School board races begin heating up

With four of nine APS board members stepping aside, new candidates come forward

Since municipal elections are typically non-partisan and thus don’t require party primaries, it can take a few months into an election year (like this one) for things to begin to heat up. But Atlantans are already seeing some jockeying for position—and it’s not coming from where one might expect.

While the Atlanta City Council races remain fairly sleepy, candidates are coming out of the woodwork to run for the Atlanta Board of Education. And, because of voluntary retirement by several incumbents, we’re guaranteed to see a nearly fifty-percent turnover in board members.

While the heightened attention on the school board is unusual, it certainly isn’t unexpected in the wake of revelations about the CRCT testing scandal and the recent criminal indictments of thirty-five teachers and administrators, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall.

None of the APS board members have been implicated in the wrongdoing, but the body as a whole is undoubtedly seen as tarnished and its members, thereby, seen as vulnerable to challengers. That reason alone could explain why LaChandra Butler Burks—who chaired the board during the implosion of Hall’s reign—Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, Emmett Johnson and Yolanda Johnson have all decided not to run for re-election. With the exception of Yolanda Johnson, the others were among Hall’s staunchest supporters.

When the new APS board takes office next year, it will be faced with a number of unenviable tasks, not the least of which is helping restore public confidence in the integrity of the city school system. First up will be choosing a permanent superintendent to replace the interim boss, Erroll Davis. Other challenges include: deciding how to make the superintendent more answerable to the board in order to restore a measure of accountability; and determining how to manage the growth of charter schools under the new state law.

So, who seems to want these thankless jobs? In District 1, which includes the parts of southeast Atlanta represented by council districts 1 and 2, longtime board veteran Brenda Muhammad is intent on keeping her seat against challenger Leslie Grant, a Grant Park mother of two who runs a group that advocates for nutritional education.

In District 2, which includes downtown Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods, community activist Byron Amos is running for his first full term after having winning a special election against a better-funded and politically connected opponent to join the board in 2011. So far, no challengers have announced themselves.

In District 3, which stretches from East Lake to Morningside, twentysomething APS history teacher and Princeton-educated wunderkind Matt Westmoreland is hoping to replace the outgoing Harsch-Kinnane.

In north Atlanta’s District 4, Buckhead real-estate broker Nancy Meister has so far attracted no visible opposition to vie for her seat.

In west Atlanta’s District 5, software developer Raynard Johnson aims to capture the seat held by Butler Burks.

In District 6, which includes much of south Atlanta, no candidates have surfaced to replace Yolanda Johnson.

Courtney English, the at-large Seat 7 incumbent, is being challenged by Nisha Simama, who was briefly appointed to serve on the board in 2011 until a special election could be held for District 2. A longtime teacher and counselor at The Paideia School, she is married to former city Councilman Jabari Simama.

Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel III, who holds at-large Seat 8, so far has no opposition, and no one has yet come forward to succeed the exiting Emmett Johnson in Seat 9.

Of course, we could be missing someone, so don’t hesitate to correct any oversights.