Incumbents dominate Atlanta school board elections

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Voters resoundingly supported Atlanta Board of Education incumbents Tuesday, reelecting five and sending a sixth to a runoff race.

Winners said their decisive victories point to widespread approval of how they’re leading the 50,000-student district, even though they faced sharp criticism over a 2019 decision to hire a new superintendent and concerns about how Atlanta Public Schools responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Incumbents Jason Esteves, Eshé Collins, Erika Mitchell and Cynthia Briscoe Brown won their races by wide margins. District 3 incumbent Michelle Olympiadis, who represents east Atlanta, was unopposed in her victory.

Esteves, who is completing his fourth year as board chairman, faced two challengers. He received more than 60% of the vote to hold onto his At-large Seat 9.

“We’ve had headwinds over the last several years,” Esteves said. “But overall, agree or disagree on any specific decision, the school system is headed in a positive direction.”

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Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves won reelection on Tuesday. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves won reelection on Tuesday. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Atlanta school board Chairman Jason Esteves won reelection on Tuesday. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Among the accomplishments he cited: rising graduation rates and more robust academic programming.

In the coming years, he expects the board to focus on boosting students’ math and literacy skills and promoting equity as APS continues to distance itself from the cheating scandal that stained its reputation over a decade ago.

Esteves said they’ll also work to improve communication with parents and community members, a complaint voiced during the campaign.

Briscoe Brown pulled in more than 70% of the vote, defeating Keedar Whittle to win a third term for the At-large Seat 8.

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Atlanta Public Schools board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown defeated a lone challenger Tuesday to win her third term on the board. AJC FILE PHOTO BY CURTIS COMPTON/AJC FILE PHOTO

Atlanta Public Schools board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown defeated a lone challenger Tuesday to win her third term on the board. AJC FILE PHOTO BY CURTIS COMPTON/AJC FILE PHOTO

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Atlanta Public Schools board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown defeated a lone challenger Tuesday to win her third term on the board. AJC FILE PHOTO BY CURTIS COMPTON/AJC FILE PHOTO

“I think that voters recognized the importance of knowledge, experience and involvement in Atlanta Public Schools as critical traits in board members,” she said.

In the cheating scandal’s immediate aftermath, board members often felt as if they were “building the plane while we fly it,” she said.

“It doesn’t feel like that anymore,” she said, adding that this election brings “stability and continuity.”

Aretta Baldon, who represents central Atlanta’s District 2, finished first in her three-way race. She fell just short of securing more than 50% of the vote, according to unofficial Fulton County election numbers. She will advance to a Nov. 30 runoff election against challenger Keisha Carey.

Three of the nine school board races featured a ballot full of newcomers.

In the District 1 race, Katie Howard defeated Wykeisha Howe to represent southeast Atlanta.

In north Atlanta’s District 4, Jennifer McDonald beat Mikalya Arciaga.

In the five-person race for At-large Seat 7, Tamara Jones and Kanesha Venning will advance to a runoff election.

It’s the last election of its kind for the Atlanta school board.

Going forward, board terms will be staggered to avoid the possibility that the entire board could turn over at the same time.

The five winners of odd-numbered districts will serve just a two-year term. Those seats will then switch back to four-year terms starting with the 2023 election. The four board seats representing the even-numbered districts will serve a normal four-year term that ends in 2025.