This Wednesday, the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education nominated Jessica Johnson, a local entrepreneur and executive director of The Scholarship Academy, to fill the At-Large Seat 9 vacancy left by former board member Jason Esteves when he was elected to the Georgia State Senate in November 2022.
The Atlanta Board of Education will hold a Special Called Meeting at 11 a.m. on January 9 to vote on their recommendation. Immediately after the Special Called Board Meeting, Johnson will be sworn into office. In the meantime, Johnson joins Education in Atlanta to share some of her hopes and plans for her tenure on the board.
Q: What new perspective do you believe you’ll bring to the board?
Jesica Johnson: I really believe that I’ve had the benefit of serving as a partner with Atlanta Public Schools on some of their work, and so I have a good idea, at least on the high school level, of some of the opportunities that exist to position students for college and careers.
I know that is one of the key benchmarks for the board as a part of their strategic plan, so I’m excited about being able to make some meaningful contributions in that space.
Q: What made you want to run for a board seat?
Johnson: I’ve served on the Atlanta Public Schools equity advisory board since 2019 and was able to help present the first draft of the equity policy to the board. Personally, seeing that work turn into like a center for equity and social justice motivated me [because APS was] putting some muscle behind the meaning of equity.
I started to deeply consider if there were other intentional ways that I could make contributions and learn [about] where the district is in accomplishing its academic goals. As an education leader and an entrepreneur, I felt like this was a good time to see if there was a way that some of my thoughts and experiences in the education field could help move the needle.
Q: What are the main things you hope to accomplish during your time on in the seat?
Johnson: This is a one-year seat (though, of course, [I] hope [to continue to serve on the board]), but there are some pretty big decisions that are happening in the next couple of months around the budget around facilities planning and the community as a whole has a lot of energy around what’s happening with both of those items.
I’m hopeful that first I can keep the community informed. As a new district leader, I’m going to be eager to get out there and meet people and have conversations. Two, to listen and hear their feedback, so I can contribute to kind of meaningful votes in the right direction for the city.
Q: Are there any other issues in particular you think are the most pressing for Atlanta Public Schools right now? If so, how do you plan to address them?
Johnson: We’re coming off a pandemic. There’s a lot of work and energy around academic recovery, and I feel like that is something that we have to double down on. With Atlanta being acknowledged as one of the most inequitable cities in the country, my focus is on all our students learning at the pace that they need to be able to succeed and making sure that we’re viewing every decision around learning from an equity lens.
Q: Are there any particular ways you measure the benchmark for equity or is that something you’ll learn when you get started?
Johnson: My training starts tomorrow [and I’ll begin by] understanding the tools that are in place. I know there’s an equity assessment called the ACES tool, and it is going to be included in [my] decision-making. Because I have been rooted in [this] work over the last few years, you can expect me to be the first person to raise my hand and ask.
Q: Is there anything else you’re particularly excited about when you start?
Johnson: Since a lot of my work has been centered around the high school population, I am excited to learn more about what’s happening at the middle and elementary school levels.
Both of my parents are educators [and] both of my grandparents are educators, [so I am also excited to see] some of the promising practices that are happening across the clusters, and the ways that schools and administrators are starting to share best practices.
Q: We know the broad strokes of your background, but is there anything you feel is less known about you that you think will affect the impact you make on the board?
Johnson: I’ve had some opportunities to travel all over the country and study best practices and interesting models in the education space. As a social entrepreneur, I [also] think I naturally lean towards seeing opportunities and more challenges, [asking] how we can innovate in the space, partner with [other successful innovators, and learn] what tools can we leverage to get the work done. I’m hoping that I’ll have opportunities to dive [to those things] over the next year.