Kandis Wood Jackson is an attorney and former Atlanta Public Schools teacher. She spoke to SaportaReport via email.
Q: What’s your No. 1 concern for the students of Atlanta?
Equity across the district. Although all students in Atlanta deserve high-quality public education, there are wide discrepancies in the quality of education our students receive that, unfortunately, tend to trend along racial, geographic, and socioeconomic lines. There are zip codes within APS with incredibly low “child scores,” according to recent data from the United Way of Greater Atlanta. These zip codes often correspond with school clusters that are not performing at the level we should expect. This is unacceptable to me. We need to recognize that it is much more difficult for a child who is hungry, homeless or home insecure, or hurting to learn. All students — no matter their neighborhood — should have access to an excellent school.
Q: What could you as a Board of Education member do about that?
To bring equity to these neighborhoods, I will invest in what I call the “5 L’s:” Leadership, Literacy, Learning, Life and Love. More specifically, and as to the “Learning” prong, I will focus on minimizing external impediments to a child’s ability to learn. I know that experiences occurring outside the classroom can have a big impact on a child’s ability to learn inside the classroom. I will work with other Board members and the superintendent to build community partnerships and offer wraparound services to students and their parents. These services will include nutritional, mental health, family support, and other key services.
Q: What’s an uncomfortable truth the Board of Education needs to face?
The equity issues summarized above. In addition, the Board needs to face the underfunded pension and the relatively large percentage of APS’s spending that goes towards pension liability payments. This issue needs to be addressed by the next Board such that we are working to funnel more funds directly to educational purposes.
Q: What’s something the Board has gotten right in the last four to eight years?
Developing and implementing the school Turnaround Plan, which is intended to provide additional critical support to our lowest performing schools. There is still much work to do in this regard, and we must operate with a sense of urgency and purpose because our students can’t wait. At the same time, the next Board will need to address the many valid concerns with this plan (such as the potential violation of teachers’ due process rights, and the reality that the plan impacts some communities more than others, e.g.) while simultaneously earning the respect and trust of the communities the plan impact the most. In addition, the next Board will need to implement policies meant to improve our higher-performing schools that are not expressly included in the Turnaround Plan.
Q: What’s something the Board has gotten wrong or failed to do in the last four to eight years?
If I’m elected to the Board, I would like to work with my colleagues to improve the Board’s performance in the following areas: (1) earning the respect and trust of all of our communities; (2) establishing a culture of respect from the top down; and (3) addressing the unfunded pension and other budgetary issues such that there is a financial reserve for times when tax-payer money may not be guaranteed.
Q: Overall, bottom line, what’s your pitch to voters?
I am the best choice for Seat 7 At-Large. I’m not better than any other candidate in this or any other race. But I am better-qualified. I have had the blessing of a high-quality education and I know what it takes to provide that to our students. In addition, I have been trained and humbled by my background — from growing up in Atlanta, to studying English and Political Science at Duke University, to teaching at a Title I school in West Atlanta, to honing my legal skills at Harvard Law School, to working diligently every day at the large corporate law firm of Alston & Bird LLP. I am ready to put this education, experience, and passion to work as a champion for all students in APS. I am seeking excellence for every child.