Incumbent Johnson challenges Lewis for school board Seat 9 position

Incumbent Johnson challenges Lewis for school board Seat 9 position
Election Details

Two candidacies have been announced for the at-large seat 9 position on the Atlanta Board of Education, including incumbent, recently appointed school board member Jessica Johnson and Atlanta educator and attorney Nkoyo Effiong Lewis.

The board election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7, with a run-off election to be held on Dec. 5, 2023, if either race has no candidate receive more than 50% of the vote.

“There is a special place in heaven for people who care about school board races a month prior,” Ken Zeff, a candidate for board seat 3 board, said. “But these races really are important to what is happening with a child’s education.”

At-large seats are elected by all voters citywide, but candidates have to reside in a group of two specified districts: Seat 7 candidates must live in districts 1 and 2, and Seat 9 candidates must live in districts 5 and 6.

“The at-large positions really are unique because you pledge to represent the entire district and connect with students at all the schools,” Tamara Jones, incumbent candidate for seat 7, said.

Nkoyo Effiong Lewis has spearheaded her campaign to run for school board at-large seat 9 seat after qualifying on August 23, 2023. (Sierra Pape)
Nkoyo Effiong Lewis

Nkoyo Effiong Lewis has spearheaded her campaign to run for school board at-large seat 9 seat after qualifying on August 23, 2023. As an educator and parent in the system, she feels a connection to the district, and prioritizes equity to serve students across the district.

“For nearly 20 years, it’s crazy to say that I have been advocating unapologetically for Equity and Excellence in our school, whether it be in the classroom or outside of it,” Lewis said.

She believes her biggest motivation to run for school board is being the parent of a special needs child.

“None of my experience would have prepared me for what it was to be a parent of a special needs student, and to have to show up every day and advocate for him to have a dignified learning experience,” Lewis said. “The humility and the empathy that comes from having to get on the side of the table, and not always feel accepted. This feeling leads me to want to be on the board today. We’re gonna make sure that we’re solving at a systemic level that allows all of us to participate in our school system and all of us to feel a return on that investment that we’re making.”

She has worked as a 4th Grade teacher at Hamilton Holmes Elementary School in Fulton County Schools between 2006 – 2008. She highlights that her “students grew nearly 2 reading levels on average in one year.”

“When I was a fourth grade teacher, the biggest priority was to make sure that my students were leaving me reading on grade level, and prepare for fifth grade and success beyond that,” Lewis said.

After that, she became a K-12 Instructional Coach helping teachers make data-driven decisions to increase student achievement in their classrooms. She believes that this has prepared her to understand the literacy challenges in the district currently.

“This work as an instructional coach, working with patients was to help teachers across Atlanta and Clinton County, actually using data to drive instruction,” Lewis said. “So we want to know where our students are and what skills are needed to help foster them to be successful moving forward.”

Additionally, she has served as an Education Attorney with experience representing both school districts and families and students.

“I’ve had to sit across the table from districts and advocate for children’s will to have the right to stay in school, to have the right to a free and appropriate public education in their environment, to really make sure that we are serving all of our students,” Lewis said.

According to her campaign website, her priorities are every classroom, every child, and every cluster. This is central to her mission because the seat 9 position represents and works with the entire cluster.

“I believe every cluster has its own unique blend of talents, gifts, and offerings,” Lewis writes in her website. “They each have their unique challenges as well. Community members know what needs to be done to meet this moment and their voice cannot be ignored. With the right support, we can design cluster-specific solutions that increase student success while in APS and beyond.”

Johnson is the founder and executive director of the Scholarship Academy whose mission is to assist marginalized applicants, such as low-income students, secure resources to pay for college. (Sierra Pape)
Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johson has announced her campaign to run for the seat 9 position after serving on the board since January. She was initially appointed to the position to replace Jason Esteves, who resigned from the At-Large Seat 9 last month after winning election to the Georgia state Senate.

She believes that her family’s generational history as educators has instilled in her an appreciation for educators and a motivation to work to support people in those roles.

“I am a third generation educator,” Jessica said. “My grandfather was a teacher in Louisiana. My grandmother helped the neighborhood kids fill out the FAFSA at her kitchen table. My mom taught at my high school and my dad was a developmental reading professor at a community college. So, I’ve seen that full spectrum of education and what happens at the end of that scope when young people are not able to reach adulthood and how that impacts their ability to continue their education and get a job.”

Johnson is the founder and executive director of the Scholarship Academy whose mission is to assist marginalized applicants, such as low-income students, secure resources to pay for college.

“I am looking forward to making sure that every student from every school zip code will get one on one help with their college financial aid applications,” Johnson said. “I’m focused on the outcomes of our students with my own work. So, I will bring that entrepreneurial spirit, the spirit of innovation, the spirit of really authentic community engagement, to continuing to serve for the next four years.”

She currently serves on the Budget Commission for the Atlanta Public Schools, and believes that this has prepared her to understand the allocation of resources throughout the district.

“I’m currently serving on the Budget Commission for the Atlanta Public School Board, and looking forward to the next four years,” Johnson said. “This allows me to be able to share some more resources directly to the school so that we can have literacy specialists in every school. I believe we can really access the resources for our students to have solid outcomes not just throughout APS, but also for students once they graduate and into their adulthood.”

Additionally, she serves on the APS Community Equity Advisory Committee. Prior to her appointment as a board member, Johnson served as a District 6 community representative in the APS Equity Advisory Taskforce, where she was motivated to help create a fair distribution of resources available for APS students so that they could have equal opportunities to attend college and pursue a career.

“I’ve had an opportunity to help draft the first version of the APS equity policy, where we specifically named where there were gaps across the district,” Johnson said. “Additionally, we are working on many other initiatives that help me understand the true needs of the communities [of APS].”

According to her campaign website, her priorities are college and career opportunities, funding allocations, and student outcomes. She recalls times that her involvement with the school board has allowed her to understand student needs, such as bus capacity.

“During one of our breakfast awards with Douglas High School, students came up to me and said ‘Can you just make sure my bus gets me to school on time, because I want to learn.’ And that struck me so deep because that is our responsibility. That is the basic responsibility that we can offer. We need to consider policy on the bus capacity and repair, because we owe it to our drivers to have clean newer buses and keep that rotation on the system.”

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Sierra Pape, News Managing Editor
Sierra Pape is a junior and this is her third year on the Southerner staff. When she is not writing, you will find her running for the Midtown cross country team, working for Midtown Votes and political organizations outside of school, and singing and playing the guitar. She is excited to contribute to the paper for years to come.
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Lily Rachwalski, Website Managing Editor
Lily is a junior and is excited to start her third year with the Southerner. Apart from her writing with the Southerner, Lily is a Georgia Scholastic Press Association (GSPA) student ambassador, representing both the Southerner and Georgia journalism as a whole. She is an active member of Latin club and plays ultimate frisbee for both Midtown and cATLanta, Georgia's under-20 club team. In her free time, you can find her hanging out with friends and family.

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