While I am no longer running for office, the things I fight for are still just as important. Someone will always have to step up and speak out, and they do not need to be an elected official to do that. You and I can make a change, we just have to be willing to go the extra mile. I ran for State Superintendent of Schools because students and teachers need a strong advocate to stand up and fight for public education in Georgia. I have represented students and was a teacher. I know that I can do good for both groups by highlighting their issues as an activist and fighting for them as in all the work that I do. I truly believe that, and I will continue to fight for them.
What are some things you wish to advocate for?
There are many things that need to be done, and the work will never truly be over, but if I had to start with something, I would:
Empower educators to teach the truth to students and to stand up without fear of retribution
End exclusionary discipline.
Get schools to use community school strategies.
Soften bad laws with policy and lobby the legislature to work on laws that will improve public education.
Make sure all students receive quality and inclusive sex education.
How do you think childcare could be made universally affordable and accessible in Georgia?
I want all school buildings to house before and after school care and school systems to partner with early learning centers and daycares to help make this happen. Right now, we have a temporary increase in our childcare funds through the Division of Family and Children Services in Georgia, but not enough families realize that they are eligible for this funding. It’s called Child and Parent Services (CAPS) in Georgia. The CAPS income limit went from 50% of the State Median Income (SMI) to 85% SMI. We need to expand this program and make it easier for families to use. I would ask the government to put its surplus toward childcare and education in the future and work to expand universal affordable childcare in Georgia. Childcare and other benefits should also be made more available to all children who are not living with their parents. This process should have much less red tape and more clarity. Georgia should support all children in kinship caregiving families and stop the practice of making seniors cut into their earnings to care for children of family members. We need to make sure caregivers get the tax benefits and other benefits when they have children in their home who are not theirs. Foster parents receive payments, but often family members do not.
How should Georgia recruit and retain educators, given the ongoing nationwide shortage of professional educators?
Increase visible recruitment in rural Georgia.
Give bonuses in educator pay to work in areas with a shortage of educators and substitute educators.
Increase educator pay so that it is in line with other similarly educated professionals.
Treat educators as professionals and end micromanagement of their planning and teaching.
Work to quickly increase broadband access across the state.
Increase opportunities for advancement within the profession.
Decrease paperwork when possible and provide support to educators for completing paperwork, paraprofessionals and data technicians.
How can educators to be collaborative participants in solving problems facing public education?
First, our elected officials need to talk to educators from across the state to get their input into what can be done to make their jobs better and help students. I am currently developing a survey with an educator friend of mine to share with other educators across the state to get broader feedback as well.
Second, we must institute a paid committee of teachers across the state that will bring elected officials valuable advice and ideas on how to improve our schools.
Third, we must hold educator town halls across the state to make sure the voices of educators are heard. We need to listen to and consider their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
Do you think public education funds should be used to pay private school tuition?
Only under the SB10, the Special Needs Scholarship Program. But it is always better for the public school to provide FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) to students, if at all possible, because private schools do not have that obligation.
Public school funding should not be siphoned away by rich families choosing to send their children to private schools. This will lead to underfunding public schools, and children with disabilities and other children who cannot afford to go to private schools (or cannot get into them) will suffer more due to the loss of diversity in their classrooms as well as the loss of funding in their schools.
On the subject of CRT:
No K-12 public school is teaching CRT to its students. The best way to understand CRT and not speak from ignorance is to fully train EDUCATORS statewide. Educators may find strategies in CRT that will help increase equity in their schools, classrooms and communities. They will also then understand that critical race theory does not put blame on today’s children for past events and atrocities. Educators who have learned CRT might be able to better discuss historical and current events with appropriate care. Ending exclusionary discipline and changing our school funding formula are part of what is needed to increase equity in schools as well.
On the subject of banning books:
I love books, children's literature, and librarians and educators in general. Also, I have a Masters in Children’s Literature from UGA. The practice of book banning is offensive to all of these people. Educators are trained professionals, they are not giving your kids inappropriate things to read. If a parent decides that they do not want their child reading a book there should be a conversation between that parent and that teacher. One parent should not get to decide what other students can or cannot read.
The books banned most often are ones by authors of color or about LGBTQ people. But these are books that children need to read to find themselves in characters, but also to learn about people who are different from people they know personally.
On the subject of banning divisive topics and concepts:
The ban on discussing divisive concepts in the classroom passed, which means the legislature is increasing control of teachers AND denying students the truth, a chance to develop critical thinking skills, and a chance to learn how to have a respectful discourse with a person who holds a different viewpoint. It is a way that people in power try to keep power for themselves. Knowledge is power and the denial of knowledge is the denial of power. We have to put a stop to this ban to ensure our children receive the truth empowered education they deserve. This type of ban comes out of the bans on teaching some people to read at all and is part of trying to maintain white supremacy.
On the subject of parents rights to their children’s school materials:
Parents already had the rights to view their children’s curriculum, learning materials, and their student records. HB 1178, which “gives” parents these rights that they already had, just adds layers of red tape and time requirements for schools. The Georgia legislature wasted its time so that schools will now have to waste their time. Mostly it's an invitation to folks with fringe views to report on topics they think are not appropriate (could be divisive topics) and bury schools in busy work.
How can we advocate for people in minority/vulnerable communities?
We need to speak up to protect all targeted communities by speaking against policies and laws that would hurt these people and students. For example:
We must speak out against banning transgender children from participating in athletics.
We must fight to stop the school to prison pipeline for black children and children with disabilities that is currently in place in Georgia.
We must constantly make an effort to celebrate the achievements of targeted communities and minorities
We must fight for teachers to be able to teach, and students to be able to learn the truth in Georgia classrooms about history, current events, and science.
We must encourage community focused schools, with many ties to the communities and resources for children and their families.
We must encourage schools to be trauma informed.
We must make sure that schools in Georgia know that they are to protect students who live with undocumented family members.
We must work to get appropriate services in place to make classrooms inclusive for students with disabilities.
Have you in the past, and do you now support a person’s right to choose abortion and to access abortion, birth control, and contraception?
Yes, I have always supported a person’s right to choose abortion and to access abortion, birth control and contraception. It is so important to make sure an appropriate sex education program is in all Georgia schools that includes these issues as well as consent, all types of relationships, and prevention of STDs.
What have you done to support the LGBTQ+ community in the past?
I will always advocate for our LGBTQ+ students. On the subject of what I have done to support the community in the past, I have been a member of several LGBTQ+ organizations and am a current board member of the Stonewall Bar of Georgia. I was a member of The Collective at Agnes Scott College and OutLaw at Emory for law school, I have been on LGBTQ and diversity committees at Georgia Legal Services and at Atlanta Legal Aid and participated in training GLSP staff in LGBTQ cultural competency. I presented on this work with other legal service professionals at Lavender Law one year (Queering Legal Services) and have attended Lavender Law other years as well. I am queer myself and married to a woman; we have two children.
Have you in the past, do you now support efforts to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, school athletics, and/or housing?
Yes, I have done this work and will continue to be more than a member of this community, but also a strong advocate for it.
How can we help protect students and educators in a public school setting?
We must fight for community school strategies to be implemented in Georgia schools and advocate for funding research-based strategies that reduce violence in schools and help children learn how to problem solve safely. Also, our educators and families should to be trained to help them recognize when students need mental health services.
What are your ideas on curbing all the many area-wide shootings?
Preventive measures and mental health for students, youths, and teachers must be funded immediately. American Rescue Plan funds should be used now, not held in reserve until they are close to expiration. Georgia schools must use evidence-based practices like community school strategies and restorative justice to make schools a part of their communities again, instead of making them the adversaries of students in minority groups, those with disabilities, and those living in poverty. Schools are in the best position to help children choose a different path from violence through opportunities, preparing for the future, and meeting students where they are.