Atlanta parents got a chance Wednesday to meet and question the finalists vying to be the next Atlanta Public Schools superintendent.
Parents, teachers and business leaders asked both candidates — Cheryl L. Atkinson, superintendent at Lorain City Public Schools in Ohio and Bonita Coleman-Potter, deputy superintendent of schools at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland — series of questions ranging from charter schools and discipline to funding equity and the achievement gap along racial lines.
The winning candidate — the board is expected to make its selection July 11 — would be coming to a district facing the loss of accreditation, a widespread cheating scandal and a school board rife with infighting and dysfunction.
Patch blogged from the meeting. Here are the highlights:
8:05: Meeting over.
7:59: Atkinson's closing statement: I chose this profression because it is my passion and I love children. I believe all children can learn at high levels...I believe parents are our partners...Leadership and accountabilty are certainly paramount. Great teachers make great students. Every decision that I make, I promise you will be based on what's best for children.
7:57: Coleman-Potter's closing statement: "I'm here tonight to talk about what matters most. What matters ost is making sure we eradicate the achievement gaps we have in our school systems. It's important as educators and adults that we take care of the children we've been blessed with. ...Not some children, but all children."
7:46: Coleman-Potter in response to a Twitter question about improving graduation rates: "We have to make sure that every single step along the way we do everything within our powers and energies" to make sure they're successfull, she says. But it's not a one size-fits-all and it can't start in the 9th grade. It has to start in pre-k and k. Have to look at suspension rates and other things that keep kids from being successful.
7:44: Twitter question to Atkinson on whether she finds vocational programs useful and will she bring them to APS: She responds yes but some programs have outlived their usefulness and vo-tech programs need to keep up with the technologies of jobs in demand today. She noted that in her Ohio district the vo-tech programs now have wind turbine courses, alternative fuel cell courses and other new-technology programs for the jobs in demand today.
7:37: Atkinson: In explaining what she means by servant leadership. "I want to help children. I want to inspire leaders. The word superintendent has no meaning; it's what I do with it that makes it meaningful." Getting there means being open and transparent to parents, teachers and administrators. Communicating the truth is extremely important. It's critical because teachers don't go to school with the goal of being failures, she said, and kindergartners don't go into school thinking they're going to drop out. "Something happens and we as the leaders have to make sure to stop that."
7:25: Atkinson says she's not always available to meet or respond to parents, right then, but she will respond within 24 hours. She says she wants a way for parents to have the means to discuss issues with the Supt. which is why she set up a parents' advisory council in the Lorain City Schools, which wasn't in existence when she took over. She believes parents' councils ought to be at least 51% parent and no more than 49% staff. As a parent of 3 sons, she says her approach is to treat parents the way she herself would want to be treated.
7:24: Vernetta Nuradeen (sp) Parent: Asks Atkinson does she have the same open-door policy with parents that she has with unions?
7:18: Yvette Bolweir(sp)?: Mom of rising senior of a North Atlanta school and founding member of Step Up or Step Down, asks Atkinson about her experience in working with a diverse school system,
7:18: Atkinson: "You can't be hands off. You have to be hands on." Make sure you have data about what's going on. The superintendent has to be visible, attentive to the community, having meetings with parents, being in the classroom and being available to all constituents. The third piece is making sure you have academic standards that are rigorous and challenging. "It boils down to opportunities for our children and the Supt. has to have their finger on the pulse and know whats going on."
7:00: Atkinson, in response to a question about single-gender schools says she thinks they work. Her district doesn't currently have single-gender schools but it does have single-gender classrooms. She thinks they work and believes it's likely that the district will have schools that are single-gender entirely eventually.
6:50: Parent of a special needs student shares her frustrations over her special needs child going to a school outside of her home school zone and the challenges of getting answers from APS' central office.
6:51: Atkinson says she understands the concerns of special needs students particularly since she herself was diagnosed as being dyslexic. "I take special education to heart, I believe in an inclusion model as much as possible." Says special needs students used to be shipped from school to school based on where there was space for them until she stopped it. Sometimes they have to be relocated based on a particular expertise or program, but the priority is to keep those students in their home schools at all times when possible.
6:46: Coleman-Potter: In response to a question about her stance on charter schools says they ought to have the autonomy and flexibility to do what they need to do but they need to be held to very high standards. She sees them as viable options and supports them.
6;45: Eric Joiner, APS student: Wants to know what is your vision to take students with special needs to success?
6:45: Coleman-Potter: It's about making sure children are provided the services they need, not only sent to places where they're secluded to, never to come back. It also has to include professional development, so teachers are trained. Ultimately making sure we are providing for you as a student what you need to be successful.
6:33: Coleman-Potter: In response to a question about to equity of resources throughout APS schools from a Northside ATL parent: Equity does not mean equal. Those students who need more and don't have the same resources will have to get more to succeed Difficult conversation to have, but it must happen.
6:29: Coleman Potter: Engaged students lead to fewer disciplinary actions. One thing: APS needs to ensure it provides the best instruction in schools and make sure the proper protocols are in place to make sure that kids are not missing days of school but at the same time have a safe learning environment.
6:26: Sherlyne Jones, pre-k teacher in APS: "I'm concerned with the direction the program is going in." Want s to know what their attitudes are on Pre-K
6:26: Atkinson: I'm a big Pre-school person. In a perfect world I'd have universal pre-k. Said she urged President Obama to Sec'y of State Hillary Clinton federal $$ should be spent on pre-schools and not prison.
6:20: Ramon Reeves, pres of ATL assn. of educators: How will you bring you expertise with the unions where you come from to use.
Atkinson: Open, honest direct communications. has 7 collective bargaining units she deals with. "I don't roll out programs in isolation...we're partners, we work together...Really open honest direct communication."
6:18: Bonita Coleman-Potter, deputy superintendent of schools at Prince George’s County Public Schools: Draws on her experience as a first-generation college graduate and is a mother of a student in the schools and sees the direct impact of decisions on her son.
6:14: Atkinson cont'd: Like the city of Atlanta which was rebuilt after the great fire, Atlanta's schoolchildren are phoenixes that arise from destruction. "Each and very child will rise like a Phoenix."
6:07:I am a third generation educator. Mother was a music teacher, maternal grandmother was a teacher. Father was an engineer. Reading was difficult in primary school but determined educators and committed teachers,helped lay the foundation to the woman who would get her masters and Ph.D in education. "I have the skills passion and courage to take the Atlanta Public Schools to the next level."
6:05: Cheryl L. Atkinson, supt. of schools in Lorain City Schools in Ohio: we can provide opportunities for every child. "We must all be together" to make it a reality.
6:04: Final Superintendent pick will be made July 11.
6:00PM: Meeting about to start...