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Candidates Share Their Stances Ahead of Gwinnett School Board Elections

8 candidates vie for District 3 and District 5 Gwinnett County School Board seats this May 21. See where they stand before you vote.

Eight candidates vie for District 3 and District 5 School Board seats this May 21

If you decide to sit out the May primary and instead wait for the “big” election in November, you’ll be doing yourself and your community a disservice.

Although Congressional seats and the next leader of the free world will be decided, many local races will have a greater impact on day-to-day lives.

During a town hall meeting on March 24, Peachtree Corners City Councilman Eric Christ reminded residents that if they don’t vote on May 21, they’ll have no say in who represents them on the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

There are many candidates on the school board ballot. District 3, which includes Peachtree Corners, has five contenders for the seat vacated by long-time board member Dr. Mary Kay Murphy.

Christ pointed out that the nonpartisan race will be decided during the primary without endorsing a party or a candidate. County judges will also be elected.

Another unique aspect of this election is that there is no Republican candidate for county district attorney. So, those who show up on May 21 and request a Republican or independent ballot will have no say in who the next Gwinnett County district attorney will be.

“Some people think that if they say, ‘I’m nonpartisan,’ they’ll get to vote for either party,” said Christ. “It doesn’t work that way. They will only see judges and the school board on their ballot.”

So, in this particular race, if you have a strong opinion for or against someone in the county district attorney race, you will only be able to vote if you have a Democrat ballot.

For those looking to cast their votes on or before May 21, Southwest Gwinnett Magazine has sent a set of questions to all the school board candidates in District 3 and District 5, asking their opinions about matters of education and school system governance.

Six of the eight candidates replied.

District 5

Question #1: Why do you want to be a school board member?

Tarece Johnson-Morgan: I am running for re-election to the Gwinnett County School Board because I want to continue to advocate for the needs of the children, teachers and staff. I will continue to advocate for policies that reflect the current and evolving needs of our students to ensure successful outcomes.

I will continue to courageously pursue transparency, integrity and accountability. This is not always easy, and I know that focusing on our students is the priority, not politics, power, a person or popularity.

I will continue to advocate for a balanced and responsible budget that is aligned with Gwinnett County Public School’s strategic plan, portrait of a graduate and legislative priorities. I will continue to work to ensure safe school environments, equity and belonging that meet the diverse needs of our students and inspire the love of learning.

I will continue to authentically and unapologetically support our students and address the needs of historically marginalized students who need different approaches to achieve success.

From those with language needs to our special education students, from those who are economically and housing insecure to those managing their mental health and well-being, I will boldly work to do all I can to help them. I believe helping the most vulnerable children will also uplift and strengthen our entire community.

Tarece Johnson-Morgan

Patrina King: I want to improve student outcomes. As a parent, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that a supportive and enriching educational environment can have on a child’s growth and future opportunities.

Having graduated from Georgia’s Public School System myself, I understand the importance of ensuring that every student receives a quality education that prepares them for success.

My years of advocacy for students have fueled my passion for serving on the school board. I’ve witnessed many students’ challenges and obstacles, and I’m committed to being their voice and championing their needs.

Whether it’s advocating for resources, promoting inclusive policies or fostering a culture of support and collaboration, I want to contribute to creating a school system where every student can thrive.

Being a school board member isn’t just a role for me; it’s a calling born out of a deep-seated belief in the power of education to change lives. I’m dedicated to working tirelessly to ensure that our schools provide the best possible opportunities for all students, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Patrina King

Question #2: Besides a desire to serve and help further the education of local children, what skills, experience, etc. do you bring to the table that makes you qualified?

Tarece Johnson-Morgan: I am highly qualified to continue to be at the table because I have education and experience that directly align with the work of the board, which is policy making, accountability and budgeting.

Additionally, as an educational leader with teaching experience, I know how it is to be in a classroom and manage students. My doctorate degree in educational leadership (EdD), school administration, and classroom experience have prepared me to know what to look for, ask the right questions and ensure we meet the academic needs of our students.

My business degree (MBA) and entrepreneurial experience also provide me with the skills needed to understand the nuances of the budget and help ensure responsible allocation of resources to ensure access and opportunity for each and every child (equity). 

My public policy and administration degree (MPA) and experience also aid me to make valuable contributions as I know how to draft policy and the importance it has on outcomes. Policy without accountability is futile, and I understand that relevant policies are necessary and valuable to help support a school system that authentically meets the needs of the students and their families, teachers and staff.

Additional qualifications include my experience as a community activist, which has taught me the power of the people and built in me a resilient hope to fight for what is right despite threats, personal attacks, disparagement and disinformation.

My work as a mental health and well-being advocate also provides me with knowledge and a perspective that helps me support our youth so they may not just survive but thrive. 

Patrina King: Beyond my desire to serve and enhance the educational journey of Gwinnett County students, my extensive background in youth advocacy, particularly in sports and education, equips me with a unique set of skills and experiences that make me well-suited for the role.

As the former owner of a background investigations company, I utilized my expertise to educate students about the enduring consequences of their actions on future opportunities. This experience taught me the importance of instilling values of responsibility and accountability in young minds, ensuring they understand the impact of their decisions beyond the present moment.

Through my non-profit foundation, I orchestrate an annual Teen Summit across Metro Atlanta, utilizing the power of golf to cultivate leadership skills and promote active, healthy lifestyles among teenagers. This initiative underscores my commitment to holistic youth development, recognizing the vital role of physical activity and mentorship in shaping well-rounded individuals.

My engagement as PTA President and Head Fastpitch Softball Coach in Gwinnett County, along with my volunteer work in classrooms and organizations like 21st Century Leaders, Junior Achievement and Georgia State University, demonstrates my ongoing dedication to investing in the leaders of tomorrow. These experiences have honed my ability to collaborate with diverse stakeholders, navigate complex educational landscapes, and advocate effectively for the needs of students and families.

Additionally, my membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and my participation in the United Way Volunteer Improvement Program (VIP) further underscores my commitment to community service and continuous personal and professional development.

Combined, these experiences have equipped me with the skills, knowledge and passion needed to make a meaningful impact as a school board member, ensuring that our educational system continues to thrive and empower every child to reach their full potential.

Question #3: Lately, there has been a lot of press about school boards being pressed to eliminate or massage history lessons that may make some students and/or families uncomfortable. What is your reaction to this? And what would you do in similar situations?

Tarece Johnson-Morgan: As a current school board member, I have boldly spoken out against the elimination of historical facts, and censoring words that impact a sense of belonging. 

As opposed to censorship, I believe that teachers should be empowered with resources to responsibly engage students (via scaffolding) in a way that is empathetic, respectful and productive.

We must care for the mental and emotional well-being of our students as we teach the truth. I believe teaching historical truths (age-appropriate and with sensitivity) helps to create a better future because students can learn from bad actions that cause systemic harm.

 My “both / and mindset” and “liberation mindset” drive my intentionality to ensure cultural competence, educational facts and empathetic engagement. 

My doctorate in education focused on the subject of multicultural and multilingual teaching and learning.

I wrote a book called “The Global Purpose Approach,” and I know the importance of culturally responsive education as a way to enhance interest, thus improving attendance and academic performance.

My actions on the board (votes) and advocacy have been in alignment with my values for equity, cultural inclusion, and belonging.

Belonging is foundational to success and when we ensure children are heard, seen, valued, respected and cared for, they will learn and be productive citizens who will create thriving communities. In any situation, I will continue to listen and learn to effectively and bravely, stand for humanity and do what is just and right for all.

Patrina King: As a parent, advocate and prospective school board member, my reaction to the recent discussions surrounding history lessons is one of concern, tempered with a deep commitment to ensuring that our educational system provides a comprehensive and accurate portrayal of history.

History is not always comfortable. It encompasses a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and events, some of which may be difficult or painful to confront. However, it is through understanding and learning from our collective history, both the triumphs and the tragedies, that we can cultivate empathy, critical thinking and a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the world around us.

In situations where there is pressure to eliminate or alter history lessons to avoid discomfort, my approach would be rooted in principles of transparency, inclusivity and academic integrity. I firmly believe that students deserve access to a curriculum that reflects the full spectrum of human experiences, even when certain topics may challenge prevailing narratives or cause discomfort.

Rather than avoiding difficult conversations, I would advocate for creating safe and respectful spaces within our schools where students can engage with history in a meaningful way. This may involve providing additional resources, facilitating open dialogue or implementing curriculum revisions that offer a more nuanced understanding of historical events and their impact on diverse communities.

I would also prioritize collaboration with educators, parents, students and community stakeholders to ensure that any decisions regarding the history curriculum are informed by diverse perspectives and guided by the goal of promoting critical thinking, empathy and cultural competency among students.

Ultimately, my approach to addressing contentious issues in history education would be guided by a steadfast commitment to academic freedom, intellectual honesty and the fundamental belief that education should empower students to grapple with the complexities of the past to build a more just and equitable future.

Question #4: In Gwinnett County, students come from diverse socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. What strategies would you implement to ensure all students have equitable access to educational resources and opportunities?

Tarece Johnson-Morgan: The work I do (full time job) is equity, human resources and belonging. I develop policies, people, programs and processes related to equitable access to and allocation of resources, and opportunities for children around the nation with the highest ACEs (adverse childhood experiences).

I support children of all races, cultures and backgrounds. From children with disabilities, to extreme trauma, to income, food and housing insecurities, I work diligently and passionately to empower and uplift them to be excellent. 

I continue to work hard on this board to build awareness related to equity and belonging. From advocating for relevant policy updates to support equity and be in alignment with our strategic plan and priorities, to ensuring an equitable budget that allocates resources to close the gaps and meet needs, I have and will continue to relentlessly support authentic and sustainable equity actions that benefit all children. 

Patrina King: Ensuring equitable access to educational resources and opportunities for all students in Gwinnett County is not just a goal; it’s a moral imperative that lies at the heart of our commitment to excellence and inclusivity. To achieve this, I would implement a range of strategies that prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of our educational system.

I believe in acknowledging and celebrating the rich diversity of our student population. By recognizing and valuing the unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of each student, we can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment where everyone feels respected, seen and heard.

One key strategy is to ensure equitable resource allocation across schools, prioritizing those serving underserved communities. This includes providing funding for updated materials, technology, extracurricular programs and support services such as counseling and special education. By addressing disparities in resources, we can level the playing field and provide every student with the tools they need to succeed.

I would advocate for culturally responsive teaching practices that recognize and honor the cultural identities and heritage of all students. By incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences into the curriculum, we can create a more engaging and relevant educational experience that reflects the realities of our multicultural society.

In addition, it’s crucial to ensure that students with special needs have equitable access to enrichment opportunities. By expanding access to specialized programs and resources tailored to their unique needs, we can create a more inclusive educational environment where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

This includes offering advanced placement courses, dual enrollment programs, as well as career and technical education pathways that are accessible and accommodating for students with disabilities. By providing a variety of pathways to success, we can empower all students, regardless of their background or circumstances, to explore their potential, pursue their passions and achieve their dreams.

Question #5: Gwinnett County, like almost every other school system, has struggled in the past decade or so to retain personnel — teachers, school bus drivers, etc. Do you have thoughts on how to attract and retain qualified candidates?

Tarece Johnson-Morgan:

As a current board member, I continue to meet with teachers, support staff and bus drivers by listening to them and understanding their needs.

As a result of these sessions, listening to them at board meetings, reading their emails, meeting them at events and other ways, I strategically advocate for them to ensure their needs are met so they may enjoy their work.

The student environment is also the teacher and staff environment, and it is important to invest in these spaces to ensure they are safe and secure. As a professional with human resources experience, belonging, respect and value are all important. I will continue to do all I can to ensure we retain high-quality staff who care about all children.

Some ways to ensure we attract and retain teachers include:

  • Creating belonging. They must know that they are valued.
  • Ensuring work-life harmony.
  • Creating safe environments.
  • Making sure they have the support and resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Supporting their non-duty breaks and meaningful planning times.
  • Overall compensation and benefits (including incentives – covering other classes, school clubs, after-school programs, Title I schools, etc.)
  • Including their voices in the process of decision-making.
  • Ensuring equitable accolades.
  • Reducing class sizes.
  • Effective, empathetic and quality leadership.
  • Teacher mentorship and training.
  • Inclusive calendar and time off.
  • Flexibility related to permissive transfers and childcare support for their children.
  • Mental health, wellness, retreats/advances, spiritual healing, etc.

Patrina King: Retaining personnel in Gwinnett County’s educational system is not just about numbers; it’s about nurturing a community of dedicated professionals who feel valued, supported and appreciated. In addition to offering competitive salaries and benefits, and investing in professional development programs, we must prioritize creating a work environment that fosters a sense of belonging and fulfillment.

I believe in cultivating a supportive work environment where educators and staff feel empowered to do their best work. This means fostering a culture of collaboration, respect and open communication, where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. By prioritizing the well-being and professional growth of our personnel, we can create a culture where individuals feel invested in their roles and committed to the success of our students.

Work-life balance is essential for the overall health and happiness of our personnel. As a school board member, I would advocate for policies and practices that promote work-life balance, including flexible scheduling options, wellness programs and resources for childcare and family support.

By recognizing the importance of personal well-being and offering support to navigate the demands of both work and life outside of work, we can help our personnel thrive both professionally and personally.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to recognize and appreciate the contributions of our educators and staff. From celebrating achievements to acknowledging milestones and simply saying thank you, showing appreciation goes a long way in building morale and fostering a sense of belonging.

As a community, we must come together to uplift and support our personnel, recognizing the vital role they play in shaping the future of our students and our community as a whole.

Prioritizing the well-being and professional growth of our personnel will build a strong and resilient community of educators and staff who are dedicated to the success of our students.

District 3

Question #1: Why do you want to be a school board member?

Yanin Cortes: I am running for school board because I want a bright future for our communities and future generations. The reason why I moved to Peachtree Corners and decided to raise my family here 18 years ago was because of the school system and its reputation for providing a world-class education.

Yanin Cortes

Gwinnett, for many years, has been a beacon of light for world-class education in the state of GA. Lately, however, we have seen our differences divide us. Our county is a mosaic with a diversity of appearances, opinions, and visions for the future.

I believe that our strength lies in our ability to unite for a common purpose. There is no greater purpose than the education and future of our children. I’m committed to becoming the bridge connecting the school board and our communities, amplifying our voice, fostering consensus and constructing a world-class school system.

As your representative on the school board my commitment will be to seek common ground not a political agenda. I will always prioritize our children and teachers over personal ambitions, concentrating on the essentials: student achievement, school safety, teacher support and community involvement.

Domonique Cooper: Having lived in Gwinnett County for the past twelve years, I’m passionate about giving back to our community by serving on the school board. My goal is to build a strong, unified team where the school board and community work together. 

Domonique Cooper

I’m committed to excellence in Gwinnett County Schools, and I believe my experience can be a valuable asset to our students, staff and stakeholders.

Steve Gasper: I’m running for school board to do what I can to help restore our faith and belief in our public schools and to continue the great work I’ve done so far at GCPS over the past nearly four years.

Steve Gasper

Shana V. White: As a third-generation teacher, I’m running because I believe it is time for an educator with K12 pedagogy experience and instructional knowledge to serve on the board to better meet the changing needs of K12 public schools and classrooms to support the creation of equitable, inclusive, safe and quality learning environments district-wide to meet the diverse needs of Gwinnett County students.

Shana V. White

Question #2: Besides a desire to serve and help further the education of local children, what skills, experience, etc., do you bring to the table that makes you qualified?

Yanin Cortes: I am a mother, a former teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools, and a small business owner.

As a teacher at Shiloh High School, I experienced and witnessed the same concerns and issues that our students, teachers and faculty still encounter every day.

As the owner of three restaurants here in Peachtree Corners and Norcross, I understand the level of hard work and dedication it takes to achieve success. I have learned through serving a diverse workforce and customer base that it is necessary to come together and find common ground to achieve success.

I believe that my experiences as a teacher and a business owner give me a unique, yet valuable skill set tailored to the job of a school board member.

Once elected, I will work to build consensus on the board to ensure that we, as a school board, are a productive and functional governing body that puts the interests of our students and staff first. I will put my breadth of experiences as a GCPS educator, local business owner, and an engaged and concerned parent into every decision I make on the board.

Domonique Cooper:  From my time in the Federal Government, I possess expertise in data management, policy planning and fiscal development – skills crucial for navigating school board budgets and ensuring efficient operations.

As a Gwinnett County Public Schools substitute teacher, I honed my classroom management skills, effectively interpreting lesson plans and crafting reports to benefit student progress. This experience gives me invaluable insight into the daily lives of our teachers and students.

My entrepreneurial experience fostered strong communication, salesmanship, and strategic thinking.  I can leverage these skills to build relationships with parents, advocate for our schools, and find creative solutions to educational challenges.

Additionally, as an educational strategist, I am a champion for parental involvement, policy improvement, and a more positive educational environment. I am skilled at evaluating achievement gaps and developing strategies to ensure all students thrive.

Steve Gasper: I am a former elementary school teacher who grew up in an education-centered home, as my mother is a retired, 30-year first-grade teacher.  I am a graduate of the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in business management and organization. 

My wife and I are owners-operators of a vacation rental business and I’ve been a corporate sales and management leader for over 23 years.

I’ve also been intimately involved in GCPS over the past nearly four years, speaking at numerous BOE meetings, meeting with the previous as well as the current Superintendent, meeting and collaborating with senior district leadership, working with several current BOE members to build working relationships, and participating in district committees such as the Instructional Resources Review Committee (IRRC), the Discipline Task Force and the Superintendents Transition Planning Team.

I’ve also collaborated with several State Elected Officials to discuss ways we can create positive education policies for not only Gwinnett County but our entire state.

I’ve been the voice for teachers, parents and our community during this time.  I’ve had my “thumb to the pulse” of our community, gaining insight on topics that are most important in real-time. 

Shana V. White: I have been a K12 public and private school educator in Georgia for over 15 years.

I have been a varsity basketball coach at The Paideia School, Pace Academy, Peachtree Ridge HS,and Wesleyan School.

At Peachtree Ridge HS and Pace Academy, I was the varsity head coach for a total of 5 years combined. I have been both a classroom teacher and LSTC (local school technology coordinator) in Gwinnett County Public Schools for over 10 years, working at Creekland MS, Peachtree Ridge HS, Summerour MS, and Sweetwater MS.

I currently work with a national philanthropic organization (Kapor Foundation) that supports equitable computer science implementation and resources for K12 public school districts.

Additionally, as a part of my role, I currently directly support Muscogee County Schools (GA), Early County Schools (GA) and Oakland Unified School District (CA) with their computer science implementation as well as lead and facilitate professional development for teachers and school district leaders across the nation in K12 computer science equity, culturally responsible and sustaining computer science, ethical artificial intelligence and computational thinking.

Question #3: Lately, there has been a lot of press about school boards being pressed to eliminate or massage history lessons that may make some students and/or families uncomfortable. What is your reaction to this? And what would you do in similar situations?

Yanin Cortes: I believe that history is a vital component of a well-rounded, world-class education. It is necessary for us to learn from our mistakes and to understand how we got here to prepare our students for the world stage.

That said, the school board should be able to reasonably accommodate those who might find certain materials distressing. We must always take into account maturity and grade level when it comes to all learning materials.

Domonique Cooper: It’s concerning when efforts are made to remove or downplay uncomfortable aspects of history. History, by its very nature, isn’t always rosy. 

Sanitizing the past prevents us from learning from mistakes and hinders a complete understanding of the present.  Schools have a responsibility to teach history accurately and comprehensively, even the difficult parts.

What I would do:

  • Focus on historical context: Uncomfortable events should be presented within the context of the time period. Explain the prevailing social norms, biases, and limitations in understanding of the past. This allows for a more nuanced discussion.

  • Multiple perspectives: Show history from the viewpoints of different groups involved. This fosters empathy and critical thinking skills.

  • Open discussions: Create safe spaces for students to discuss sensitive topics and grapple with complex issues. Encourage respectful dialogue and guide students towards evidence-based conclusions.

  • Acknowledge the discomfort: It’s okay for students to feel uncomfortable with certain historical events. Use that discomfort as a springboard for deeper learning and critical reflection.

  • Transparency with parents: School boards should involve parents in discussions about curriculum but emphasize the importance of a complete historical picture. Offer resources and open communication channels for parents who may have concerns.

By teaching a comprehensive and inclusive version of history, we can empower future generations to be informed, engaged citizens who can work towards a more just and equitable society.

Steve Gasper:My feeling is that history is our history and should be told exactly how it was.  If we eliminate or massage history lessons, how can we learn and possibly improve upon our past to make us better people in society?  I would support teaching history lessons as they are written and not altered.

Shana V. White: In an increasingly polarized climate, a variety of emotions come to the surface for individuals or groups. Any time discussions or topics are polarizing in nature, our first response should be always to listen to understand.

Students and families are stakeholders in our public school system and have the right to be heard at school board meetings. As a teacher, I believed in teaching students the grade-appropriate truth as it relates to the history and current events of the United States as well as the world in a facts-based manner.

As educators our job is to demonstrate respect for all students as full human beings by providing them accurate information from a historic or current context and then give them the time and space to ponder, discuss and interrogate information.

As Dr. Martin Luther King said in an article in 1947, “education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from fiction.”

Question #4: In Gwinnett County, students come from diverse socio-economic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. What strategies would you implement to ensure all students have equitable access to educational resources and opportunities?

Yanin Cortes: We need to ensure that we provide all students with a pathway to success and to do this, we must double down on what works.

This starts with early learning and school readiness. The Play 2 Learn initiative, which helps prepare infants through 5-year-olds for kindergarten and beyond, has been a great resource for families in our district.

The results of this program have been a massive success, and I believe that its expansion will benefit all students in our county.

Furthermore, Gwinnett County has received tremendous praise for its successful schools and programs, specifically in areas of STEM and other technical education areas. A safe learning environment goes hand in hand with making quality education possible.

Schools that create a safe learning environment have been more successful in our district. We must ensure the presence of at least two safety resource officers at all times in all of our schools. Further investment in these successful programs and initiatives is key to ensuring that we provide a pathway to success for all students.

Domonique Cooper: Here are some strategies I would use to ensure equitable access to educational resources and opportunities for all students in Gwinnett County’s diverse student body.

Addressing resource disparities:

  • Needs-based funding: Allocate resources to schools based on student needs, ensuring schools with higher populations of low-income students have the necessary funding for qualified teachers, updated materials, and smaller class sizes.
  • Technology equity: Provide all students with access to high-speed internet and up-to-date devices at school and home. Offer training and technical support to bridge the digital divide.
  • Multilingual resources: Ensure textbooks, assignments, and support materials are available in multiple languages to remove language barriers for non-native English speakers.

Supporting diverse learners:

  • Culturally responsive teaching: Train teachers in culturally responsive pedagogy to create inclusive classrooms that value diverse perspectives and learning styles.
  • Early childhood education: Invest in high-quality early childhood education programs, particularly in underserved communities, to ensure all students enter kindergarten with a strong foundation.
  • Targeted academic support: Provide targeted interventions and support programs for students who are struggling academically, including programs for gifted and talented students, ESL learners, and students with disabilities.

Expanding opportunities:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) for all: Expand access to AP courses and provide targeted support to help all students, especially those from traditionally underserved backgrounds, qualify and succeed in these rigorous programs.
  • Career and technical education (CTE): Ensure all schools offer a variety of CTE programs that expose students to different career paths and provide valuable job skills.

Fostering a culture of equity:

  • Data analysis and transparency: Regularly collect and analyze data to identify and address equity gaps in student achievement and access to resources.
  • Community partnerships: Collaborate with community organizations to provide wraparound services such as after-school programs, healthcare access, and mental health support.
  • Student and parent voice: Actively solicit feedback from students and parents from diverse backgrounds to understand their needs and concerns, and ensure they have a voice in shaping educational decisions.

By implementing these strategies, Gwinnett County can create a more equitable learning environment where all students, regardless of background, have the opportunity to succeed.

Steve Gasper: The diversity of Gwinnett County is what makes this a great county to work and live in, and that should be celebrated.  No one should be singled out, excluded or denied access to any educational resources and opportunities.  These are our future leaders and need all that we can offer them to be prepared as such.

Shana V. White: Improving educational equity, which meets the needs of diverse racial, cultural, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds of all, first requires all stakeholders to be on the same page.

We must have hard conversations with students, parents/caregivers, teachers and school/district administration to truly set collective strategies and goals, as educational equity work will look different at each school if it is done correctly.

Broadly, equity in schools should include providing opportunities, access and resources that help all students with diverse needs obtain success. One overall strategy to improve equity in schools involves first assessing the opportunity gaps that exist that are hindering success for all students.

One strategy I used when I was a teacher was making an intentional effort to understand the variety of intersecting identities of our students and how to make the learning environment one where all students and their identities belong.

Additionally, explicitly listening to the voices of students as well as their parents/caretakers and asking them what they need to be successful is an often-overlooked strategy for improving equitable student learning.

Finally, providing teachers with quality training and resources to build equitable learning environments in their classrooms.

Some of those tools include Universal Design for Learning and translanguaging to better meet the needs of students with disabilities and emerging English language learners.

Question #5: Gwinnett County, like almost every other school system, has struggled in the past decade or so to retain personnel — teachers, school bus drivers, etc. Do you have thoughts on how to attract and retain qualified candidates?

Yanin Cortes: We, as a school board, need to project a stable, forward-thinking and forward-planning culture within our school system.

We must utilize the existing support systems in our district to provide support for educators and faculty who are the lifeblood of our district.

As a former teacher, I understand that teachers and staff need support and transparency from administrators and district leaders to feel that they can effectively teach and do their jobs. Teachers need planning time, they need a heads-up when we, as a board, decide to implement a shift in policy.

I know that teachers do not want to bounce from school to school and district to district. Teachers desire a stable and safe teaching environment.

As a school board, we must be there not to micromanage them but to support them. On the school board, I will make it a priority to show our teachers and staff that we are there to support them, not just through words but through our actions as a school board.

Attracting and retaining talented staff is a multidimensional approach. There is a variation of strategies for both aspects.

Domonique Cooper: Attracting personnel, teachers, school bus drivers, etc., is a two-pronged approach.

  • Showcase Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) brand: Develop a strong reputation that highlights GCPS company culture, values and unique perks.

  • Offer competitive compensation and benefits: Salary and benefits are a major draw. Research what’s competitive in a similar sized district to attract top talent.

  • Retaining Qualified Candidates requires a variety of solutions to support stable staffing.
  • Prioritize company culture: Create a positive work environment that fosters collaboration, growth and work-life balance.

  • Invest in professional development: Offer training programs, mentorship opportunities, and support for employees to develop their skills and advance their careers.

  • Recognize and appreciate employees: Make them feel valued for their contributions. Public recognition, rewards programs and promotion from within go a long way.

  • Monitor employee engagement: Stay on top of employee sentiment. Conduct surveys and have open communication channels to address concerns and foster a sense of belonging.

By focusing on these aspects, Gwinnett County Public Schools will be able to attract and retain qualified employees and high-caliber candidates by keeping them happy and productive for the foreseeable future.

Steve Gasper: Our district personnel (teachers, administrators, counselors, custodians, cafeteria workers bus drivers, etc.) are the lifeblood of our school system. 

Without them, we would cease to exist. 

It should be our main focus to make sure they feel happy and fulfilled in their jobs.  Over the past several years, GCPS has lost many great administrators, teachers, and those who support them. 

We need to provide a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment for them by creating effective staff retention programs (competitive pay, benefits, growth opportunities and support services). 

We must work to remove any roadblocks that prevent them from being successful.  This is one of the areas that is extremely important to me and will be a main focus for me when elected.

Shana V. White:Teaching as a profession nationally is undervalued and under respected. One of the things I would like to see improved as a former classroom teacher in Gwinnett is the quality of school site-based leadership.

School site leadership must clearly understand the school’s culture and climate is largely based on how teacher, staff and students are treated daily in the building daily. All school district leadership must better equip school site leaders with the training, resources and decision-making ability to make their schools a place where all teachers can thrive.

Making intentional efforts by school administrators to support teachers with duty-free planning, increased agency in their classroom, supporting all diverse learners’ needs in the building, making collective decisions on school policy and implementation, collaborative lesson/unit planning time, as well as uplifting teachers on a regular basis, are all items that would really go a long way in retaining teachers and making them feel valued.

As it relates to other school personnel, similar ideals of making them feel valued and an important part of the success of a school system is key. One way to value other educational personnel (bus drivers, office staff custodians, etc.) includes having leadership in place with clear and consistent expectations that are communicated.

Additionally, humanizing the work environment as much as possible and having personnel leadership open to feedback and ideas from staff go a long way to validating employees.

Photo caption: Residents voting // Freepik

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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