2017 Voter Guide: Marietta City School Board

4:00 p.m Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 Atlanta News
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
AJ Seger, center right, 2, stands at a voting machine while his mother Mindy Seger, far left, 38, casts her ballot at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.(DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

We asked candidates running in next month’s city, school and municipal elections to explain why you should vote for them. In addition to asking them questions about their experience and their stand on prominent issues, we asked some candidates to tell us which television character with whom they most identify. See where candidates stand on important issues, and who has a lot in common with Batman. 

Marietta School Board Ward 2

Name: Arthur Vaughn

Age: 48

Residence: Battleview subdivision

Profession: Executive director - Morehouse School of Medicine

Arthur Vaughn

What experience will help you in office? I would bring the perspective of a parent with a long-standing history of service to the school system and the community to the board of education. I would also bring the experience of someone with a doctorate in higher education management (UGA) coupled with education policy experience as vice chairman of the Georgia Postsecondary Education Commission. I would bring proven leadership and a 15-plus year leader in the community to the office.

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? It is early in Dr. Rivera’s tenure and to date I am very pleased with what he has done. With the dramatic changes in the central office staffing a significant amount of institutional history may have been lost. If I would tweak his reorganization plan I would add a formal introduction of his new team and engage in a deep discussion regarding the value added by of the new team members.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? It should be emphatically stated that a complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is not a lawsuit. It is a tool intended bring all interested parties to the table when concerns seemingly go unheard.

Inequity in any form, racially or otherwise, has no place in a school system. I would be a fervent advocate to eradicate all forms of inequality and provide all students with the opportunity to succeed. 

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? All school systems have challenges. Marietta City Schools has its own set of challenges that seem to be less pervasive than the challenges many other school systems have. One challenge I would address is raising the graduation rates at Marietta High School. 

The Marietta Student Success Center, Graduate Marietta, the Marietta Mentoring for Leadership Program and the Marietta Performance Learning Center are all examples of viable wraparound services intended to enhance performance and increase graduation rate. I would ensure all of the programs have measurable metrics around increasing graduation rate. 

Name: Jason Waters (i)

Age: 41

Residence: Lee's Crossing

Profession: Finance executive

Jason Waters

What experience will help you in office? Having served one full term on the BOE and as chair of the board once and vice Chair twice I feel I am the most qualified to continue our legacy of success. With a 20-year career in the private sector as a banker and financial planner I have seen personally what works and doesn’t work for companies to be successful. I use these skills every day in my board service.

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? Nothing. The reorganization plan was created and completed collaboratively with the Board of Education. The reorganization pushed about $2,000,000 in resources back into local schools.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? The complaint is without merit. As board chair, I requested the complaint from two signers: Ken Sprague Sr. and my opponent Arthur Vaughn. Inexplicably, they refused. The Office of Civil Rights has initiated no contact with MCS since its alleged filing — over one year ago. Surely, they would have acted by now if they had they found cause. During my tenure on the Board, ensuring equity has been—and will remain—a continual pursuit.

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? We need to strive to increase our graduate rate. I would address it by increasing credit recovery programs at MHS and building a Career Academy (currently in the planning stage.) The Career Academy will give children hope for a bright future and inspire them to work toward graduation.

Marietta School Board Ward 4

Name: Allison M. Gruehn (i)

Age: 44

Residence: Oakton, City of Marietta

Profession: Bookkeeper

Allison Gruehn

What experience will help you in office? My experience as a parent, school and community volunteer, and financial background has served me well. As the parent of two middle school students I have a vested interest in the success of our schools. My volunteer work in the community and in every level of our school system allows me to interact with many parents, educators and community members. All three of those groups are vital to our students' successful performance. As a former commercial banker I have the experience of analyzing financial statements and setting budgets.

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? I cannot think of a particular part that I would change.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? Marietta City Schools has a vested interest in the success of all students no matter their race, socio-economic standing or educational challenges. Our mission is to hire and retain the very best teachers and building leaders at every level. We need to ensure that all students are treated equitably. I would encourage students, parents and teachers to express concerns regarding specific instances of inequitable treatment.

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? I personally believe that transiency is our biggest problem. It is disruptive for the students and the teachers. It creates more work for our schools' administrative personnel. It is a challenge for tracking graduation requirements and for growth in our graduation rate. Continued emphasis on parental and family engagement is key. The more families feel connected to MCS the less likely they are to want to move out of the district. Our schools are doing a great job reaching parents and families through parent liaisons, adult educational opportunities, and translators for our non-English speaking families.

Name: Camile B. Jones

Age: 27

Residence: Barrett Greene

Profession: Educator

Camille B. Jones

What experience will help you in office? I bring my personal experience as a student who has successfully matriculated through the Marietta City School system. Outside of my own school I have a Master’s of Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University and have taught high school sciences, coached, as well as taught and led a college readiness program. Currently, I serve as the Assistant Director of two early learning centers. My current volunteerism involves community organizing with teachers, parents and students to listen to their stories and push districts to act in the best interests of their students and parents

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? It is important that resources and personnel should be shifted from the central office to schools directly. I would like to conduct another listening tour with PTAs, PTSAs, parents and community groups to gather recommendations to see what resources schools need to work with parents, such as increased resources for parent liaisons or a district level parent engagement position.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? District and school leaders should practice a set of shared beliefs regarding equity and inclusion and model these beliefs with their students, families and their staff. Educators need increased exposure to professional development, resources and strategies that will better equip them to teach all students and communicate with all families by utilizing cultural responsive pedagogy and developing inclusive classrooms and school communities that showcase the diversity of life. 

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? The biggest problem facing Marietta City Schools is the silencing of parent and family voices. Though some parents have mastered communicating the needs of their student and family to the district (and vice versa) I do believe district and school leaders need to do a better job of reaching out to the community and educating families as well as their students as to the amazing possibilities Marietta City Schools can provide their child.

Marietta School Board Ward 5

Name: Jeriene Bonner-Grimes (i)

Age: 56

Residence: Historic Marietta

Profession: Business owner

Jeriene Bonner-Grimes

What experience will help you in office? Being an advocating mother of quality education, who raised and educated four children through Marietta City Schools

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? In most cases transition brings change and I support the reorganization plan of the superintendent.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? I talk to parents regularly from different backgrounds and one of the things that I've worked very hard at is being accessible and just listening to the concerns of parents and students in Marietta City Schools. These conversations have been ongoing ... they didn't start once I decided to run for re-election. Racial equity is something that I care very deeply about. 

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? Maintaining the strong momentum we have built, such as Marietta High School being named one of America's Most Challenging High Schools by the Washington Post along with our incredible charter school system -- and we have been consistently recognized for our outstanding achievements and working to maintain our programs such as the STEM Magnet Program. My efforts are to ensure that we never forget our mission statement in everything we do "To prepare each of our students, through academic achievement for college, career and life success".

Name: Angela Orange

Age: 38

Residence: Rigby St.

Profession: Managing director - Teach For America

Angela Orange

What experience will help you in office? Education is my passion. I’ve worked in education for the past 15 years. I’m a proud product of Georgia schools beginning as salutatorian at my southern Georgia high school, Early County High School,  followed by degrees from Emory University and UGA. I’ve been a middle school teacher and I’ve recruited, trained and supported teachers towards better outcomes for students. I know education. I want to see every child in our community develop his or her gifts to the fullest potential.

What in Superintendent Grant Rivera’s reorganization plan would you like most to tweak? After taking the helm of MCS, I was pleased to see Dr. Rivera make changes to the central office structure so that staff capacity more directly affects student outcomes. I would like to have seen Dr. Rivera keep the Director of Special Education position for an additional year and then evaluate its impact. Special education is very complex and it is critical that students receive all of the accommodations due to them. I would be concerned about the potential negative impact of a change in leadership.

A civil rights complaint was filed a year ago after the dismissal of an African-American principal. What is your level of concern about racial equity in schools and how would you address that? I refuse to accept demographics or socio-economic status as destiny for me or my students. I believe children of all races, ethnicities, intellectual differences, and family backgrounds need a strong educational foundation. That’s why I’m running as an advocate for policies that support all students in meeting his and her potential for a prosperous future. To that end, we must make the district operations and data more transparent to the community so they can serve as thought-partners in developing solutions.

What is the biggest problem facing Marietta schools and how would you address it? There is a graduation gap in the school system. White and Asian students graduate at a higher rate than black and Hispanic students. Higher meaningful graduation rates begin with early learning opportunities. A child who begins the K-12 experience on the right track is more likely to be there at the finish line; for example, third grade reading and math scores are a strong indicator of ultimate academic success and derivative lifetime opportunities.

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