Courtesy of Wykeisha Howe
On Wykeisha Howe’s first day of kindergarten, she was crying because she didn’t want to leave her mom. But, her teacher gave her a sucker, took her hand, and made her “feel so comfortable and welcomed.”
Now, inspired by her desire for all students to feel nurtured at school, Howe is running for the District 1 seat on the Atlanta Board of Education.
Howe said her personal experience in the school system, as well as her perspective of being an engaged parent, gives her unique insight into the issues the district struggles with.
“I can speak from the perspective of a parent who has struggled and had nothing,” Howe said. “I’ve been homeless. I ended up finding a place to stay and got myself together, and I want to lift that part up because even when I was homeless, my kids never missed a day of school … I was just determined to make sure that they have the best educational outcome, regardless of where I am [and] what I’m going through and as a mom, I can come to the board and share that.”
Alexandria Rackston, a teacher at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy (Howe’s children’s elementary school), has worked with Howe for years. Howe has partnered with Rackston on initiatives such as RESPECT CASCADE. What is this?
“Mrs. Howe will bring a different viewpoint to the board,” Rackston said. “Being a parent has prepared her to be honest and diligent about the education for all children. She has been active through each of the last three superintendent terms. Running for a board seat was a natural progression in her journey.”
Howe’s campaign is run by people in the community, specifically other moms in the district.
“The funny thing is I don’t have one of those professional campaign managers,” Howe said. “They are APS moms …. It’s amazing how simple it is to run from what I’ve seen. The reason why I didn’t do it is because I thought it was so hard, and it’s really not. My other moms [and I] are learning how to campaign.”
Laquita Johnson, an APS mom, became close friends with Howe when Howe was helping her find housing. Now Johnson is Howe’s campaign manager, and shares Howe’s sentiment that the board needs to better connect with parents because she said not much of the current leadership “actually sits down and listens to what the parents have to say.”
“[Howe] is a great listener,” Johnson said. “She brings a unique opportunity because she comes from both sides of the fence, living in property where the school really is not listening … to actually standing up saying, ‘Hey, enough is enough, no one’s listening, so here I am putting my voice out here, putting my face out here, saying that there needs to be a change.’”
According to Howe, after years of friends and family urging her to run, she was inspired to enter the race because of her own experience of not feeling heard by the board.
“What’s concerning is that they’re not listening to the community, and it seems like they put big businesses and organizations over the families and the kids,” Howe said. “We don’t always get listened to, and from my past, I’m black, and so, it’s always like ‘you have an attitude” or ‘you talk too loud.’ But, when you have children failing in a school system … we have to do something different.”
Howe said APS is still struggling with the same issues it was 20 years ago. According to Howe, she would like to focus on special education, lifting up black and brown students who are behind in reading and math, school safety, health initiatives, homelessness in APS families and an increased focus on students who are in the foster care system.
Johnson said in many of these areas, the community already relies on Howe and her guidance and leadership.
“Everyone calls her because she has resources,” Johnson said. “She’s in contact right now with everybody from the school board [to] the superintendent, so a lot of parents call her to ask her for help … Even on the weekend, she’s constantly answering emails and on the phone with parents about their concerns in the school and who they talk to and what’s going on.”
As an active classroom parent for the last eight years, Howe said she has seen the difference additional support for teachers makes in the education of their students as well.
“If our teachers are happy, I think they’ll make sure that our babies have a happy day,” Howe said.
As a teacher, Rackston said values board members hold include fairness and equity.
“Mrs. Howe’s tenacity for social and educational justice makes her the perfect candidate,” Rackston said. “She is a problem solver and this position could give her access to more support and resources.”
Another initiative Howe said she would prioritize is bridging the gap between the school and the city.
“I want the public school system to work with the city council, with the mayor, who works with the governor,” Howe said. “This is how we get things done in our city.”
Howe said her campaign slogan, “I will not make a decision for you, without you,” represents her focus on being an active listener and including the community in the policy-making process. Johnson feels this is indicative of her goals as a potential APS board member.
“She’s standing up, putting that foot forward and saying, ‘Hey, I’m here, live here. Let’s stand up, let’s fight for education and make the education of the future better for our children, and not just black children, all children in general because everyone deserves a good education.”