Q&A: School Board Candidate Franchesca Warren

South Fulton residents are set to vote for a new Fulton County school board member in District 4. Longtime board member Linda Bryant’s term is coming to an end, and she has decided not to seek reelection.

Ahead of election day on June 9, we reached out to all three candidates to learn more about their vision for education in South Fulton. All responses were sent to us electronically and have not been edited or altered in any way.

Meet Franchesca Warren, a veteran educator, Fulton County Schools parent and founder of the fast-growing group South Fulton Parents for Education.

Q1: What is your vision for education in the South Fulton community?

A1: As a parent of four children who attend/ed Fulton County Schools, my vision for education for South Fulton is a thriving center of the community where there are high-performing elementary, middle, and high schools where teachers love to teach and students and parents love to attend. This goes beyond a CCRPI score, it is a feeling where students go to school and want to learn, educators feel appreciated, and families feel supported as partners in education. To get those things, we have to disrupt what we’ve always done so that we can do what we have to do for children.

Q2: What are the primary challenges facing South Fulton schools and how do you plan to address them?

A2: The problems in South Fulton schools stem around three core issues- the overtesting of students in grades K-8, the need for solutions around students who struggle with literacy and math, a youth mentorship collaborative, and wraparound services for students. To address them, we must reform policy starting first with testing.

Many of our K-8 students spend their time taking or preparing for tests. Students are frustrated, and teachers are upset because it has been taken away from them teaching, and parents are confused about how education became so focused on testing. While it is a necessity to measure what students need to know, we must do it in a way that allows teachers to spend the majority of their time teaching so that our kids are prepared for a workforce that’s quickly evolving. If elected, I would focus on hearing from teachers, students, and principals and then working with Fulton County to ensure that we are using common sense when requiring district-level assessments. A solution would be to focus on using a nationally normed test such as the NWEA MAP, where students take one test at the beginning of the year, mid-year, and the end of the year. The results are immediate and can be used in not only placing students in Gifted and other services but can be used to show how our students place nationally. Our kids need time to explore and learn, not more time for more tests.

In every community meeting, I have attended, we have heard statistics around students who struggle to read on level and can understand basic numeracy (mathematics). Instead of continuing to discuss these numbers, we have to work on strategic partnerships that can work with students and families in real-time to bring them to their grade level. Across Atlanta, there are numerous non-profit entities that do this work and do it well. Equipped with those organizations and other institutions like the Schenck School that has done extensive work on how to remediate struggling students, we have to have partnerships where retired teachers can go into the schools and tutor students both during and after school. We also have to give parents a starting point and that many need strategies they can use to help their kids. We can help get students where they need to be; then, we can ensure that they are ready for high school and the world.

With the constant talk of crime, it’s imperative that we reach young people before they turn to crime, and one way that is proven to work is mentorship. In South Fulton, we have a lot of great mentoring groups. The issue is that everyone works in silos. I know this after working with several of them through South Fulton Parents for Education. We need to call a forum where all mentorship organizations come to the table with services offered, and schools are able to see their choices and find solutions for their students who need positive adult mentors. This way schools are not inundated by requests and students are not lost in the shuffle. These mentors would be long term and ideally live in our community to make sure that our kids have long term partners that can help them be successful from grades 2-12. Research is clear: mentorship has the ability to change lives.

As we see in response to virtual learning due to the Coronavirus, there are families in our community who struggle with fulfilling basic needs. As a way to help them, we have to work on partnerships that give our families resources to be mental and physically sound. For example, our schools are being inundated with students who suffer from mental health issues which, if left untreated, can leave students vulnerable. One way would be to find more grants for the newly formed South Fulton Mental Health Collaborative, where families can not only receive help, but schools can get training and mental health counselors (as needed). Parents have to know about these resources. It is critical that we make sure we have applicable community training to help as our students navigate this world. 

Q3: Prior to running for this office, in what ways have you contributed to the South Fulton community that have benefited students and/or parents?

A3: For 19 years, I have been an involved parent for my four children (age 19, 11, 10, 5) and have been active with the P.T.A. and served on the School Governance Council at my children’s schools, but the work that has helped ground all my advocacy has been when I founded South Fulton Parents for Education in 2016. This was a time when the community was having many conversations around crime with juvenile offenders, and in every conversation, I reminded the community that to eradicate juvenile crime, we have to do some work on helping our schools who are on the front line.

Out of that, I founded the Facebook group with three other parents from Cliftondale Elementary School. From there, we decided that the change we wanted to happen would only be effective if we could engage parents across South Fulton. We started by attending and speaking at board meetings on hot topic agenda items (i.e., Superintendent search, transparency, etc.) and eventually delivering eight demands to the school board for immediate action.

Our ‘asks’ focused on wanting the following for ALL South Fulton Schools :

  • high-performing elementary, middle, and high schools
  • principals to have access to high-quality principal training programs
  • band/orchestra and foreign language in all elementary and middle schools
  • standard communication protocol for Fulton County communicating to parents
  • quarterly meetings between board/city on hot button issues
  • establishment of a South Fulton Mental Health Collaborative
  • stable and effective leadership
  • limit the number of time students spend testing instead of learning

As a result of these efforts, we’ve been able to show significant progress in three of the eight areas . In addition,  we’ve been able to secure features in the AJC and broadcast news numerous times. Most importantly, we’ve been able to connect parents from across South Fulton and work with them as they become more involved in their schools and advocate for what their children need. 

Q4: Tell us about your educational attainment and any professional education experience that you may have.

A4: I have an undergraduate degree from The University of Memphis in English with a Master’s Degree in Instruction and Curriculum. From that time, I have been an active member of several educational and community organizations where I have presented on a national and state level around literacy, leadership, and self-care for teachers. I also was selected to attend the transformative one-week training at Harvard University on School Turnaround Leaders with metro Atlanta principals and district leaders.

Over the last decade, I have been concerned with the number of educators who were leaving the profession and founded the Teacher Self-Care Conference where we travel around the United States (Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta,) bringing professional learning to thousands of teachers from around the world. I am currently working on my Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Georgia State State University. For 18 years, I’ve dedicated my life to education, and my unique experiences are unmatched.

Q5: Why do you think you’re better qualified than your opponents to serve on the board?

A5: I’m the only candidate endorsed by Linda Bryant, who brings varied experiences as an educator working with students, parents, and communities but also in educational policy. For 18 years, I have worked as a teacher, Instructional Coach, Content Specialist, and Literacy Coordinator in metro Atlanta and Memphis City Schools. That experience has taught me that to make the change; you need a deep understanding of the impact of policy. While I’m sure the other candidates have volunteered in schools, there’s no replacement for actually being responsible for a classroom of 150+ students while teaching them how to be critical thinkers. Through my experience, I’ve authored three books, been selected as the 2012 Teacher of the Year at South Atlanta High School, been featured in EdWeek around my work with teacher self-care, and helped run an education website that gets millions of page views per year.

As I worked with my son, who attended Westlake and was involved in numerous activities from soccer to Mock Trial, I knew that the only way to get change was to be involved at every level of the school. At Cliftondale Elementary School, I served on the Principal Selection Committee after rallying parents about the changes we needed to see and through my push to think ‘outside the box’ we decided to forgo the traditional fundraising and brought a Fun Run to the school where we raised $25,000 in one fundraiser!

My background and countless conversations I have had with parents pushed me to develop a platform (overtesting of K-8 students, need for partnerships to help students in Literacy and Math, mental health collaborative, and the need for mentoring) on the real issues parents and teachers are discussing.

Q6: Many parents have called for more innovation in education. What “outside the box” policies do you plan to implement?

A6: Right now, the way we are doing school is not working- teachers are overwhelmed, parents are frustrated, and students are compliant – that’s a recipe for stagnant schools. The first thing I believe we should focus on is pushing a movement to bring real issues to students to get them more engaged in school.

For example, we have many students who have no clue about the world around them because teachers are being forced to teach to a test. A way to address this issue is to bring back debate to our schools in grades 3 through grade 12. Teach students age-appropriate topics and how to think about all sides of the issue critically. Give those students space to have spirited discussions and to have opportunities to write about their experiences as a tool to prove their points. In South Fulton, we should have debates hosted by our high school debate teams for our younger students to learn how to debate properly.This partnership between our high, middle, and elementary schools will also foster the spirit of peer to peer mentorship that’s needed to foster positive relationships. When my son was a student at Westlake, he traveled all around the metro area for Mock Trial (a form of debate), and what he learned has helped him as he navigates his college experience at George Washington University.

In addition to the need for students to write and exposure to competing against peers from across the metro area, we must position our most vulnerable students to get the help they need. We must lean on allies who can bring strategic partnerships to our schools around literacy and mathematics. There’s an estimated one in six Georgians who have low literacy skills, and 63% of Georgia’s third-graders are not reading on grade level. Instead of quoting these statistics at every meeting, we should partner with metro Atlanta partners such as The Schenck School, The Bedford School or Triumph Transitions (all area private schools who work with students who struggle to read proficiently) to offer teachers and parents real training to help those students. You can not add more hours to the school day, but we could train retired educators to work with those students during the day and then offer tutoring after school and the weekend for additional assistance. To encourage those parents to bring their children, we have to form real partnerships with parents where they understand the importance and the overall plan for helping students.

A critical part of being innovative is engaging parents in working with schools to find solutions for our students. Over the last four years of teaching 2,000+ parents on how to advocate for their schools in South Fulton through  South Fulton Parents for Education, I’ve helped lay down the groundwork to unify parents under the simple premise that change starts with parent engagement. In the last three years, we’ve been able to inspire parents to be more visible in their children’s schools, while pushing them to run for School Governance Council, speaking at Fulton County Board meetings and working to dispel the myth that parents in South Fulton do not care.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The things that we have to do to be innovative starts with us having a real conversation about what’s working with teachers, principals, parents, and students and then not being afraid to push the envelope on doing what’s best for kids above all else.

Q7: As a board member, what type of relationship do you envision having with parents and community members?

A7: Being an effective board member starts with how accessible you are to your constituents and how willing you are to listen when things are both great, and when they need work. The relationship will be one that works in collaboration to help our schools and families. Right now, I speak to hundreds of parents a month due to my advocacy work with South Fulton Parents for Education. Sometimes the solutions are simple, while other times, it takes me reaching out to the appropriate people who can help serve as a bridge. I’ve done this for years as a parent, teacher, and community advocate, and as the Fulton County School Board Member for District Four, I will do the same.

Q8: Where can voters go to learn more about you? (ex. website URL, upcoming events, etc.)

A8: Voters can visit www.electfranchesca.com to learn more about my platform, request a sign, or give a donation. On April 15, 2020, we’re having a fundraiser for our community for people to learn more about what I envision for South Fulton!

Editor’s Note: The election date has been updated due to the Secretary of State’s recent decision to postpone.

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