Atlanta Board of Education swears in new membership

Judge Verda Colvin of the Georgia Supreme Court leads five Atlanta Board of Education inductees in their oath. (Juma Sei/WABE)

Five members of the Atlanta Board of Education — sworn in this week — were joined downtown at the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district office by a crowd of family members, community members and local and state officials. 

Judge Verda Colvin of the Georgia Supreme Court led the ceremony.  “And if our newly elected board members could raise your left hand…Repeat after me,” she told the group. “I, and state your name.”

The representatives followed in unison, chuckling as their coinciding pledges made for an indiscernible overlay of names. 

Colvin continued, as did the inductees. 

“I… do solemnly swear or affirm… that I will faithfully… and impartially… discharge the duties… of a member… of the Atlanta Board of Education.”

Three of those sworn in were incumbents:

  • Katie Howard (District 1) 
  • Erika Mitchell (District 5)
  • Jessica Johnson (At-Large, Seat 9)

But there were also two new faces on the dais:

  • Ken Zeff (District 3)
  • Alfred “Shivy” Brooks (At-Large, Seat 7)

The following APS board members were not up for reelection in November but will be in 2025. 

  • Aretta Baldon (District 2)
  • Jennifer McDonald (District 4)
  • Eshé Collins (District 6)
  • Cynthia Briscoe Brown (At-Large, Seat 8)
All nine members of the Atlanta Board of Education sit on the dais on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. (Juma Sei/WABE)

After being sworn in, the newly-elected officials made the first of many decisions they will make in their four-year terms. The board voted unanimously to elect Erika Mitchell as board chairwoman, replacing Eshé Collins.

Mitchell said transparency will be top of mind during her tenure. 

“I will work with students, families, community stakeholders [and] administration to ensure your voices are more than being heard,” she told those gathered. “And we welcome recommendations and engagement with you all.”

The board also unanimously elected Jennifer McDonald as vice chair, replacing Aretta Baldon.

McDonald doubled down on Mitchell’s commitment to reach families who have lost hope in the district. 

“We have to earn trust from some who may not trust us now,” she said. “Every person up here is here because we asked to be here, so we must do everything we can to honor that.”

Shortly after Mitchell and McDonald addressed the public in their new roles, the mic was turned to the board’s newcomers: Ken Zeff and Alfred “Shivy” Brooks.  

Ken Zeff (District 3) and Alfred “Shivy” Brooks (At-Large, Seat 7) embrace during their pinning ceremony on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. (Juma Sei/WABE)

Zeff began his remarks with gratitude for those who gathered, including his colleagues on the board. 

“I’m heartened to know their support for the themes I focused on in my campaign is as evident within them as it is within me,” he said. “We focus on making sure that we get a world-class superintendent to lead this school system, that we pass a budget that prioritizes students and teachers and the folks in our classroom. and we stay laser-focused on a literacy strategy as a means to self-determination for our kids.”

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. The district has hired Hazard Young Attea & Associates to lead the search for a new superintendent, and their application process ends this Friday.

Zeff also said that his background would inform the work he does on the school board. He took his oath on the same copy of the Torah used at his children’s bar and bat mitzvahs. 

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks spoke next, also acknowledging his background.

“Education is ingrained in my DNA,” Brooks told the crowd. “I carry the lessons from the passion and dedication from my aunts, and the unwavering commitment of my father.”

Brooks teaches economics and government at Charles Drew High School in Clayton County, making him the first active teacher to serve on the school board in APS’ over 150-year history.  

He then transitioned to address his loved ones. 

“My wife and I experienced the transition of our dear son Bryce Brooks in April,” Brooks continued. “Though Crystal and I may never see that day, for every Black boy that walks through APS hallways, for every Black boy served by this school board, know that you are seen, know that you are valued, know that you are a source of inspiration. I see my son in you.”

Brooks’ 16-year-old son Bryce passed away while rescuing four children from strong currents off the Florida Panhandle. He would have been a senior at Maynard Jackson High School this year. 

Brooks took his oath on a stack of banned books and his son’s copy of the Holy Bible. 

Note of disclosure: Atlanta Public Schools holds WABE’s broadcast license.