CYNTHIA BRISCOE BROWN PROFILE:
With 20 years of experience advocating for schools throughout the city, Cynthia Briscoe Brown said her perspective as both a parent and volunteer will help her emerge as a leader if elected to Atlanta Board of Education’s at-large Seat 8.
“This is the natural next step for me because of all the ways that I’ve been involved in the past [and] also because I know where we’ve been,” Brown said. “I think I have a good idea of where we need to go and of how we need to get there.”
The 52-year-old attorney said if elected, her first objective would be to end the dysfunction on the school board.
“For many years, school board members have pursued their own personal agendas and political aspirations and particularly over the last four years spent so much time fighting among themselves, they have completely lost the ability to do their jobs,” she said.
Brown said she has a long record and reputation as someone who unifies others in support of a common goal, from serving as former three-year president of North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools and leading several PTA boards.
After achieving this goal, Brown said she hopes to work toward reconstructing the relationship between the board and the superintendent.
“For at least a dozen years, that relationship has been completely ineffective,” she said. “The previous board with [former Superintendent] Beverly Hall was essentially that of a rubber stamp — letting her do anything she wanted. And you see where that got us. The current board’s relationship with the interim superintendent [Errol Davis] has been no healthier. We need a new superintendent quickly and we need one who is willing and able to be part of a team with the board — not a dictator, not an intimidator, but someone who is willing to work together with the board to get us to where we need to be.”
Her third and last objective is to repair the relationship between the central office and the schools, the students and the community.
“Our central office needs to act more like a consultant than like a dictator,” she said. “The central office needs to be asking, ‘What can we do for you?’ Instead of, ‘What can you do for us?’”
Brown said achieving these three goals would resolve virtually every issue that plagues the school system.
“If we are using the central office as consultant, then we are putting a lot more of our budget money out into our schools… and using more personnel at school level to focus on the needs of every individual child.”
Brown, an Atlanta native who lives in Buckhead with her husband Jim, said she also has a depth and breadth of perspective that none of her competition has in that she is the only candidate whose children have been enrolled continuously in district schools, with neither of her two children, Caroline Brown, 21, and son Palmer Brown, 17, ever attending a private school.
According to third quarter campaign disclosure reports, Brown has $5,300.74 net cash on hand.
REUBEN MCDANIEL PROFILE:
Reuben McDaniel said he has seen a great deal of progress since being elected the Atlanta Board of Education’s at-large Seat 8 representative in 2009. The board chairman said he hopes to be re-elected to carry that work forward.
McDaniel, the president and CEO of Atlanta-based asset management company RM Capital Management, said he would like to continue to focus on teacher performance reviews, professional development and enhancing technology in the classroom.
“I’m very interested in the technology perspective and getting in the classroom, creating technology,” the Buckhead resident said.
McDaniel said his perspective on where the district is, where it is going and what it will take to move forward sets him apart from his challengers.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working throughout the city,” McDaniel said. “While my daughter goes to North Atlanta High School, I’m interested in educating the entire city.”
While some of his opponents have questioned the transparency of the board’s financial management, McDaniel offered a more positive take.
“I think if you look at the financial situation eight years before I got on the board, it was not balancing or getting audits out sometimes for about 22 months. Now, we are getting that information out within six weeks and getting awarded for our work.”
With his financial background working with Wall Street banking firms and municipal governments throughout the country, McDaniel said he is capable of pointing the district in the right direction to create a “more robust” budgeting process.
He also noted under his chairmanship, the board last year was able to add $16 million to general fund reserves. His other accomplishments include guiding the implementation of a total re-haul of the district’s human resources and information technology departments, which is still in the works.
A few of his competitors have also criticized the disharmony amongst the board members, which McDaniel dismissed. He said the board under former Superintendent Beverly Hall failed to question any of her decisions or assertions, unlike the present board members.
“For the past two years I have been chair, we have had a board that truly is taking the collective nine opinions and making them into policy. … We are challenging the issues, not just signing off on them,” he said. “Once we come up with a path, we move lockstep with that path.”
With this cooperation secured, McDaniel said he hopes the board is able to continue to move forward in a positive manner.
“The idea of totally changing and breaking up the system really would be unfortunate for some of the most fragile of our students,” he said.
According to third quarter campaign disclosure reports, McDaniel has $9,284 net cash on hand.
MARK RILEY PROFILE:
Former two-term Atlanta Board of Education Seat 8 at-large representative Mark Riley is ready to bring his experience back to the district in an effort to repair communication lines and decentralize the district’s model, which he believes is holding back education for all.
The 58-year-old real estate agent lives in Buckhead’s Springlake neighborhood with his wife Becky and sons Rob, 21, and Jon, 19. The 33-year Atlanta resident also serves as director of the Sartan Lanier Family Foundation, which is geared toward providing educational opportunities for Atlanta children. He said he has a deep interest in public education. Through the foundation, he said he has the opportunity to study cutting-edge research and school improvement models that he would want to see brought to the district.
“We’re in crisis and it’s going to take real leadership both on the board and throughout the community to change this dysfunctional system,” he said. “[I want] to take it from a centralized bureaucracy to a student- and parent-centered system that both respects and empowers the principals and teachers that do the real work at the schoolhouse level and give parents more input to their children’s education. I’m a firm believer that one size does not fit all. You’ve got to empower principals and teachers to deal with the children that are coming to our schools.”
Riley served on the board from 2002 to 2009 before losing to Nancy Meister in the District 4 election four years ago. He said he has talked to countless principals and teachers who have told him the central office leadership is a hindrance rather than supportive of allowing them to do their jobs effectively. Riley said his breadth of knowledge and record as an effective board member will enable him to lead this kind of change, especially in evaluating the candidates to replace interim Superintendent Errol Davis.
“The board needs to develop a collective vision around where we’re going,” he said. “I would advocate for a de-centralized approach that respects and empowers principals and teachers and gives them authority. We need to hire a superintendent that takes that approach and will put a team together to improve that strategy. ... Every position in the central office needs to be looked at.”
Riley described North Atlanta High School Principal Howard “Gene” Taylor’s letter to parents and students following his resignation reversal a few weeks ago as “bold” and a prime example of how present Seat 8 at-large representative and board Chairman Reuben McDaniel “micromanaged” a personnel situation that negatively impacted both students and staff and “created a crisis situation where none existed.”
“I thought the micromanagement of North Atlanta staff by our current representative last year was a travesty and total breach of a board member’s role,” Riley said.
He also criticized McDaniel’s support for the 2013-14 budget.
“This past year, he voted for a bloated budget that emphasized or prioritized [the] central office over schools,” Riley said. “On the budget, I would have advocated for smaller class sizes, more allocation to the schools and would try to make it a priority to reward teachers with raises that were getting the job done and make that the first priority over central office expenditures.”
As of Friday, Riley said he’s raised about $100,000 for his campaign. According third quarter campaign disclosure reports, Riley had $89,468.41 net cash on hand.
TOM TIDWELL PROFILE:
After watching the Atlanta Board of Education struggle for several years, attorney Tom Tidwell said he wants to bring a renewed focus on the classroom rather than continue infighting that distracts from educating students.
“I’m running because we need somebody who will work hard and bring common sense to [Atlanta Public Schools,]” said Tidwell, a Buckhead resident. “We’ve seen the cheating scandal. We’ve seen the board members sue each other. We’ve seen a lot of dysfunction, but I haven’t seen anybody doing anything to help our children.”
Tidwell, whose two daughters attend Morris Brandon Elementary and Sutton Middle, said if elected, he plans to work toward whittling down the central office administration and getting the district’s budget under control in an effort to funnel more money to schools.
“I want to revamp the entire budget process,” he said. “We need to know where our money is being spent so that we know where we can cut costs and direct other expenditures to the schoolhouse level. We are top-heavy administratively — everybody knows that. That needs to change.”
Following an improved financial plan, the 50-year-old said he would also like to see smaller class sizes and a greater emphasis on early childhood education in an effort to combat the district’s “embarrassingly” low graduation rates. He said a greater focus on kindergarten through third-grade students and expanding pre-kindergarten programs would be a step in the right direction.
“We’ve got students in the third grade that can’t read and fall behind,” he said. “By middle school, they are so far behind that they’ve already got one foot out the door. ... My goal is to have every child in the third grade reading at or above the third-grade reading level. As they trickle up, that will improve the dropout and graduation rates.”
With no political background, Tidwell said his sole reason for running is to help all students. Two of his challengers, incumbent Reuben McDaniel and former board member Mark Riley, have already had their shot and failed to fulfill their promises, he said.
“Two of my opponents have been on the board but hey didn’t do anything they said they would do,” he said. “I’m a trial lawyer. I have to get things done. I can’t tell the judge, ‘Sorry, I got distracted.’ I have to do my job.”
In an effort to bring consensus to the board, Tidwell said he would sit down with each board member individually to start off on the right foot.
“I would get to know them,” he said. “That’s how you work together. You’ve got to understand where everybody is coming from.”
When asked, Tidwell declined to disclose the names of his wife and children to protect their privacy. Through June 30, Tidwell had $40,764.94 net cash on hand, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. His third-quarter campaign finances reported $36,182.37 net cash on hand, according to the website.
DAVE WALKER PROFILE:
Dave Walker, 68, has also qualified to run in the election for Atlanta Board of Education at-large Seat 8. His political experience includes running for Atlanta mayor once and for city council president twice.
Walker, a downtown street vendor, did not disclose any information about his education or family when interviewed last week by a reporter.
In 1997 and 2009 he ran for Atlanta City Council president and lost to Robb Pitts and Ceaser C. Mitchell, respectively. Eight years ago he ran for Atlanta mayor and lost to Shirley Franklin.
During his 2009 campaign, he told the Neighbor Newspapers, “I’m running because citizens, regular citizens, don’t seem to understand government is for the people, by the people and of the people. I want to get elected to show the government should respond to the needs of the people and not the other way around.”
Walker is a 35-year Atlanta resident. The Vietnam War veteran served two tours of duty in that war with the Air Force.
He said in 2009 he had attended every council meeting in the last 20 years as a concerned resident to watch the group’s actions.
He does not have a campaign website.