New Atlanta school board chairman discusses priorities

Courtney English, who was unanimously voted chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss his vision for Atlanta Public Schools. The nine-member school board, which has six newly elected members, was sworn into office Monday before selecting English.

AJC: Is Atlanta Public Schools at a turning point?

English: Rarely, if ever in the life of a large organization, do you have almost complete turnover at the top, and that's the opportunity that is before the city of Atlanta's schools. We have a brand new school board that will very soon select a brand new superintendent, and that just doesn't often happen. It's a remarkable opportunity to do something special for our kids.

AJC: What's your vision?

English: The research is crystal clear on the importance of early education. Those are the formative years.There's no secret to the sauce there. When you get a kid as early as possible and indoctrinate them in a culture of learning and a desire to learn, with wrap-around services, with after-school support, and improve that with a high-quality teacher and high-quality principal, good things happen, and you're going to get good results.

AJC: Is there a change in culture or priorities at Atlanta Public Schools after the last few years?

English: Parents will be able to feel a real sense of urgency that we don't only want to get it right, but we want to do it as fast as humanly possible. Folks are on fire for kids. That's one thing I can say about this new board and across the city. I think people are paying attention to education, and they understand the impact it has whether they have kids or not. They want to see us get it right. Kids don't have time to waste. Kids can't get third grade back.

AJC: What message did board members take from voters after last fall's elections?

English: They want to see us put more resources into the classroom, and, in many ways, do what we can to push decisions down to the schoolhouse level. There's an overwhelming desire for change, an overwhelming desire to get this right.