An Open Letter to Dr. Lisa Herring, incoming superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools
By Guest Columnist KIMBERLY DUKES, co-founder and executive director of Atlanta Thrive
Dear Dr. Herring,
These days are emotional for parents like me. My daughter is a high school senior and, like many students across the country, she won’t get to experience her last day of school with her classmates and teachers. Her eight younger siblings, aunts and uncles, and other family members all look forward to celebrating her graduation, but we’re also experiencing several other emotions. Neither my mother nor I ever got the chance to graduate, so my daughter will be the first in our family. But we won’t be able to see her walk across that stage, and that’s something I have dreamed about since she was born.
Even with these emotions, every day I take my personal experience and my passion to work for Atlanta Public School kids. As the executive director of Atlanta Thrive, a parent-led organization with a mission to disrupt the inequities in public education, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges that exist in APS communities.
Our dedicated group of advocates has knocked on more than 10,000 doors across Atlanta, listening to the concerns of parents and beyond, trying to figure out where to get food and the Internet, we all have questions about what’s next for our children’s learning when the 2020-2021 school year starts.
What has been comforting to me is that we are not alone in this situation. Atlanta Thrive is a part of the Powerful Parent Network, a national movement of families sharing information and parent involvement ideas to lift our students out of failing schools and broken educations systems. Since the pandemic, PPN has held virtual town halls every Friday, discussing our challenges with distance learning and ideas for improvements.
We’ve surveyed our parents – more than 1,000 of them from around the country – and many share my feelings. We also share a determination to demand the education that every child deserves and come out of this crisis with even stronger schools then before. But no matter our strength in numbers, we parents know, more than anyone, that the work starts local.
Dr. Herring, it’s good to know that you have worked in APS communities south of I-20 where the virus is hitting people the hardest. And, as I’m sure you know, the loss of these weeks of in-person instruction will only amplify the 60 percent achievement gap between black and white students in APS. As research predicts, black and brown students will fall behind even more than their white classmates because of this time out of the classroom. And they are stuck in schools that were failing even before the pandemic. Because of this, I know parents will support you to:
- Engage us even more than the administration has before, particularly now while we are more active in our children’s education;
- Strengthen measures for transparency and accountability with timelines for intervening failing schools. Parents deserve to know what defines a high-quality school and how their schools are performing;
- Develop new initiatives and out-of-the-box strategies to close the achievement gap, since we know that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work due to the vast disparities across the city.
It gives me hope to hear your comments and thoughtful answers to the thousands of questions and concerns brought to you during your recent virtual town halls. Especially your experience with equity policies and the acknowledgement of the hard work that has yet to be done. I am glad to learn that, like Atlanta Thrive, you went door-to-door in Birmingham to engage parents. And I really appreciate your call on advocacy, community and business groups to help with parent engagement. Because that’s what it’s going to take. To turn this ship, it will talk all Atlantans – not just parents, educators and administrators – but all of Atlanta’s citizens who care about this city and its future.
Dr. Herring, you stepped into a difficult job. Most of our kids were falling behind before this global crisis. Together, with all of Atlanta standing behind you, we will get our kids through it. We parents, especially, look forward to hearing your plan, and even more so, are here to help you create it. Your success is our kids’ success. And we are committed to having our children succeed.
Notes to readers:
The board that oversees Atlanta Public Schools voted May 11 to hire Lisa Herring as superintendent, on a three-year contract.
For Kimberly Dukes, engaging parents around education is her passion and helping them find what’s best for their students is her purpose.