GRANT PARK — Leslie Grant, mother of two and member of the local school council at Jackson High School, is running for the Atlanta Public Schools Board District 1 seat, currently held by Brenda J. Muhammad.
Grant, who filed papers to run on Tuesday, said she believes it's time for "transformational leadership" on the board.
That became apparent, she said, following the redistricting of APS last year, which resulted in the closure of seven schools.
"Redistricting changed a lot," she told East Atlanta Patch. It changed the way people perceived what was going on. And it just seemed to bring a lot of people out and made them energized about being interested in fixing their schools."
The redistricting had been a contentious issue across the city, at times pitting neighborhoods against each other.
It also put the two board members who represent the communities of East Atlanta Patch — Muhammad and Cecily Harsch-Kinnane — under intense scrutiny in advance of the 2013 November elections.
Some parents felt at the time that each advocated for the wants of some neighborhoods at the expense of others.
Indeed, in recent months, residents in a number of communities have discussed potential candidates who could run against both Muhammad and Harsch-Kinnane, who represents District 3.
Harsch-Kinnane, whose district includes Kirkwood and East Atlanta, has already said she will not seek re-election, a point she reiterated to Patch on Tuesday.
Muhammad, whose district includes Grant Park, Summerhill and Inman Park, has not officially announced plans for re-election, but she is expected to run again.
This year's election brings a significant change to the school board in that the districts will change to align with changes in how the Atlanta City Council districts are divided. Those changes for both the City Council and the school board take effect in January 2014.
District 1, for example, will now include Candler Park and stretch north into portions of Midtown. As redrawn it will create a zone comprised of communities that feed into the Jackson, Carver and Grady High school clusters.
Because it includes communities both in Northeast and Southeast Atlanta, Don Grant, Leslie's husband, will resign from his seat as co-president of Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools, an advocacy group for the city's southeastern quadrant. That decision was made in anticipation of potential conflicts of interest.
Patch met with Grant, who is the founder of Chickin Feed, an organization focused on educating kids on healthy eating and smart food choices, to ask her about he candidacy and what she seeks to accomplish:
Q. Why are you running for school board?
A. I'm very interested in trying to represent the children of the District 1. I'm feeling that we need some — in many ways — transformational leadership on the board. I'm very excited about it, I've been involving schools for quite a while, my daughter is in eighth grade and I began getting involved in high school when she was in sixth grade and seeing all kinds of opportunities for change.
Q. In terms of current board makeup and leadership, what do you see as not being represented on the board that you bring to the table?
A. I think that redistricting changed a lot. It changed the way people perceived what was going on. The board meetings were digitized, people could see what was going on online and it just seemed to bring a lot of people out and made them energized about being interested in fixing their schools. What we've been hearing — because this is a much more connected community — is that they're just looking for something different, a different approach, some leadership that is little more in tune with what that connected community wants.
Q. With the 2013 elections, the school board districts will realign and change in keeping with the changes made to the City Council district maps. Should you be elected, you're going to have a district that is very diverse racially and economically, with school clusters that have different needs. How are you going to balance the needs of those schools that don't have as much money and resources in terms of parental support on the southern end of the district with those that do on the northern end?
A. Again, I think it's about having more of a connection with the communities and letting them know what representation is available. The system itself has put out a strategic plan that is committed to equity. And I think making sure that that plan is laid out, rolled out, following that lead — just making sure that is followed through on. Specifically what that means is they set up the cluster models, I think that will spread things out a good bit. Having those communities that build K-12, whatever end of the district they're on, is going to help. The community stays together through all of that and I think it will be a lot easier to separate resources.
Q. There's an argument made by some parents — at least in Southeast Atlanta — that there are too many charter schools. While you're heavily involved in Jackson High School, you're also a charter school parent. How would you deal with those challenges or assumptions that you may be more aligned with the charters' needs compared with the needs of traditional APS schools?
A. I think what people miss completely when they go down to record is that we're educating children in Atlanta. And whatever sort of name or moniker is on the school it's still about educating children and children are different and have different needs and I think that a lot of what has happened in the system is that a few years ago it just was not working. We were looking for solutions that would work and did make sense and that is why a lot of the charters came about. Continuing to look at it as two, separate opposing things is not constructive to bringing all of those communities back together. I would love to see a more holistic approach to how the schools work together and we can be able to look at these as pilot programs. An example is Wesley Academy; they have IB (International Baccalaureate) that was something that they wanted to bring about within their small system. So they have the International Baccalaureate program from K-8. Well, now, Jackson is implementing the International Baccalaureate and they’ll be fed by these kids from Wesley, who will get it, who will perform well and help Jackson implement that IB program well. That was not something the system had to pay for, Wesley paid for that themselves. It's an expensive program and that's one of the arguments for not doing it. It should rather be seen as a benefit to the system, rather than, 'oh, you're taking our money.' We just need to look at what people are bringing to the table and, ultimately, are they benefiting the children?
Q. The current school board has been through a lot from the cheating scandal to the SACS accreditation issue to redistricting. Why would you want to have that scrutiny that they face now fall on you?
A. I think it is about realizing the hope that is within the system right now. You've gone through the perfect storm and it's time to start rebuilding things and some really interesting things can happen, some very phenomenal ideas can take hold after something like that and I think that the future for Atlanta Public Schools is very bright and I would be thrilled to be a part of that.