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Karen Carter

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Karen Carter
Karen Carter.jpg
Board member, DeKalb County Board of Education, District 8
Former member
Elections and appointments
Last electionJuly 22, 2014
AppointedMarch 13, 2013
Appointed byGovernor Nathan Deal
Term limitsN/A
Bachelor'sDenison University
J.D.The Ohio State University
Office website
Campaign website
Karen Carter campaign logo
Karen Carter was the District 8 member of the DeKalb County Board of Education in Georgia. She won the District 4 general election on May 20, 2014, but lost in the runoff election against Jim McMahan on July 22, 2014.

Her District 8 seat was eliminated as part of the May 2014 election when the board shrunk from nine to seven seats.[1] She was first appointed to the board by Governor Nathan Deal on March 13, 2013.[2]

Prior to Carter's appointment, Governor Deal removed six members of the DeKalb Board of Education from office after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school district under "accredited probation" status. This was due to an audit that revealed issues with board governance, unethical practices and fiscal mismanagement.[3]


Karen Carter resides in DeKalb County, Georgia. Carter received her bachelor's degree in communications from Denison University before earning her J.D. from The Ohio State University. In her career, she has worked as a special assistant and chief of staff for the president's office at Central State University, development officer at The Ohio State University, senior staff counsel for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, corporate secretary and director of planned giving at Meharry Medical College and department chair of the paralegal studies program at Atlanta Technical College.

Carter is employed as the chair of the business and social sciences department at Georgia Perimeter College’s Clarkston campus. She is also licensed to practice law in Georgia and Ohio.[4]



See also: DeKalb County School District elections (2014)


Karen Carter and District 4 incumbent Jim McMahan defeated challengers John Oselette and Ella Smith for the District 4 seat in the general election on May 20, 2014. McMahan defeated Carter in the runoff election on July 22, 2014.


Runoff election
DeKalb County School District, District 4 Runoff Election, 4-year term, 2014
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngJim McMahan Incumbent 57.5% 4,624
     Nonpartisan Karen Carter Incumbent 42.5% 3,411
Total Votes 8,035
Source: Georgia Secretary of State, "General Primary/General Nonpartisan/Special Election - July 22, 2014," accessed February 23, 2015
General election
DeKalb County School District, District 4 General Election, 4-year term, 2014
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngKaren Carter Incumbent 35.4% 3,407
     Nonpartisan Green check mark transparent.pngJim McMahan Incumbent 29.6% 2,848
     Nonpartisan John Oselette 18.1% 1,747
     Nonpartisan Ella Smith 16.9% 1,629
Total Votes 9,631
Source: Georgia Secretary of State, "General Primary/General Nonpartisan/Special Election - May 20, 2014," accessed July 10, 2014


Carter did not file a campaign finance report with the DeKalb County Department of Voter Registration and Elections during the election.[5]


Carter did not receive any endorsements during the election.

Campaign themes


Carter published a list of her priorities on her campaign website:

Spend your tax dollars in the classroom
  • Align the budget to support direction instruction
  • Eliminate furlough days
  • Improve compensation for teachers

Maintain fiscal accountability

  • Ensure transparency in fiscal accountability
  • Sustain a balanced budget

Expand Parent and Community Engagement

  • Strengthen community trust
  • Support optimal school choice
  • Promote opportunities for shared governance[6]

—Karen Carter campaign website, (2014)[7]

In an interview with 90.1 WABE, Carter answered several questions outlining her campaign themes:

Briefly describe your background. What qualifies you for this position?

I am an educator who has served in senior administrative roles in higher education as well as on the faculty. In these positions I have gained a greater understanding of coalition building, demonstrating compassion for others while working on challenging issues and engaging diverse stakeholders. I am also a licensed attorney with more than twenty years of experience working with non-profit boards as a trainer, board chair and member, I am a consensus builder and systems thinker who can see the big and little pieces of an issue and help others understand how they contribute to resolving the issue and moving the mission forward. I believe that these skills as well as my commitment to helping others achieve their best have allowed me to work with all board members to move this school district forward in achieving academic success and respect.

Why should voters choose you? What makes you stand out as a candidate?

I was appointed by Governor Deal to serve the district last year and I believe I was selected because of the combination of my professional skills, history as a servant leader, and my diverse K-12 experiences. While the appointment allowed me to work with others to begin creating positive change for the district overall, the work is not complete. The short term successes we have achieved continue to fuel my passion for ensuring that all children receive a high quality education. I believe that what makes me unique in this group of candidates’ is that I am a non-parent whose life work has been the advancement of education. As such I represent the voice and vision of the reasonable citizen without children at home who still wants to make a difference. Like others, I support education through taxes, personal engagement and service.

What are some of the biggest educational challenges facing the district? How can you, as a board member, address those issues?

There are several challenges that this district faces including the selection of a superintendent, closing the achievement gap amongst students, and retaining of highly qualified teachers across the district. As a board member I must work with fellow members, the superintendent and staff to ensure that the strategic plan can effectively address these issues. As a board, we will approve the plan and ensure through the budget process that it is adequately funded. We must continue the conversation and engagement with our community stakeholders during the implementation of the plan and the completion of the search process for a new superintendent.

Until recently, DeKalb was on “accredited probation” due mainly to concerns about school board governance. The district recently improved its status to “accredited warned.” But DeKalb still has a long way to go. As a board member, what will you do to ensure the district keeps improving?

As visionaries and representatives of the stakeholders throughout the county, school board members must continue working together with the superintendent to ensure that the polices created promote sustainable practices in academic achievement, are effective in maintaining the distinction in roles and responsibilities of board and staff. The board must continue to provide oversight and accountability, while the staff led by the superintendent manage the day to day operations of the organization.

According to the Georgia School Boards Association, individual board members don’t have the authority to make decisions about the district. That authority lies with the board as a whole. How will you work to ensure the board makes decisions together instead of pursuing individual agendas?

As a member of the board I recognize that in addition state statutes, local policies and procedures that guide me, I am also accountable to follow all board norms as established by the committee of the whole. It is the use of these resources that will ensure that I and other board members work collectively for the good of the entire district and not for the advancement of individual goals and objectives. In making a recommendation or a decision, my first thought should be: “Is this in the best interest of all boys and girls in the DeKalb County School District?”[6]

90.1 WABE interview, (2014)[8]

In response to a questionnaire conducted by It's For Them - DeKalb, Carter answered several questions outlining her campaign themes:

1. What is your understanding of the role of a school board member? In your answer, explain (1) the level of engagement that a board member should have in the affairs and operations of the district and, (2) the relationship between the board and district staff.

The role of a school board member is primarily policy maker and advocate. School board members must be visionaries who understand what the students, teachers and schools need today to help them achieve high academic success and also what will be needed in the future to sustain the next generation of students and citizens in DeKalb County. With this knowledge the board must work together with the superintendent to ensure that the board creates policies that when implemented are effective and sustainable.

They should provide oversight and accountability, not participation in the day to day operations of the district. I believe it is important for a unified board to understand its role is to balance a commitment to doing what is best for the children in the county and to advocate on behalf of the community it represents. The board operating within its role as policy makers and leaders must choose a superintendent, guide district leadership, and not attempt to direct day to day operations, the superintendent directs the district staff and the board holds the superintendent accountable for meeting the mutually agreed upon goals.

2. Explain your views on the current state of transparency of information at DCSD.

Creating a culture of transparency begins with the board and should permeate through the entire system. It is my belief that the district is in a better position than it was a year ago. The board has adopted policies to clarify areas of concern in which stakeholders believe there was a lack of transparency. The finances of the district are presented on a monthly basis during board meetings which are open to the public and all actions that come before the board include an explanation of their impact on the budget and student achievement. There are continued opportunities for growth and it is my goal to work with fellow board members and the superintendent that stakeholders are aware of actions to execute the district's mission and vision.

3. How would you inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in DeKalb schools?

To inspire parents and other stakeholders to have confidence in the DeKalb schools requires gaining their trust. In considering this question a year ago, it was clear to me that transparency and engagement were critical to regaining trust. I believe this is an ongoing process. Over the last 13 months the board working with the superintendent has undertaken steps to engage community stakeholders in conversations to help rebuild the district. These meetings allowed parents and other stakeholders to meet the board and share their concerns. This is a beginning and the process must continue. Parents and stakeholders must have an opportunity to hear from me as a board member about my vision and my track record in student advocacy. Parents and other stakeholders should see me and other board members as supporters and not interlopers. Through this perspective they will know that they have a listening ear and my actions will reflect consistency in board and staff roles. It is also important that when parents and other stakeholders call on board members they receive a consistent message regarding their concerns. This is true even when it is not the answer the parents' desire or want to hear.

4. What skills, talents, and personality traits do you believe that you possess that would make you work effectively with the rest of the board to get things done?

I have more than twenty years of experience in higher education, have served as an attorney in the public sector and worked with non-profit boards as a trainer, board member and chair. In these positions I provided leadership for diverse teams, managed department and foundation budgets, and maintained communications and accountability with external stakeholders. I am recognized as one who can effectively build consensus, resolve issues and motivate a team to advance the organization's mission.

5. How will you enhance the mix of skills and backgrounds on the board and help represent the diversity of the community?

In addition to the skills noted above, as a non-parent whose life work has been the advancement of education, I bring a different type of diversity to the board. I represent the voice and vision of the "reasonable citizen" one who supports education through taxes, attendance at school games, plays and award programs of my friends and neighbor's children. I believe that my initial action in seeking appointment to the board a year ago, my service over the last year as well as my engagement in community, district and local school programs for students demonstrates my passion for helping students develop academically, and teachers and staff develop professionally. While some of my skills are similar to those currently on the board, it is the combination of these skills, my history as a servant leader, and my diverse K-12 experiences make me unique to the current and future board. This combination has allowed me to make meaningful contributions to the revitalization of this board and school district.

6. What do you see as the opportunities and threats facing the DeKalb school system?

The greatest opportunities are with our students and the teachers in this district. With the Growth and Achievement model for academic success, each school has a tool, the Universal Screener, to assess every student's reading and math skills. With this information teachers will be able to develop their instruction and assignments to help each child improve their critical thinking and engagement skill. The challenges for the district include increasing the fund balance for long term financial growth and security, and recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers.

7. Describe the achievement gap in this district. What causes it? What can be done?

There are great academic successes throughout the district, but not all students have achieved this success. Many factors have contributed to this gap including: the ability to assess a student's current level of knowledge, a student's motivation to persist and low performing schools that need more highly qualified teachers and advocates for students.

It is my vision that through policy and public awareness programs the district can create an environment where students, parents and other stakeholders can embrace what "high academic achievement" means for all students and the county's wellbeing. It is necessary for the board and the district leadership to develop a sustainable budget and a strategic plan that supports teachers with the tools, and training to deliver high quality instruction and engagement across the curriculum. Further the district and each schoolhouse leadership team must create an atmosphere in which students understand the benefits and requirements to achieve this success. Lastly the district and schoolhouse leaders should identify opportunities that allow other invested stakeholders to volunteer and become advocates of the programs, policies and activities this district has chosen as a part of its guiding plan.

8. The next school board will likely be tasked with selecting a new superintendent. What will you look for in a candidate?

The Superintendent position is fundamentally important to school improvement and student achievement. It is imperative that the school board work with community stakeholders (parents, teachers, civic and business leaders) to identify a superintendent who understands the mission, vision and needs of this district. I will work with the board and others to ensure that this search process is completed with fidelity and transparency. Moreover, it will be critical for the board to establish policies and procedures that ensure an effective transition.

9. What is your experience with reviewing complicated budgets? How will you approach the district’s budgetary process from a policy perspective?

As a current board member I have gained experience through the monthly reviewing and monitoring of the district's budget. In addition I have managed department and program budgets in diverse positions including my tenure as the Director of a small university foundation. I believe that the board must continue to maintain policies that support transparency in establishing annual budgets, consistent periodic reporting, and auditing on an annual basis. Policy development and request for funding district initiatives should reflect the impact on the current and prospective budget for the duration of the initiative.

10. What needs to be done to ensure the district regains full accreditation, without probation, and what is the role of the board in ensuring DCSD remains in excellent standings with SACS?

The district is off of probation and has regained full accreditation.

As a current board member I recognize that is the board's responsibility to manage the policies of the district and to have a fundamental understanding of the broad range of concerns that impact the district. To ensure that the district remains in excellent standing with SACS the board cannot take a "shot-gun" approach to its work it must focus on the priorities as established through the strategic planning process and address the issues at a time. By undertaking this approach the board establishes a consistent approach that moves from issue to resolution in a timely manner it also demonstrates to the public the board's ability to work collaboratively.[6]

It's For Them questionnaire, (2014)[9]

About the district

See also: DeKalb County School District, Georgia
DeKalb County School District is located in DeKalb County, Georgia
DeKalb County School District is located in DeKalb County, Georgia. The county seat of DeKalb County is Decatur, Georgia. DeKalb County is home to 713,340 residents, according to the United States Census Bureau.[10] DeKalb County School District is the third-largest school district in Georgia, serving 98,088 students during the 2011-2012 school year.[11]


DeKalb County outperformed the rest of Georgia in terms of higher education achievement in 2012. The United States Census Bureau found that 39.2 percent of DeKalb County residents aged 25 years and older had attained a bachelor's degree compared to 27.8 percent for Georgia as a whole. The median household income in DeKalb County was $51,252 compared to $49,604 for the state of Georgia. The poverty rate in DeKalb County was 18.6 percent compared to 17.4 percent for the entire state.[10]

Racial Demographics, 2012[10]
Race DeKalb County (%) Georgia (%)
White 37.4 62.8
Black or African American 54.6 31.2
American Indian and Alaska Native 0.6 0.5
Asian 5.5 3.5
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 0.1 0.1
Two or More Races 2.0 1.8
Hispanic or Latino 9.5 9.2

Presidential Voting Pattern, DeKalb County[12]
Year Democratic Vote Republican Vote
2012 238,224 64,392
2008 254,594 65,581
2004 200,787 73,570
2000 154,509 58,807

Note: The United States Census Bureau considers "Hispanic or Latino" to be a place of origin, not a race. Therefore, the Census allows citizens to report both their race and that they are from a "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin simultaneously. As a result, the percentages in each column of the racial demographics table will exceed 100 percent. Each column will add up to 100 percent after removing the "Hispanic or Latino" place of origin percentages, although rounding by the Census Bureau may make the total one- or two-tenths off from being exactly 100 percent.[13] This Ballotpedia page provides a more detailed explanation of how the Census Bureau handles race and ethnicity in its surveys.

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