Nancy Meister represents District 4 on the Atlanta Board of Education. She served as co-president of Sutton Middle School’s PTSA for two years during the school’s $20 million renovation project. She also has served as co-president of the North Atlanta PTSA and was a founding member of the North Atlanta High School Foundation. Staff writer Dan Whisenhunt sat down with her recently and she answered a few questions.
Q. What as of right now is your No. 1 priority of a school board member?
A. Today, my number one priority as a board member is to ensure that we continue the hard work that the board began in fulfilling the SACS six recommendations. Significant progress has been made to date and this will continue to be a priority without taking away from our other duties.
Q. What are the most pressing needs for the schools in your district?
A. Increasing the capacity in this district. Many of our schools are over capacity and we are installing modular classrooms to handle the issue temporarily. The capacity issue is greatest in our middle school and we have a plan to address this. Recently the system purchased 56 acres on Northside Parkway and we will begin building a new facility for North Atlanta High School. The current NAHS site will become a middle school facility. Currently, the anticipated opening for the new school is August 2013.
Q. What question are you asked the most by people in your district?
A. Right now it’s the rezoning and capacity-What are we doing? How quickly will we build? Will we have to rezone? How will that impact where I live now?
Q. Do you feel former Superintendent Beverly Hall should repay bonus money she received as- incentives for student performance?
A. I am not going there at this time. The board has not made a decision on how they’re going to handle that, and I think we need to let the investigation unfold. From reading all of the reports that I have, it is evident that children were cheated and to me that is criminal!
Q. What have APS officials done to keep you and other board members informed about the cheating scandal?
A. Under the previous administration felt it was hard to get clear, accurate information. I felt there was a lack of respect for the Board. I believe under Mr. Davis’s leadership we will have, and already have, more transparency and open communication.
Q. What would losing SACS accreditation mean for North Atlanta High School?
A. We’re doing everything humanly possible to prevent that. I feel confident that we will not lose our accreditation with SACS. Right now we’re on accredited probation and there’s either one or two steps before we can get full accreditation. I don’t know if they’ll take us from accredited probation to fully accredited. There’s nothing more humanly possible this board could do … we’ve made significant progress. I can’t even imagine that that would be a situation we would be in.
Q. What, in your view, needs to be done to improve relationships among Atlanta Public Schools board members?
A. I believe that the work we are doing is improving our relationships. We have good working relationships and can govern effectively. If you look at our meetings we rarely have 5-4 votes. We’re for the most part unanimous. Everybody should vote their conviction but this 5-4 thing got blown out of proportion with the board leadership change last year, and I think we need to move away from that stigma.
Q. What can Atlanta Public Schools do to restore its image to the wider community?
A. That’s a good one. I think we always have to do a better job of getting our message out. We have fantastic teachers and fantastic principals and bright students that are achieving every day. Unfortunately, the sensational story of the cheating gets more exposure than the story of our successes. The system has gotten better with social media and different avenues to connect to people now.
Q. Do you feel like your own credibility has suffered as a result of being associated with Atlanta Public Schools?
A. It is important that I put my head on the pillow at night knowing I did what was best, in all aspects of my life… if other people view my decisions and my choices as not being the right that’s ok. I have to live with my choices, I do my best to represent my constituency and to do the right thing for the kids. If doing the right thing has damaged my reputation that’s disappointing.
Q. What’s the latest information you have from SACS about the accreditation situation?
A. We filed our mid-term report with them in June and they received it. We got a letter of acknowledgement back. I dont’ have any direct communication with SACS. Our project manager has been our go-between. We don’t expect to hear from them until they do their review in September. Thirty days after they do their review, they will give us their report. I don’t think it’s strange we haven’t heard from them. I think the process is moving as expected.