Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners candidates (left to right) April Christina Curley, Ashley Esposito, Salimah Jasani, and Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey.

The Local News Network at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism sent a questionnaire to all 155 school board candidates to get their views on important issues. The results are compiled in the Capital News Service Board of Education Voter Guide.

Below are the responses from the candidates for Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners: April Christina Curley, Ashley Esposito, Salimah Jasani, and Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey.

April Christina Curley

Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners candidate April Christina Curley.

Campaign email: electapril@gmail.com

Website: www.electapril.com

Age: 35

Employment: Engagement and partnerships manager, Last Mile Education Fund*

Education: Master of Arts in Teaching, Johns Hopkins University

Why are you running for the school board?

As a former teacher, I fundamentally believe that Baltimore City has the most brilliant, innovative and curious kids I’ve ever met. I also believe that Baltimore’s teachers are the most hard working, passionate and committed people on earth. I am running for Baltimore City School Board because I fully intend to influence and create policies that ensure our kids and teachers are prioritized fiscally and socially, allowing all of Baltimore to flourish as a result of producing talented, creative young people who will undoubtedly change the face of this planet for the better.

What makes you a good candidate for the board?

For 17 years I’ve built my career centering marginalized groups, working to drastically change the trajectory of the lives of students through education and technology. Recently, I spent six years at Google working to expand access to opportunities in tech for Black and brown students, including low-income students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students. Formerly, I was a diversity recruiter for Teach for America after first serving as a high school social studies teacher in West Baltimore. I am a proud Baltimorean who vows to live and work in this amazing city to make the quality of life better for all children and families.

Please name a public leader you admire and explain why.

The honorable and late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) is a public leader that I admire and someone who I have channeled when thinking about the impact I hope to have on the children and families of Baltimore City, and the world at-large. When I was in high school, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a student brain trust hosted by Delegate Cummings where he welcomed the voices of youth in his community engagement strategy. His leadership has influenced the way I operate as a young leader, and if elected to the school board I will absolutely model my community engagement efforts after his – one where youth are at the center and where their voices are prioritized in every decision made.

What is the most important issue facing your school board, and what would you do about it if elected?

The most important issue facing the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners is teacher recruitment and retention. Bringing in qualified educators and working to keep them in the classroom will require a drastic and radical commitment from the school board to significantly increase base salary for teachers with opportunities for achievable performance bonuses, offering a manageable workload with supportive administrators. When we center the experience of teachers, we know that our children will reap the benefits in very tangible, measured ways. I also want to ensure that every school staff person has access to free and quality mental health services as long as they are employed by BCPSS.

How concerned are you about school safety, and what if anything should be done to improve it?

School safety is a top priority for me and in order to best support teachers and students, an increase in mental health services is absolutely imperative. I would work to ensure that budget allocations prioritize the mental and behavioral health of all students, teachers, and families. I would also push for a stronger health and wellness curriculum with the hope of teaching students how to be better advocates for themselves. Finally, I would work to remove police officers from schools and instead use that budget to increase the presence of social workers and other mental health professionals.

Do you have any concerns about the way history is taught in your district’s schools, and if so, what are they?

As an undergraduate history major and former high school social studies teacher, I believe that the way history is taught in city schools is appropriate, but has room for improvement. I would like to have more resources that center the students that we serve, including using resources specifically reflecting the lived experiences of marginalized groups throughout history. Critical race theory is very much part of that narrative.

Do you think there are circumstances when books should be removed from school libraries, and if so, what kind of books should be removed?

Absolutely not. No question about it. Reading is a human right.

Ashley Esposito

Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners candidate Ashley Esposito.

Campaign email: espositoforboard@gmail.com

Website: www.ashleyesposito.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/espositoforbaltimore

Age: 38

Employment: Front end developer for a consulting company.

Education: Bachelor of Science, Software Development & Security, University of Maryland Global Campus.

Why are you running for the school board?

I am running because my son is a future Baltimore City Public School student. I have been actively involved in advocating against permanent school closures, democratizing our school board and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. I am a former foster care youth and someone with learning differences. I felt a sense of urgency to bring my lived experience and parent voice to the school board. I believe we can have healthy communities if we strengthen our public school system. I know the community school model can work and believe our school system should move from a “whole child approach” to a “whole family approach”.

What makes you a good candidate for the board?

I would be a great school board member because of my lived experience and experience serving on other boards and councils. In council and board work, I have worked very hard to democratize decision-making processes, improving community engagement, and focusing on mental health policy in education. I am someone who doesn’t shy away from tough conversations. I think that when you focus on the biggest issues being raised by the community you improve morale and create better policies.

Please name a public leader you admire and explain why.

I cannot pick just one leader. The leaders I admire are the grassroots community leaders. Sometimes they do not have a title, are unpaid and do not get recognition. I truly admire these leaders because they see an issue and take on doing the thankless work to improve conditions for everyone.

What is the most important issue facing your school board and what would you do about it if elected?

I believe the biggest issue facing our school board is morale. I think the public is losing faith in the direction of our school system. I have seen parents, students, and teachers raise valid issues. I think the public is coming to the table with good faith and sometimes there is a disconnect in leadership to lean into those uncomfortable conversations. I see people who are unwilling to admit there is a problem publicly and meet with the public. I believe the best way to improve this is to include stakeholders in decision-making processes. I know these issues are tough but if we work together we can fix them.

How concerned are you about school safety, and what if anything should be done to improve it?

I am very concerned about school safety! Our schools are not immune to issues that affect our communities. Whether it is mental health, substance use, gun violence, poverty, or other trauma, we have to have the resources to address all of these issues in the school system. We know these are issues impacting students outside of the school building so we need to be equipped to address them in the school building. I think we need to give every student access to resources. We need to train our staff and have our school system commit to trauma-informed care initiatives. All of these are barriers to our students’ participation in the classroom.

Do you have any concerns about the way history is taught in your district’s schools, and if so, what are they?

I think we are headed in the right direction for history curriculum. Over the years we have become more inclusive. My concerns are the efforts to make our history curriculum less inclusive and less historically accurate. I would like to see more local history in our school curriculum. I know there are so many contributions of local artists and dance in our city’s history that should be included.

Do you think there are circumstances when books should be removed from school libraries, and if so, what kind of books should be removed?

I do not believe in banning books. I believe censorship is a slippery slope and I have seen efforts to ban books actually lead to students seeking out those banned books. I think we should be encouraging literacy and critical thinking. I know for myself, books have sparked tough and healing conversations. Getting uncomfortable and challenging yourself and your perception of the world is a healthy process.

Salimah Jasani

Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners candidate Salimah Jasani.

Campaign email: salimahforschoolboard@gmail.com

Website: www.SalimahJasani.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SalimahForBmore

Age: 30

Employment: A design principal at Education Elements.

Education: Master of Science in Education Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and Master of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.

Why are you running for the school board?

I am running for school board because we are failing our students. Each year, we have students forced to drop out so they can work full time, students who become incarcerated, and far too many students who lose their lives to violence.

Of those that do stay in school, we fail them in other ways. For example, as a special education teacher, my incredible students often received a subpar education because of their disability label.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I am running because I know we can redesign our school system so ALL of our students can thrive. And I believe I’m uniquely situated to be a part of that redesign due to both my lived experience and professional expertise.

What makes you a good candidate for the board?

I belong to two communities that are underrepresented on the School Board: the immigrant community and the disability community.

Additionally, in my current role, I work with school districts around the country on things like leadership development and systemic change. I have a deep understanding of what it means to be a school board member because I work with them for a living and support them in solving their toughest challenges.

Finally, I remain connected to Baltimore students, not only through my relationships with my former students, but also through volunteering and community organizing. My goal is to amplify student voices in board decision-making.

Please name a public leader you admire and explain why.

I admire Stacey Abrams (former Georgia state representative and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate) because she embodies leadership that is focused on collective empowerment. Her campaign has been centered on giving a voice to people who have been intentionally disenfranchised. Her work reminds us that our fates are connected.

As a first time candidate, I have been intentional about the ways in which I engage people that the political system has left behind. Additionally, through the campaign, I have become connected to so many people and organizations creating change in Baltimore, in many cases one block at a time. It will take all of us – elected and non-elected leaders and community members – working together to dismantle the systems that harm our students.

What is the most important issue facing your school board, and what would you do about it if elected?

I believe that inequity in education is our most pressing issue. There should be no such thing as a “bad school.” ALL of our children should have an excellent education and access to opportunities that allow them to thrive.

My plan to address educational inequity includes the following:

  1. Work to meaningfully include students with disabilities so they are fully participating members of the school community.
  2. Promote School Board outreach in ways that are culturally responsive and meet our community members where they are.
  3. Support district-wide training and follow-up coaching around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

How concerned are you about school safety, and what if anything should be done to improve it?

I am very concerned about school safety, having lost students to violence in and around schools. I believe that violence in schools is a symptom of the injustices in our city that traumatize our students, and in order to address the violence, we must address that trauma. For this reason, I am a strong proponent of implementing restorative practices and conflict resolution training in every school. I also support providing students with the wraparound services they need to be mentally, socially, and emotionally well, including an appropriate ratio of school mental health providers to students. Finally, I would advocate for full implementation of an integrated tiered system of supports.

Do you have any concerns about the way history is taught in your district’s schools, and if so, what are they?

I find that the curriculum used by Baltimore City Public Schools to teach history, both within and outside of Social Studies classrooms, is robust. For example, as an English teacher, the curriculum I used included historical background on the events surrounding the works of literature that we read. If I were to enhance our curriculum, I would add coursework related to personal finances and career/ workforce preparedness so that our students have opportunities to achieve their goals after high school. I would also advocate for implementing personalized learning for our students so that each student has voice and choice in the curriculum.

Do you think there are circumstances when books should be removed from school libraries, and if so, what kind of books should be removed?

I am against banning most* books from school libraries, because:

  1. Whatever a child cannot find in a library, they will look for on the Internet.
  2. In the library, adults can help children find age-appropriate materials.
  3. A lot of topics from which adults want to shield children directly impact children, and research tells us it’s better for kids to have their experiences validated.
  4. The best way to prevent indoctrination is to make a wide variety of books available so children can learn to think critically.

*I say “most” because there are exceptions – a book that encourages students to hurt themselves, for example. But school libraries don’t typically stock books like this.

Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey

Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners candidate Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey.

Campaign email: KwameJKbey@aol.com

Age: 68

Employment: Educator, Patterson High School, Baltimore City

Education: B.A., Theatre Arts, Morgan State University and a few credits to finish MAT at Coppin State University

Why are you running for the school board?

I have been associated with Baltimore City Public Schools for all of my life. As a student, as a parent, and as an educator. I refuse to see it remain in a troubled state. I watch my children, the ones I teach and the ones related to me through blood, having to fight harder and harder just to survive. There are systemic problems that need to be corrected, and I feel that I have the perspectives and the clinical realities to turn the corner on a dysfunctional culture.

What makes you a good candidate for the board?

As I have just said, I have and am privy to the multiplicity of perspectives and I possess the skills to bring those perspectives into a targeted cohesive vision bringing about actions that will unify our schools and our communities. Together we can create realistic policies that are applicable for today and point us to being the template for education of today and tomorrow.

Please name a public leader you admire and explain why.

President Barack Obama. Grace, Poise and Wisdom, This is couple with the “audacity” to see a brighter future for us all.

What is the most important issue facing your school board and what would you do about it if elected?

The most important issue facing our board is the opening of the doors of communication and trust. In doing this we can return our schools to the hands of the community where it rightfully belongs. The fact that for the first time Baltimore City is electing representatives on the school board will break the bonds of silence. The elected representatives have a duty that cannot be stifled. They must talk to and listen to their constituency so they can effectively represent the people that put them there. I will begin with opening the doors of two-way communication and push for an audit of our communications systems. You cannot do something well externally which you do not do well internally.

How concerned are you about school safety, and what if anything should be done to improve it?

We see many examples of when the pot boils over, time and time again. We make grand proclamations and promises of further actions. While we in awe watch as the kettle explodes. We spend no time looking at the fire growing under the pot. This fire that is constantly getting hotter is the fire of culture and climate. This needs to be looked at through the mirror of the culture and climate from which our students hale. It is only with a wholistic approach realizing we are all stakeholders and contributors to this culture. We need to lower this heat of tension and grow an atmosphere of combined objectives for not only our children but our entire community.

Do you have any concerns about the way history is taught in your district’s schools, and if so, what are they?

I am a history teacher in the ESOL Program. The precarious thing about teaching history is that we are all looking at it from one historical perspective or another. Very rarely is it taught with the objectivity and lack of bias that allows young scholars to freely form their own perspectives. The prevailing trends are carried in the heart of the curriculum, and the result is just mimicking of those presumed facts. History should be taught in a wide open exploratory fashion to help in the formation of young scholars perspectives of the past that will lead to their actions tomorrow.

Do you think there are circumstances when books should be removed from school libraries, and if so, what kind of books should be removed?

Never.

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