Q&A Reuben R. McDaniel, Atlanta school board chairman

Buckhead parent Reuben McDaniel was selected Monday as chairman of the Atlanta school board on a 5-4 vote, leaving people concerned that a change in leadership could upset the school board’s forward momentum.

However, McDaniel supporters say he has the ability to build support. Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McDaniel gave his take on the leadership change, and his strategy for leading the board forward:

Q: The board has been through a challenging couple of years. What do you see as the challenges in the future?

A: The good news is I don’t see any board challenges. I see the challenge of continuing to develop an education system able to provide a superior education to all our students. The board will create the policy and governance environment for the superintendent and administration to do the work along those lines.

Q: Your election was accompanied by a little bit of controversy, mainly an affidavit written by a parent and attorney that claimed you said Superintendent Erroll Davis wouldn’t sign his employment contract unless the former chair was out. How do you respond to those claims?

A: No comment.

Q: Can you elaborate on why you don’t want to comment?

A: The affidavit has been submitted to the ethics commission. Whenever you have a citizen who wants to file a complaint, they are free to do that. We have a process to do that and I want to follow the process.

Q: There was some conversation that switching leadership so soon after the board was removed from accredited probation would disrupt the positive dynamics of the school board. How do you respond to those fears?

A: I think those fears are unfounded. We spent a lot of time this summer creating board stability and board relationships. Whoever is playing the role of chair won’t disrupt the continuity that we have built. This was a normal time to vote for the chair as per our charter. It wasn’t something out of the ordinary course of business.

Q: What are you going to do to make sure the board stays cohesive and functioning?

A: First, communication. I have an excellent relationship with all of the individual board members and the board as a whole. My ability to communicate and to keep them informed of what I am hearing, and listening to them and what they are hearing from constituents, is a key component in what the board chair should do. The second thing is making sure we maintain as a board the vision of being the policy governance component of this system and make sure we don’t get off task.

Q: You said once that one faction of board members, the group you align with, “wants to take a governance role” in the district’s affairs. And that the others wanted “to micromanage the school system.” Do you still think that’s the case?

A: I don’t think there are any more factions. We did a good job this summer defining what the roles are of board members and creating a space for us to execute on that role. I feel like all nine of us understand what our role is and how to execute that.

Q: The school redistricting is already angering so many people, and you guys haven’t even made final recommendations yet. What do you think the key is to making sure this process goes smoothly?

A: One of the things Mr. Davis has committed to is transparency. I think he’s done an excellent job. Unfortunately, when you have transparency you have to deal with all types of people coming in with opinions about what’s good for them or not good for them. What we need to do as a school system is make sure we maintain communication. As a board, we will continue to hold Davis accountable for being transparent in the community.

Q: On the issue of holding the superintendent accountable, there are some who feel the board didn’t do a good enough job of holding [former Superintendent Beverly] Hall hold accountable. What’s your take on that?

A: Over the past two years, I think there are some lessons we have all learned. ... One of the things we’re working on is, from an evaluation perspective, what are the best tools to be used in evaluating a superintendent? We want to make sure we have the lessons of other districts around the country.

Q: It’s been six months since the report on cheating was released. How do you think the district has done rebounding from that scandal?

A: I think the district has done an amazing job. Every day we have teachers who go into the classroom and work really hard to educate our students. What I see in the community, the superintendent and the staff is they feel very good about the way we have rebounded. Inside the school system we’re working hard to make sure every kid has all the resources to be successful.