Atlanta school board candidates discuss their vision for superintendent ahead of runoff election

APS school board candidates Alfred “Shivy” Brooks (left) and Tamara Jones (middle) speak with Rohit Malhotra (right) at the Center for Civic Innovation. (Juma Sei/WABE)

The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Board of Education represents roughly 50,000 students. Its $1.7 billion budget is more than twice the budget of the Atlanta City Council. 

But only a couple dozen people attended the final public forum of this year’s election season. 

The modest crowd packed into the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) on Wednesday to hear from the remaining candidates for the school board’s 7th seat — Tamara Jones and Alfred “Shivy” Brooks. 

Brooks is challenging Jones, who was elected to the seat in December 2021.

They entered a runoff because neither candidate cleared the 50% threshold needed for victory in the November regular election. 

Turnout in November was predictably low — only a couple hundred votes separated the candidates. As they now look to set themselves apart, energizing voters has been top of mind. 

After answering a string of questions from the CCI executive director Rohit Malhotra, the mic was turned to the audience. 

“One of you will be sitting on the board to hire a new superintendent,” started Davida Huntley. “What are the top three components that are non-negotiable when hiring this individual?”

Hiring APS’s next superintendent is arguably the most important thing the school board will do. The onus for student success falls on the superintendent — so does the district’s overall vision. 

The current APS superintendent, Danielle Battle, is serving an interim term. 

Both Jones’s and Brooks’s visions of who should come next epitomize the spirit of their respective campaigns. 

Jones has a background in architecture and urban planning. She said that makes her prioritize process and chain of command. 

“Somebody that views their role as superintendent and the role of administration as support,” she responded to Huntley. 

Jones said that she wants someone who will coordinate with different stakeholders in the school system and treat them as partners in decision-making. 

“We can harness the power of everybody that’s so profoundly invested in our schools and in our children,” she said. “I don’t want somebody who’s afraid to do that.”

Brooks sees the need for delegation. He wants the next superintendent to have developed these skills inside of APS, explicitly.

“They have to have been a teacher, they have to have been a principal,” he began in answer to Huntley.

Brooks is an educator and would be the first active teacher on the school board. He said his priorities are grounded in wanting a culture and climate fostered by a superintendent from within the community. 

“We’re a city of neighborhoods,” he said. “If you don’t understand the nuances of this city, you’re going to trip and stumble on your face all over the place.”

The current APS school board has already hired a firm to start looking for the district’s next superintendent. 

Whoever wins the runoff for Seat 7 will join the rest of this fall’s election winners to start their four-year term on the board in January. 

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 5.