support good public schools regardless of whether they are traditional or charter schools. I believe the next school board has the opportunity to ensure our traditional schools become just as successful as our most successful charter schools by doing what all good schools do – attracting great teachers and principals, mobilizing parents and the community, supporting those stakeholders, and encouraging them to work together in the best interests of our children.
JAMES: I believe that there are great schools, both traditional, charter and private. As well, there are schools operating under the same titles that cause concern. I believe we need to make sure schools that are chartered by APS meet all of the requirements of an APS charter, and that they follow the guidelines of their charters and provide the services documented.
“Charter schools were originally conceived as innovative public schools, free from the bureaucracy of school districts and designed to nurture new effective educational models.” We need to focus on the original concept. I believe we should put the effort and resources necessary into making our traditional schools the absolute best they can be. As well, we need to implement current policies that allow current schools to eliminate some of the restrictions and bureaucracy that stifle creativity, independence, and local school control.
(b) Do you have any concerns about charter schools; if so, what are they?
ESTEVES: I want to ensure that all of our public schools, including charter schools, are serving a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and special needs students. I am also concerned that we have shifted our focus away from traditional schools in an attempt to find a silver bullet. There is no silver bullet to solving the issues within public education. Our task as a Board will be to study the best practices of our most successful public schools and work to apply them to the traditional schools that are not giving students a great public school education.
JAMES: Yes my concerns have to do with: 1. The provision of services for students who have special needs, or other instructional, medical or behavioral concerns. Parents should be confident that their child is going to receive the absolute best instruction and care possible, to meet their child’s needs. 2. Charter schools living up to the original concept of a charter school.
(c) Do you believe APS, or any district within APS, is already unduly oversaturated with charter schools?
ESTEVES: There are certainly clusters within APS where the focus has been on charter schools. But our job cannot be assigning blame to parents who acted to address their students’ needs. Instead we must work to bring every public school up to perform at the highest levels. As I’ve said countless times on the campaign trail, the next Board has the opportunity to ensure that traditional schools are just as successful as Atlanta’s best charter schools. We cannot succeed as a school system, or as a City, unless our lowest performing schools become great public schools.
JAMES: There are approximately 14 Charter Schools (not separating primary and middle schools from the same organization) in the APS jurisdiction, which is more than any school district in the state. At this time, I will not make a determination as to whether the district is or is not “unduly” saturated.
(d) In what circumstances, if any, would you vote against a charter school application? [If an incumbent, please note any votes in which you did oppose a charter school application.]
ESTEVES: There are three red flags that would disqualify any charter application. I would not vote for a charter school application (1) where the application does not satisfy the requirements of the Office of Innovation; (2) where the parents in the surrounding neighborhood do not support the proposed school; or (3) where the proposed school does not offer parents in the surrounding
neighborhood anything different from what APS currently offers.
JAMES: One circumstance that I would vote against a charter school would be if it did not meet the requirements, described and documented, by APS policy. I would have to look at other charter school applications on a case-by-case basis, paying attention to issues such as: the overall desire of the community; whether the school is able to provide services stated; whether it will meet the needs of the community/students; and the enrollment criteria.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article had inadvertantly listed Eshe Collins as having received the Seat 9 endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers. Collins, of course, is running in the District 6 race and as previously reported by APN, is not supported by AFT. In the Seat 9 race, the AFT endorsed Lori James.