Raynard Johnson has worked in the software development field for more than 30 years.
Q: What is your No. 1 concern for the students in District 5 specifically?
A: My No. 1 concern is the fact that we need to have a better input at kindergarten. These kids are coming in behind in kindergarten. That’s why we have the scores we have on CCRPI [College and Career Ready Performance Index] and other measurements. By that I mean we need to have early childhood learning from six weeks to three to four years old, before pre-K. We need early childhood learning centers.
My other concern is the fact that we need to expand our vocational education offerings because everyone is not going to go to college. More specifically for the Douglass and the Mays clusters, we need to not only concentrate on the STEM or the STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics], but we need to focus on vocational ed, more robust CTAE [career, technical and agricultural education] offerings.
Q: You’ve already started to talk about the followup question: what could you as a Board of Education member do about those concerns, what are some of your policy ideas?
A: My policy ideas are quite simply: we need to invest in early childhood learning. And I’m not stating that Atlanta Public Schools is going to get into the babies business, babysitting. No. But our partners are already in that space. Unfortunately our partners are not on my side of town. We have inequity. So our business partners that deal with early childhood learning, from a policy perspective, we need to have inclusion in those policy decisions, we need to be inclusionary.
Q: What is an uncomfortable truth the Board of Education needs to face?
A: An uncomfortable truth that the Board needs to face is the fact that we have two Atlanta Public Schools: Grady, North Atlanta, the regentrified Jackson cluster; and everybody else. We need one APS.
Another other uncomfortable truth is the unequal distribution of our educational resources and services. Those who need the most need to get the most.
The other uncomfortable truth is given all the construction and buildings and growth in Midtown and Downtown, those are families moving into those condos. They are going to have to have a place for their children to go to school. I can tell you right now, after the last building that was transformed, renovated, the North Atlanta building, we are not going to build another high school for the North Atlanta or Grady cluster. That is not going to happen. So the hard truth that Atlanta needs to face is: sooner or later, we must have a conversation centered around whether or not families want to send their children below the DMZ called I-20. Where there are empty classrooms, half-filled buildings. We have space. Because we’re not going to build another high school for your area. You’re already busting at the seams. That is not going to happen. So that conversation needs to be had sooner rather than later regarding whether or not we’re going to have students maybe go across I-20.
Q: In the last four to eight years, what is something the Board has gotten right?
A: Fixing some of the problems associated with the cheating scandal. The transformation of giving kids who were caught up in that situation more enhanced after-school hours.
Some of the things going on in the turnaround plan I do agree with.
Some of the things they did get right were the conversations regarding equity. They’re starting that conversation. One of the other things they’re starting to get right is increasing minority participation for contracts. I was the person who, I was one of the main persons who brought this to the attention of the board during public comments over three years ago, when the CFO gave me documentation that indicated that only one to three percent of all of our contracts go to minority/female/disadvantaged businesses. So, now they have policies to at least start the conversation to have policy decisions to have those type of inclusionary goals for minority vendors. But if you do not have an administration … an office, it goes nowhere, it just goes there as policy. So we need an office, a department, we need manpower behind the policy to fulfill that mission.
Q: What’s something the Board has either gotten wrong or failed to do in the last four to eight years?
A: The equity. Equity. We need one Atlanta Public Schools, not two.
Q: Overall, bottom line, what is your pitch to voters, why should people vote for you?
A: I’m a native Atlantan. I’m a graduate of Atlanta Public Schools. I’m the only native Atlantan and Atlanta Public School graduate of candidates for the fifth district seat.
I’ve already been engaged in my community. I’m a member of the Restorative Justice Board … of the Atlanta Municipal Court. I’m a member of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative through [former] Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves’ office. I am a court-appointed special advocate for neglected kids in the court system. I am engaged … So I see the opposite side of what happens, when you do not get education. I feel education is the key to good life choices. Not necessarily a good life, but good life choices. Right now, if you want higher property values and less crime, we must invest in education. Because educated people do not wake up at midnight to go harm people.
I’m a native Atlantan, I am engaged in my community, and I have a clear, distinct plan to improve educational outcomes: Invest in early childhood learning, more vocational ed offerings, smaller classrooms.
We have fat. One thing this Board has not done right, they have not cut enough fat from the central office. They have not done that right. We still have fat. I would cut more fat and redirect those resources to the classroom.