Nancy Jester will take her seat on the DeKalb County School Board in early January.
The mother of three will step into a school system that is beset by internal problems that brought on a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment. Jester defeated one-term board member Jim Redovian in a November runoff.
The former financial actuarial and school foundation organizer says her financial experience and results-focused approach will bring reform to a board that has – at times – been called inefficient and unmanageable.
Q. The DeKalb County School system has been stained by an internal corruption scandal. What is the one, best move the school board can do to restore credibility and confidence with parents and students in the system?
A. We should hire a reform-minded superintendent from outside of our system. Our new superintendent needs to bring a renewed commitment to student achievement, fiscal responsibility and transparency.
Q. What are the important qualities the board should be looking for in selecting a new superintendent?
A. We need an outsider with a new perspective. Our new superintendent needs to transform the culture of our system. They must be laser focused on student achievement and use all of the skills within their tool kit to improve education in DeKalb. They must have a keen eye for school leadership and know how to empower and motivate principals and teachers. Clearly, our new superintendent needs to be experienced in dealing with large organizations like DeKalb and committed to honest and open governance.
Q. Redistricting all of DeKalb County schools is scheduled for February. Is that a realistic time frame? Why or why not?
A. As I have not yet taken office, I have not seen any internal data or proposals so I can’t make a determination about the redistricting time frame. It is vitally important to the fiscal health of the school district that we do get this done as soon as possible.
Q. At a recent meeting at Chamblee High School, some 40 percent of the parents said they’re kids were getting a fair education in DeKalb County. Is that acceptable? What are two things the board can do to raise the bar?
A. No, fair is not acceptable. I believe that the Board must refocus on student achievement in DeKalb. We must hire a superintendent that will set high standards for all of our students and place the resources in each school necessary to meet the academic goals.
Q. As a former financial professional, what technical skills do you think you bring to the board? As a reform in the wake of the scandal, the board has an auditor that reports to it directly. Will that be a useful tool for you?
A. I bring an eye for data reconciliation and compliance management. I am familiar with reviewing large data sets and distilling the important trends and conclusions. The new internal auditor will be a useful tool for the Board in its oversight role. The Board needs the ability to independently verify data and make sure that our new whistleblower policy works as advertised.
Q. Much has been said about the Legislature reducing the number of board seats across the state to make decisions by the board more manageable and efficient. Is a nine-person board too big to make major reform in DeKalb County.
A. I support the effort by the legislature to make Boards more efficient. I think it is valid to argue that a smaller board operates more effectively because we have examples of this in other districts. That doesn’t mean that a nine-person board can’t operate effectively or institute reform. I will inherit a nine-member board and I look forward to working with that group.