Gay educator launches Atlanta school board run

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A gay Atlanta man with 30 years of experience in public education wants to become the Atlanta Board of Education’s only openly LGBTQ member.

Stephen Spring, 57, launched his campaign for the At-Large Seat 7 spot earlier this month. The incumbent, Kandis Wood Jackson, is not running for re-election.

For the past year, he served on the Atlanta Public Schools LGBTQ task force. He is also policy chair and a founding board member of PRISM, which advocates for LGBTQ students in metro Atlanta.

The board for Atlanta Public Schools currently has no openly LGBTQ members. Spring said it needs them.

“We know what that means. We know that someone has our backs, and the lived experiences that we have allow us to be stronger public servants,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “We’ve got this gift that allows us to serve in public spaces in ways that are very passionate and meaningful.”

‘Uniquely qualified’

Spring got his masters in education leadership from the University of Southern Maine and completed his doctoral coursework in education policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He taught middle and high school for 16 years, served on the school board in Portland, Maine, and consults on math equity in school curriculums.

“Every university I ever went to and every job I ever had were all focused on public schools,” Spring said. “I think I am uniquely qualified to interrupt. I know the inner workings of school systems very, very well. Because I was the policy chair of a school board for a few years, I know how to read, research and enact policy.”

The Old Fourth Ward resident currently serves as education and outreach program manager for the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

For his school board run, Spring raised $1,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to pay his filing fees. He also attended a candidate training program with Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ candidates.

‘ACT UP’ on the school board

Spring wants to bring lessons he learned as a member of ACT UP in the 1980s and ‘90s to the Atlanta School Board. The grassroots group worked to change HIV/AIDS policies through protest and advocacy.

“We interrupted the spread of the disease in certain populations in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I believe that is one of the experiences that has helped me to have some tenacity and thick skin, so I’m ready to act up in 2021.”

That means empowering schools to choose their own curriculums and allocate their own resources,” Spring said.

“Atlanta Public Schools will say they’re decentralized and that they’re giving autonomy to schools, but by holding onto power and the immense amount of money to centralize processes, that money could easily be going closer to the point of learning,” he said.

Spring also looks to help end what he calls an “addiction” to standardized testing.

“I want to defund standardized testing,” he said. “It hasn’t worked. It’s been a 20-year experiment and hasn’t closed achievement gaps. It’s actually damaged marginalized communities more than it’s helped.”

The race for Seat 7 on Atlanta Board of Education also includes Tamara Jones, Kanesha Venning and Royce Mann, an LGBTQ ally who was an Atlanta Pride parade grand marshal in 2019. The election is Nov. 2.

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