Anna Rachwalski

Former APS students run for District 1 seat on Atlanta Board of Education

September 14, 2021

1996 Grady alum and APS parent Howard runs for APS BOE District 1 seat


Kelley Klein Photography

Graduate of the Grady class of 1996, Katie Howard, is running for the District 1 seat on the Atlanta Public Schools Board.

Katie Powell Howard, who graduated from Grady High School in 1996, recently announced she was running for the District 1 seat on the Atlanta Board of Education. 

The seat is currently occupied by Board member Leslie Grant, who told the Southerner she does not plan to run for reelection. Howard attended kindergarten, middle school, and high school in the Grady cluster. Her two daughters went to Parkside Elementary and currently attend King Middle School in the Jackson cluster. 

“I’ve been involved and invested for a long time in the Maynard Jackson cluster,” Howard said. “I’ve just really been involved in getting people in our community to fully support our schools over here and through that, I’ve made a lot of connections and learned a lot about what’s going on in our schools as well as other schools throughout APS…It just seemed like the right time to say, ‘Okay, if I want to be a part of positive change at the board level, [I’ve] got to run.” 

English teacher Lisa Willoughby taught Howard when Howard attended Grady. Willoughby said she thinks Howard’s experience with Atlanta Public Schools in two different clusters (the Grady cluster and the Jackson cluster) will give her unique insight as a member of the APS board. 

“She’s someone who wants to try to change things and is willing to invest herself and her kids in that process,” Willoughby said.  “And I think that’s a good thing. And if she can send that signal to the broader community then all the better because I think, when we have more students [who] want to be part of APS, that makes things better for everybody.” 

Howard has worked for the Atlanta City Council as Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor to Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit. She has many connections there that she hopes to use to build stronger partnerships between APS and the City. 

“I am very interested in seeing how the City and APS can partner more where appropriate on dealing with some of the systemic underlying factors that are affecting our schools, such as lack of affordable housing, lack of investment in business, small businesses, and community,” Howard said. “We’re making headway there. I think people [are] headed in the right direction, but schools and strong communities, obviously, [are] directly correlated.”

One initiative Howard outlines in her platform is affordable housing for teachers. Aisha Stith, a sociologist and Grady cluster parent, said she thinks it’s a “brilliant idea” to bring interested teachers closer to where they teach because it will have a positive “trickle effect into the school systems”. 

District 1 covers the Grady and Jackson cluster as well as parts of the Carver and South Atlanta clusters. Howard recognizes the diverse and varied needs of these schools and says she will support them with an emphasis on equity. 

“First and foremost, equity [is key], but that can look different, based on what’s going on with that child so, APS obviously has to dig in and do individualized assessments… particularly post COVID,” Howard said. “We can’t just do a blanket approach to all these schools because they’re different and unique which is beautiful and I’m so excited about the possibility of representing such a diverse district. I think it’s awesome.” 

Stith, who is Black, said it’s important to her that the Board’s equity-centered policies explicitly focus on the Black students in APS. 

“I am uniquely concerned with how our school system supports Black children,” Stith said.  “I think [Howard] talked a lot about diversity, which is really great, but as I see it, there needs to be a direct initiative and it’s productive for all… Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m here to figure out how to support communities, Black communities, or African-American communities.’”

Another one of Howard’s main goals is to ensure that there is not only quality education inside schools, but also quality communication about schools. She said in her time being involved with APS, she has seen the way gaps in communication with the community have influenced people’s impression of the districts. She said from her own experience, many parents did not want to send their kids to King Middle School,. However, she worked to bring the community together and shed light on the incredible leadership at the school. 

“It wasn’t so much about selling them on the school as much as saying, ‘We need to really work on understanding what’s going on in our schools and not judging them based on perception,’” Howard said. “I know I can help and going directly to people, talking with people, connecting with people and saying, ‘These are all the resources available to you’…. Educators are doing this in the schools… but how the district builds upon that trust, it just adds more and supports educators who I’m sure sometimes feel like they’re not heard [and] their ideas aren’t implemented as much.”

Stith agrees this kind of communication is important, and she thinks this outreach would be a good opportunity to emphasize the rich history many APS schools have. 

“Just talk to people about the history… so that parents find value and talk about when the school was thriving and see if that resonates,” Stith said. “I think that’s really smart… If people can feel good about the school that’s in their neighborhood and want to support it, that’s another sort of step forward.”

The past year has seen a lot of discontent within the APS over decisions made about how and when to reopen schools. For Willoughby, having someone on the board who looks out for educators’ perspectives is important. 

“The way she talked about being impressed with the educators in the schools where her students are is admirable,” Willoughby said. “I very much hope that she will continue to try to take the perspective of the people involved in educational education directly and not the outside pressures that, sometimes, people are subject to.”

Willoughby said an important aspect of this is the relationship members of the board have with Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring, 

“They need to be more assertive with Dr. Herring and say, ‘You have got to be collaborative; you can’t just say you’re collaborative. You’ve got to be equitable; you can’t just say you want to be equitable,’” Willoughby said. 

One of Howard’s goals is to have an open and productive relationship with Herring about the concerns of her constituents.

“It is critical for a board member to share with the Superintendent what they’re hearing is going on and what the feedback [is that] they’re getting, and I’m hoping that I would have an open relationship where I could share that,” Howard said.  “There’s just so many things we can do…but at the same time recognizing [what] the superintendent needs.”  

Stith thinks it is important to have another board member on the APS board who cares about making the school system more equitable. 

“I think another person who is focused on equity, who is focused on diversity and sort of not afraid to say  ‘We have low income black communities that really need support,’ I think that’s perfectly fine,” Stith said. “I think that there’s a lot of strength in a true ally.” 

Howard said she wants to take this next step in her involvement with APS so she can lift up all APS schools. 

“To me, APS represents strength, diversity, beauty [and] Atlanta,” Howard said. “I love all APS schools. I have so much love and respect for each one and the unique history, or culture in those schools, including partnerships and charters. There’s some awesome things going on, so I just want to highlight all that and really build upon it and showcase all of them.”

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APS parent Howe runs for Board of Education District 1 seat


Courtesy of Wykeisha Howe

Wykeisha Howe is running for the District 1 seat on the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education.

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.”  

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