Candidate Q&A – Michelle Olympiadis, Atlanta School Board, District 3Michelle Olympiadis
In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Decaturish and Atlanta Loop sent questions to candidates running for Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor and Atlanta School Board. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see district maps, click here.
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1) Why are you running for Atlanta School Board?
In the fall of 2007, my oldest child, who has special needs, entered kindergarten. I began working with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) seven months prior to ensure that my son would have the educational supports he needed. From my first Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting – when I was told that my son was “not smart enough” for his neighborhood APS elementary school – through the next year and half, I advocated to ensure that my son received the top-quality education that I knew APS was capable of providing him.
During this process I developed an intimate knowledge of APS policies, procedures and personnel extending well beyond those relating specifically to special needs students. I also acquired expertise regarding federal and state regulations affecting APS schools. Most importantly, I learned not to take “no” for an answer when it comes to our children’s educational needs.
In my role as a parent and more recently as president of the Morningside Elementary School PTA, an appointee of the Georgia Department of Education’s Student Success Stakeholder Committee and the Grady High School Cluster Advisory, I have developed a broad network of strong relationships with APS and school administrators. These relationships, coupled with my extensive knowledge of the complex policies and regulations governing APS schools at all levels, have enabled me to work effectively to achieve the best outcome for students. I am ready to take my work to the next level by serving on the Atlanta School Board.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
An APS parent since 2007 with three children – one each in high school, middle school and elementary school, united with my experiences at the state and local levels of education and extensive leadership roles in Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) at the local, council and district levels, as well as service on local governance teams, state, district, and cluster advisory panels and committees positions me as the longest, most engaged and active candidate. Over the past three years, my experiences include:
● President, Morningside Elementary School (MES) Parent Teacher Association (PTA) —
● Vice-President of Communication District 10 Representative, Georgia PTA, 2016–2017
● Member, State Advisory Panel (SAP), Georgia Department of Education, 2015–Present
● Member, Student Success Stakeholder Committee, Georgia Department of Education,
● Grady High School Cluster Advisory, Atlanta Public Schools, 2016–Present
● Inman Middle School Go Team, Atlanta Public Schools, 2015 – Present
● Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC), Atlanta Public Schools, 2014–Present
● Principal Selection Committee Tier 3 – Morningside Elementary School, 2015
● Principal Selection Committee Tier 3 – Inman Middle School, 2016
3) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ greatest strength?
APS’ greatest strength is its budget. When the total of government funds are added together APS has roughly $1 billion to serve approximately 50,000 students. Both Fulton and Dekalb counties receive roughly the same $1 billion and serve closer to 100,000 students.
4) What do you think is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
APS’ greatest challenge is the budgeting, accounting and auditing of the budget to reflect APS’ educational mission and goals. We know APS is a high-need, high poverty district – over 75% qualify for free and reduced lunch.
We must do a better job of driving dollars into our clusters and schoolhouses to address the unique wants and needs of our schools and communities. When the budget is aligned to the programs and needs of the clusters and schools; when the accounting structure is clear on how dollars are being spent; when an audit determines that funds were used appropriately, we should see a direct correlation between money well spent and great educational outcomes for students.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta Schools’ biggest challenge?
First we audit the past year’s budget which may suggest that previous years be reviewed to understand spending in various departments. Determining the efficiency and effectiveness of a department’s function will reveal where areas are functioning well and where there is opportunity for improvement.
We also need to acknowledge that there are five mandatory obligations of the district which take approximately $300 million dollars from the budget which include: $100 million to APS charter schools to educate approximately 8,500 students; the unfunded teacher pension at $53million; current healthcare insurance costs; current teacher pension; maintenance of effort.
While APS has received recognition for excellent financial reporting from the Georgia Department of Audits, we need to truly assess how to move funds to impact direct educational instruction and supports to students.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official
Budget. An audit of the budget is imminent. Supporting the audit department in understanding where dollars go and how they are spent is the only way we can begin to provide more flexibility and support to clusters and schools, as well as understand where economies of scale make sense.
Birth to Pre-K. Collaboration and communication between the Mayor, the Superintendent, the City Council, the Board of Education, and private and public partners are how we can expand Pre-K to birth. We must ensure that all children receive a quality preschool experience and are “Kindergarten Ready” on day one.
Human Capital. We must invest in strong leaders for our clusters and schools, and promote the fact that teaching is a profession — not an occupation — and like any other profession, demands quality professional development and continuous improvement.
Technology. For our children to be competitive in tomorrow’s job market, we must provide them with solid technology foundations in K-12. Teachers also need better tools to assess student performance in real time so as to provide additional instruction when needed. Standardizing hardware and software with quality products that scale well and allow for “Future Proofing” across our various schools is a must.
7) What is your opinion of the current superintendent? Are you happy with her leadership or do you want the school system to go in a different direction?
The current superintendent is a transformational leader who immediately recognized that change at many levels is needed, and who has made incremental progress in positively moving our trajectory. She has done so by focusing on social and emotional learning; positive behavioral interventions and supports; restorative practices; believing in a curriculum that is strong in both academics and arts; and by bringing in private partnerships to address areas with immediate supports. The district continues to have opportunities in securing and developing strong leaders, downsizing its central office, moving flexibility to clusters and schoolhouses.
A board member represents the community and recognizes the superintendent as the leader of the district and advisor to the board. Over the past four years, the board has supported APS in developing some strong private partnerships to address our students’ needs immediately. Moving forward the board must ensure that the superintendent leads the district in creating a sustainable foundation with strong supports and wrap around services with our public dollars and invite private partnerships with the opportunity to support our mission.
8) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes – I want to do the right thing. Both from professional and personal experiences, I philosophically believe that we are more alike than different. I find that knowing who I am, being honest and open when interacting with people, and respecting all people and perspectives demonstrate my conduct as both transparent and ethical.
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