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Candidate Q&A – District 2 Decatur School Board candidate Carmen Sulton

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Candidate Q&A – District 2 Decatur School Board candidate Carmen Sulton

Carmen Sulton is a candidate for the City Schools of Decatur School Board district two seat. Photo submitted by Carmen Sulton.

Editor’s note: Decaturish and the Tucker Observer have published an Elections Guide, a 76-page e-edition featuring Q&As with nearly every candidate running in our communities. To see it, click here. This special e-edition features candidates running for public office in Decatur, Avondale Estates, Atlanta City Council District 5, Clarkston Tucker and Stone Mountain.  There is a PDF version of this, which you can see by clicking here, but due to the format of this e-edition, we strongly encourage you to use the e-reader version.

Decaturish provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of District 2 Decatur School Board candidate Carmen Sulton. The answers have not been edited. 

1) Why are you running for this office? 

I am running for the District 2 School Board seat because I am passionate about our community and children.  As a trained Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician, I have dedicated my career and life to serving all children and their unique needs. I will bring this same commitment and passion as a member of the board. Also, I am a proud native of Atlanta and have lived and worked locally for years.  I have three children in our school system.  I recognize the needs of our community and am ready to get work.

2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?

My career as a Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician gives me insight and firsthand knowledge of the issues our children face every day and the real challenge of addressing each of their unique needs. This experience clearly sets me apart from my opponent.  My medical knowledge and literacy has particularly served me well during COVID-19 where I am working daily with children infected with the virus and having to support them both physically and emotionally.  Additionally, I am adept at managing budgets, managing cross functional teams, and making important tough decisions. I have also been the voice for direct change in our community, not just identifying problems.  Most importantly, I am committed, unbiased without conflicts of interest and willing to work for families.

3) If elected, what are your top two or three priorities? 

One of my top priorities is addressing the need for fair and equitable education for all of our children.  Namely, we must commit to creating school environments and curricula that support all children, especially those with unique learning needs.  I will encourage the Board to work closely with the Superintendent to address early identification of learning differences, improve teacher training and follow through on IEPs.  Additionally, I am committed to keeping our schools safe and open.  This translates into following American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control guidance as trusted resources.  Third, issues of racial equity must be tackled now. I am committed  to examining and decreasing the achievement gap, restructuring our curriculum to accurately reflect our country’s history, and recognize the impact of all cultures. I will work with the Board to ensure recruitment and retention of teachers of color, and strategize robust bias training for teachers and staff.

4) In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing City Schools of Decatur?

Issues related to students with learning differences are crucial.  The inconsistent and/or lack of access to services that our children need have led to families abandoning our district.  This issue cannot be separated from issues of equity in our school system.  Equity includes racial, gender and socioeconomic equity.  Areas of particular concern are  the need to address the racial academic gap at all grade levels, to recreate our curriculum so that it is culturally balanced and to continue to improve differences in discipline data in our schools based on the student’s race.  I am also committed to examining our reading and math success, all the way through high school, and improving our weaknesses.   This will require a plan working in partnership with the Superintendent and other board members.

5) Do you think the millage rate is putting a burden on homeowners? Do you think it should be lowered, remain the same or should it be increased? 

I believe that high property taxes make our district inaccessible and unaffordable.  While all households have unique financial outlooks, increases in taxes are clearly a burden for our families.  However, the first place to start is by looking at our budget.  There should be a thoughtful review of budgetary priorities and objectives as it relates to spending.  This should be a collaborative effort between the School Board and the Superintendent.  I envision a collaborative effort between the Superintendent, the city commissioners  and the School Board to balance our budget and minimize tax burdens on our community.

6) What will you do to advance equity and racial justice in City Schools of Decatur? 

I have a proven record as an advocate for racial equity and will most certainly continue to be a voice for this issue.  First, we should take a careful look at the CSD curriculum and include relevant contributions from other cultures and races.   This will make our education balanced and correct.  We must also focus resources towards the recruitment and retention of teachers of color.  We should be intentional about putting teachers of color in positions of leadership.   We should continue to look at discipline differences with the variable of race, especially at the RMS and DHS level.  I plan to be transparent with families regarding our equity goals, and how we plan to achieve them.   Finally, I look forward to working with and supporting the district’s Director of Equity, and receiving regular progress reports to demonstrate our commitment to this endeavor.

7) What is your opinion of the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies?  Do you think the district is doing enough to protect students and staff? What do you think of the school district’s decision to mandate vaccines for students and staff? (Editor’s note: After Decaturish received the candidates’ Q&As, the school district determined it can’t mandate vaccines for students.)

As a Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician, I can attest to the severity of COVID-19, especially in children.  I support in-school instruction AND maximizing the safety of our students and staff.  I agree with our current policies, such as universal masking for all individuals on school property, vaccination in those persons eligible to receive one, contact tracing, and use of outdoor venues when possible.  An increase in the vaccine rate is our way out of this pandemic.  I support a vaccine mandate, except in the case of medical or religious exemption. I also support allocating resources to provide free, rapid testing of symptomatic students and staff as a protective measure.

8) What is your opinion of how the School Board handled the investigation of the previous superintendent, David Dude? If elected, would you advocate for releasing a full report about the investigator’s findings? 

The investigation and legal matters with Dr. Dude were costly to the district and a distraction from the education of our students.  I believe that the Board took the proper action by placing him on leave while he was being investigated.  However, I believe, as do many community members, that this issue took far too long to be resolved.  I will advocate for the community to get the closure it deserves, within the extent of the law.  I support the co-existence of preservation of the District’s privacy in legal matters, and transparent communication to families.

9) What is your opinion of the district’s current superintendent, Maggie Fehrman? 

I personally have worked closely with Dr. Fehrman  over the past several months on a number of projects, the most recent being mitigations strategies for the district.  I didn’t continue my work as a member of the mitigation strategies team for the district because I had concerns over how certain decisions were made and how priorities were being established. Overall, I find Dr. Fehrman to be a hard worker who is interested in the academic and budgetary success of our district.  I favor a broadened search for our next leader, and I do expect that Dr. Fehrman will apply.

10) The School Board next year will likely be searching for a permanent replacement for David Dude. What are the qualities you would like to see in CSD’s next superintendent? 

First, I would like to see a superintendent with educational experience.  Someone with intimate knowledge of  the classroom and what is required for success is critical.  Second, I believe our next superintendent should be skilled at managing our budget and communicating budgetary needs and changes to tax payers.  Third, I believe that our superintendent should be a dedicated team leader; he/she should be able to give timely feedback, be accountable and be approachable.  Our next Superintendent should be committed to the success of our district’s equity and diversity initiatives and be prepared to speak regularly on our progress.

11) What is CSD’s greatest strength? 

I have always believed that our teachers and staff are our greatest asset.  They are what makes us great and makes our school system desirable.  Our teachers work hard and deserve the clear and unwavering support of our leaders.  Second, our parents and community members are one of our biggest strengths.  Through countless volunteer hours, I have had the pleasure of getting to know parents, teachers, and advocates and work closely with them.  Our community is passionate about our children, our district and its success. This fuels my desire to serve our children, teachers, staff and broader community as a member of the school board.

12) What is CSD’s biggest challenge? 

One of the challenges that we must address is the lack of creativity in our district, its policies and how education is delivered.  We must learn to address different styles of learning, different learning needs and the strengths of our students.  This will allow for individualized education for our students and growth as a district.  Teachers should be given the academic support they need to be creative in their classroom and meet the specific needs of their students.

13) How would you address what you believe to be CSD’s biggest challenge? 

First, we should listen directly to parents who have children with educational needs that are not being met.  We should make every attempt to hear their concerns and incorporate their feedback.  We should make our teacher salaries competitive with other districts so as to recruit and retain our best teachers.  Additionally, we should be committed to ongoing teacher enrichment and training, especially in the areas of gifted identification, implicit bias and early intervention strategies.

14) If you are elected, what will you do to help students and families who have special needs and individualized education plans? 

I believe that our district has much work to do when it comes to our atypical learners.  First, we should listen very closely to families who are trying to advocate for their children.  This will give us direct insight into our deficits.  Working as a Pediatrician, I learned that early intervention for learning difference is key, especially at the pre-K3 to pre-K level.  In addition, we should be focused on individualizing the education for our children so that families get exactly what they need when they need it.  The overall success of these interventions depends on teacher training for the needs of atypical learners, including academically gifted students.

15) Do you support CSD’s current policy allowing transgender students to use facilities that correspond to their gender identities? 

I am absolutely in support of this.  Transgendered students and our students who are a part of the LGBTQ community should feel welcomed in our district and not “othered”.  I am in support of the district and the Superintendent advocating for their needs and rights.

16) If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government? 

I am committed to being an ethical and fair board member.  This includes voting with an unbiased thought process and asking questions openly and honestly.  I believe this is essential if we want to work effectively as a school board to meet the needs of our students. Equally important, taxpayers deserve honesty from their leaders and clear explanations about voting and decision making, to the greatest extent possible.  I have no competing interests or conflicts that would jeopardize the district.  If I have the honor to be elected and to serve, I am committed to putting our community first, being an honest leader and giving parents what they deserve.

More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election: 

All elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com.  

Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 29. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.

To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.

Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16. 

To apply for an absentee ballot:

— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website.

—  Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form. Use black or blue ink only.

Applications can be mailed to the county elections office at this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.

Applications can also be submitted by fax, 404-298-4038, or email, [email protected].

Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.

If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, call DeKalb Elections office, 404-298-4020. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.

An absentee ballot application must be received by Oct. 22.

In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, a copy of a voter’s ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia state ID, Georgia voter card, U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.

Early voting begins Oct. 12 and ends Oct. 29. The hours for early voting are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be weekend early voting on Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Call your elections office for hours.

Beginning Oct. 12, you can participate in early voting at the following locations: 

– Bessie Branham Recreation Center (2051 Delano Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30317)

– Lynwood Recreation Center (3360 Osborne Road NE, Brookhaven, GA 30319)

– Berean Christian Church – Family Life Center (2197 Young Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088)

– DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office (4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur, GA 30032)

– Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library (5234 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084)

– Stonecrest Library (3123 Klondike Road, Stonecrest, GA 30038)

– County Line-Ellenwood Library (4331 River Road, Ellenwood, GA 30294)

– Dunwoody Library (5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road., Dunwoody, GA 30338)

For the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding early voting times and locations, visit Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com or call 404-298-4020.  

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