Two Midtown parents run for District 3 seat on Atlanta Board of Education

Two Midtown parents run for District 3 seat on Atlanta Board of Education
Election Details

In this year’s school board election, two Midtown parents, Ken Zeff and incumbent Michelle Olympiadus
will vie for the District Three seat.

Midtown Votes, a youth voting advocacy club,is increasing education efforts this year on the importance of local elections and off-year voting.

“School board elections, especially those that fall on odd numbered years, traditionally have the lowest amount of turnout,” Jason Slaven, Midtown Votes sponsor, said. “School boards have the power to create and enforce policy that impacts every school in the Atlanta Public Schools system and influence over the entire school community, so making sure people voice their opinions is critically important.”

Slaven believes this year’s election for school board is uniquely important as Atlanta Public Schools enters a transitional period.

“As far as the election in November goes, Midtown High has a lot at stake,” Slaven said. “Both board positions that oversee Midtown (District 3 and At-Large Seat 7) are up for election. This year’s election is also critically important because the winners of these seats will ultimately have the power to vote on who the next superintendent is.”

Incumbent board member Michelle Olympiadis has served for almost six years and has now announced her candidacy for the 2023 election. (Courtesy of Atlanta Public Schools)
Michelle Olympiadis

Incumbent board member Michelle Olympiadis has served for almost six years and finds family ties drawing her back to the ballot.

“When I first won, my eldest son the next morning said, ‘Mom, you’re going to give me my diploma,’’’ Olympiadis said. “And now, I have been able to give both him and my second son their diplomas in the past three years. My youngest, Katie, now has asked me, ‘Why are you running again? It’s an awful lot of work.’ And all I say is, ‘It is a lot of work, but it’s good work, and that is all for you.’ I want to not only hand her her diploma, but ensure the best for all students right now in the district.”

With a child who has special needs, Olympiadis was originally inspired to get involved in school management to advocate for special education. She worked on the PTA of Morningside Elementary School, local school council Go Team at Inman Middle School and the Grady Cluster, now Midtown Cluster advisory board.

“Initially, I was told my son could not go to Morningside Elementary, and I just thought that was ridiculous,” Olympiadis said. “I became a very strong advocate for special education and worked many ways, continuing to see what change could happen. Eventually, the school board became the natural next step.”

Brookwood Hills resident Meredith Franks Batesman has two kids currently in APS, and she admires Olympiadis’ motivations for her work.

“I always have been able to see that her heart is in the right place,” Batesman said. “She is not using her seat on the board of education as a political stepping stone, and it is not benefiting her career to be an elected official, which I think is something we have seen recently. She intends to serve out this last term until her kids are out of the APS system. She just has a heart for public education, and I think that is extremely commendable.”

Olympiadis has worked through leadership changes in the half decade she has served. She wants to bring her lessons learned and expertise to the board as it transitions with Dr. Danielle Battle as interim superintendent for the next 10 months, and the board searches for the next permanent superintendent.

“I want to help Dr. Battle, and I would like for us to get a superintendent that understands the complexity of the city and schools of Atlanta,” Olympiadis said.

Additionally, she said she intends to make progress with the budget to reallocate more funding from the higher officials’ budget to school resources.

“I have worked in the last year, and I am going to take a different approach this year, to analyze where our money goes,” Olympiadis said. “We are one of the highest funded per pupil systems in the state of Georgia, but we are failing our third-graders, and the literacy scores reflect it. We need to do better.”

Olympiadis believes her role is always to facilitate what is the best for the community, and she said she highly values the opinions of stakeholders in any decision.

“I don’t always necessarily know what the right path is, but I do always try very hard to listen to what parents have to say and create a path that, along with my colleagues, is strategically in line with what people need,” Olympiadis said.

Batesman, a regular attendee at school board meetings, appreciates the connection Olympiadis holds with community members.

“With the board and parents, she has been the only board member who has come to speak to us parents and give us her cell phone number,” Batesman said. “And from there, she answers our calls and talks to us. It is extremely refreshing to have somebody who is in touch, understands and values the constituency.”

Ken Zeff, a parent of three APS students and former superintendent of Fulton County Schools, has announced his campaign for District 3 seat. (Courtesy of Learn4Life)
Ken Zeff

Ken Zeff, a parent of three APS students, announced his campaign for District 3 seat. Short-comings in the district motivated him to run, he said.

“I have three kids who have gone through APS, and as I look across the district, I think that we can do better,” Zeff said. “Especially looking at the hiring of superintendents, as a parent, taxpayer and educator, I believe we need to look at the hiring of superintendents. When you keep changing the leader of an organization every year, it’s really hard to make progress.”

Previously, Zeff served as chief strategy officer, and then as superintendent of Fulton County Schools and believes the skills he learned in those positions prepared him to serve on the Atlanta school board.

“I think I have the experience of being a superintendent to help bring the board together and have a common vision around the next hire and plans for literacy,” Zeff said. “My job on the board would be to do two really important things: to hire the right superintendent and pass the right budget. I think in both of those areas I have expertise from working as a superintendent on how to choose a superintendent, how you support a superintendent and how to create balanced budgets.”

City councilman Matt Westmoreland, met Zeff in 2014 when he was a school board member, and believesZeff is qualified for the position.

“Not only is he a dad of three kids in the cluster, but he has had experience as a superintendent in one of the highest, if not the highest, performing school systems in Georgia,” Westmoreland said. “And now he runs a non-profit [Learn4Life] that focuses on early learning and kindergarten readiness. He has worked on all the things that we should be focused on as a school system right now, and his voice would be a really meaningful one.”

Zeff is the founding executive director of “Learn4Life,” a nonprofit partnership of Metro Atlanta school systems dedicated to finding and scaling what works to serve kids. In this position, he said he has the unique needs of schools in the district.

“Midtown is lucky, but a lot of schools don’t have foundations to pay for programs like Saturday School,” Zeff said. “A lot of kids coming out of Covid need those sorts of programs, and that requires funding from the district in most places that can’t gather the funds from a foundation.”

One of Zeff’s main goals is a fair distribution of funding and support throughout Atlanta schools.

“Something really driving my campaign is the fact that resources are not finding their way to the classroom, and the central office keeps growing,” Zeff said. “Schools are being forced to fundraise to cover activities the district should cover. Last year, the central office budget grew 20 percent; that money should be going to the schools, and as a board member I can help ensure that.”

Zeff believes, as a board member, he could also contribute positively to the transitional period as the board conducts the search for the next superintendent.

“I think we have to be very clear what our priorities are as a board, and for me, our priorities are reducing the size of the central office and looking into the issue of literacy; in elementary grades right now, our literacy scores are terrible and devastating,” Zeff said. “We need a comprehensive literacy strategy to pull that off, to make sure that kids get the support they need, and so I’m looking for a superintendent that understands how to teach literacy and has shown this in their previous positions.”

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Sierra Pape
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.
Lily Rachwalski
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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