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Georgia Politics

10 questions with Jason Anavitarte

Jason Anavitarte (JA) is running for the Board of Education in District 6. He sat down and answered some questions from AllOnGeorgia (AOG). They are below but first a little bit about Jason, in his own words.

Jason Anavitarte is the Director of Development and Advocacy for CareSource Georgia. His role is to engage, enhance and improve the lives of low income families to create quality health outcomes and create workforce development initiatives for low income families. In addition, he serves as a Commissioner for the Commission on Equal Opportunity appointed by Governor Nathan Deal.

Jason in 2011 was named by Georgia Trend Magazine as one of the top 40 Under 40 Leaders in Georgia. In 2005, Jason was given the Public Service Award from the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Chattahoochee Technical College where he serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Board. Chattahoochee Tech is the largest technical college in the state of Georgia serving six counties, including Paulding County. Since joining the board, Jason has helped expand development opportunities, increase scholarship awards for students in its seven county service area, and help lead efforts for the future construction of a new health sciences center and center for advanced manufacturing that was approved in the spring of 2018.

In addition, he serves on the Executive Committee for the Paulding Drug Court, Georgia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Former Board Member of Paulding Public Safety Appreciation, Inc., and Board Member for Fellowship for Christian Athletes, including being instrumental in the creation of a FCA Elementary Club at Shelton Elementary.

He received a B.A. degree from Georgia State University and M.S. degree in Public Policy and Economic Development from the Georgia Tech. Jason and his family are members of North Metro Church. Jason and wife, Jennifer, and daughters Taylor, Madison, and Kennedy reside in Dallas, Georgia in north Paulding County.

(AOG) What experience do you have with complicated budgets? When you are given a 400-page budget for the district, what will be your process to determine if it is a good budget for the system?

(JA) For nearly 20 years I have worked with complicated budgets including those related to the state budgeting process to those as being part of starting two multi-million dollar healthcare companies in Georgia. Any budgetary decision should be made evaluating its direct effect on classroom instruction and student achievement. The Aramark decision, while unpopular, was done to free up room in the budget to hire more teachers and reduce class size. Same with the decision to contract out control of schools heating and air. Not a popular decision with the staff, but one done to free up money for instruction. I can’t say I would make the same decisions if I was making them at the time, but our district faces unique challenges. We are one of 35 out of 180 districts in Georgia that have greater than 10,000 students. Of those 35 schools we are the 13th in size but 32nd in local revenue per student, so every decision, no matter how difficult, has to be made through the lense of how it will ultimately effect instruction and achievement.

(AOG) How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from conservative voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?

(JA) There are certain things that every community needs that benefit the community as a whole. Fire, police, sanitation, and education are among those things. The better the education system the better the community is. Housing values are directly effected by school ratings. Being able to support our workforce, higher education and leadership with qualified and skilled graduates is necessary. Every student who doesn’t finish high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.  This does not have to happen in Paulding County.  The connection between low levels of literacy and crime need further addressing at very young ages in elementary school.

We need to create greater economic prosperity in Paulding County. The work I have done as a part of starting two companies here in Georgia, my work helping grow business here in our state with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and the work I have been a part of with Chattahoochee Technical College as a Trustee, will provide the necessary experience to grow workforce development and more education opportunities in our communities across the board.

(AOG) What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in this district?

(JA) Lack of revenue, too many houses going up without the infrastructure to support them. Every house built is a net loss of about $6,000 to the district when you look at how much it costs to educate the children in the house compared to how much the house generates in taxes.  I have been fighting and vocal more building and for a better plan with Planned Residential Districts across Paulding County. We do not have the infrastructure to keep throwing up homes without a plan for the impact on our schools. Our schools must come first. We must have greater collaboration and communication between the school system and county. The rapid growth in the North side of the county and overcrowded schools will have to be addressed in the very near future and our leaders should be having public, open, and honest conversation about what is ahead.  The lack of revenue is impacting hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers when other counties are able to pay more. We should fight for these things so we grow the opportunity of building a sustainable world class education system in Paulding County. I will leverage relationships of mine at the state and national level to help find resources and school district partners that will work with local stakeholders to address these issues.

(AOG) In your view, what has the district done well over last 5 years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?

The Paulding County Board of Education while staying focused on student learning has done a great job doing what it can with the limited resources it has, with often times having to make unpopular decisions. They have done a great job growing leaders in the district that are ready and able to face today’s challenges and have always self-evaluated when dealing with difficult issues.  If I had to be critical, I think the district could do a better job working with the BOC and other stakeholders on forming a real plan to address our growth, lack of infrastructure, and small economic base.  I think we have to foster a greater culture of leadership that empowers each our community schools so they can do the most to thrive, innovate, and address the challenges that may be unique in each school. Another opportunity is to ensure contracts with the Paulding County Board of Education are meeting their obligations like with Aramark. We should never sacrifice quality over saving money.  No organization is perfect without challenges. Those that do not challenge themselves for their own betterment are not sustainable in the long run.

(AOG) To what degree are students in this district on track for postsecondary readiness? How do you know?

Currently, Paulding County Schools rank above the state average for post-secondary readiness in the top 15 of all school systems statewide. Every school system in Georgia is given a rating based on expenditures per pupil in the system. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and Department of Education completes the analysis and rankings. I have been proud to work with the Technical College System of Georgia to find more ways to prepare students for high demand careers during K-12. The earlier we can prepare a student and expose them to postsecondary opportunities, the more successful they can be!

(AOG) What is the current per-pupil spending rate in the district? What does that mean?

(JA) Paulding County ranks 152 out of 180 schools districts in Georgia when it comes to the $8770.16 per-pupil spending in Paulding County. The Paulding County School District has done a great job doing more with less when it less comes to spending on our students.

(AOG) How should teacher performance be measured? What are some of the challenges inherent in evaluating teachers? What training do school leaders need to perform fair teacher evaluations? How should the district balance using evaluations for accountability and using them to help teachers improve?

(JA) The school system has seen great growth in teachers using the TKES evaluation process. I also know many teachers in other schools feel that it has been used in a heavy handed manner and more for punishment or as a stick to drive new initiatives. Some administrators just do it to get it done and give everyone 3’s and 4’s. Administrators have to go through a rigorous training process before having the ability to evaluate teachers. The biggest challenge is getting all administrators to use it with the same consistency.  The TKES/LKES process requires every certificate holder to set a professional goal they work to meet by the end of the year and are evaluated on their progress in it. It also requires all certificate holders to be part of at least one Professional Learning Community. The challenge is using TKES/LKES to support teachers who want to and are actively trying to grow and weeding out those who can’t or won’t.

(AOG) In your past professional experience, what criteria do you use to make decisions about hiring people, retaining goods and services, or the effectiveness of a course of action? How will you use these criteria when making decisions as a school board member?

(JA) During my professional career it has been important to encourage and create an environment where people feel empowered, where there is open and transparent communication in the work place at all levels, and where employees want to personally grow and learn. I have always believed that we should hire individuals that may be better than us, because we all grow and learn for the betterment of the overall organization. Trust is paramount to any organization to succeed, along with having a culture where individuals can depend on each other. The Paulding County school system should foster an environment where schools trust leadership at the central office and vice versa. Without this our school system will not succeed. Leadership to create this organizational culture starts at the top where front line employees and everyone else lives out those organizational beliefs in their day to day work.

This leadership will ensure we retain teachers and even get the most for the services we obtain. We should expect and fight for the best, anything less does our students a disservice. We must innovate more with resources, leadership, and through empowering our community schools to make decisions that may be unique to them.

(AOG) What are your views on open data and transparency of information? What kinds of school district information should be made public?

(JA) Anything not covered by FERPA or employee privacy (except for legal issues).

(AOG) What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

(JA) Outside of regular Board of Education meetings, leaders in the school system should host more public meetings to engage parents and school leaders so we have accurate information for decision making and to develop what our vision for our schools should be. Without listening to our communities we cannot be effective leaders. As a school board member, my job will be to put the citizens first in every decision I make.

Matt Lowe was born in Helena, Montana and grew up in Austell, Ga. He attended South Cobb high school and Chattahoochee Tech. He is an avid outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and 7 children in Dallas, GA. If you’d like to follow more of Matt you can find him on Instagram and Facebook.

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