On the surface, architecture has little to do with managing an education system.

But Tamara Jones sees it differently. The current District 7 At-Large member says her career as an architect and urban planner informs her approach to serving on the Atlanta Board of Education. She views Atlanta Public Schools as a collective structure, and one that needs better project management.

“As an architect, I build things, and there's always many ways to get something done. But there’s also a whole language to learn, standards for processes to follow, and a chain of command about who's in charge of a construction project,” Jones told ACC. “This is a piece that APS has lacked: process structure. When a person leaves, whether it's a board member or superintendent, and that one person leaves—everything falls apart. It's because you haven't built a strong foundation.”

As an incumbent school board member, Jones believes she’s part of a “strong foundation” for APS’s near future. She is facing challenger Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, a Clayton County Public Schools teacher, in the Dec. 5 runoff election for the District 7 seat.

“We need someone with a deep knowledge of this particular school district and its unique needs, and I've got that steady relationship with my colleagues,” says Jones. “This is not the time to be changing horses. We need somebody with experience in this district, particularly with experience in managing disputes.”

The bulk of Jones’ APS experience is actually as a parent, not serving on the board. The Inman Park resident was first elected two years ago, in November 2021, when the Atlanta school board implemented staggered terms for its members. This year, District 7 was one of five odd-numbered seats up for election out of nine total seats.

In 2021, Jones pitched herself as the only current APS parent running for the seat and highlighted her extensive experience in parent leadership roles. She and her husband Mark’s three children have attended APS schools, with two graduating during the pandemic. Over the last 17 years, Jones has served on several APS related committees and organizations: as a GO Team chair and secretary, a Cluster Advisory Team member, a SPLOST Oversight Committee member, and more. 

“I have a deep knowledge of this particular school district and what its unique needs are,” she says.

Tamara Jones, District 7 board member.

Talking priorities

First and foremost, APS needs a strong superintendent with staying power, Jones says.

The APS superintendent's job has been like a game of musical chairs in recent years. In 2020, Meria Carstarphen left APS after the school board did not renew her contract. History repeated this spring when the board opted not to bring back Carstarphen’s successor, Lisa Herring.

Danielle Battle, the former principal of Parkside Elementary and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, was sworn in as the interim superintendent in August, which Jones says is a good thing.

“I think [Battle] will be able to lay the groundwork with the current board to sort of pave the way, so that whoever comes in next has a lot of stuff cleared out of their way and can kind of hit the ground running,” Jones says.

Jones's other priority is fixing APS’s abysmal student literacy rates. Only about a quarter of Atlanta 4th- and 8th-graders scored at or above proficiency level, according to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card.”

“You see the effects of that lack of reading proficiency when these kids get to middle or high school, and they're not able to access the subject matter in any other subject,” Jones says. “This has to be a focus because literacy is a human right. It's a civil right. And we know how to do it.”

Jones and District 5 board member Erica Y. Mitchell co-wrote a new literacy policy, which is expected to be adopted during the school board’s next meeting on Dec. 4. “It’s the first board literacy program we’ve ever had. It’s historic,” Jones says.

Their structured literacy blueprint for APS focuses on what’s called “the science of reading,” by teaching children to read words using methods like phonics, where they match sounds with individual letters or groups of letters. More school districts have been adopting structured literacy programs nationwide in recent years, replacing the “whole language” approach that gained favor in the early 2000s.

New APS policies like structured literacy may not be a headline-grabbing part of the school board's job, but Jones calls it foundation-building work. “Building a strong structure isn’t sexy. It’s not something you’d take a selfie in front of. But without it, everything else crumbles.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *