By Rebecca Gaunt
Businessman Andres Sandate is a candidate for Cobb School Board Post 2, the seat currently held by Dr. Jaha Howard, who is running for state superintendent.
He will face off with educator Becky Sayler in the Democratic primary May 24. Early voting is already in progress.
Sandate answered questions for the Courier by email.
Who are you? Tell us about your background
I was born and raised in Newton, Kansas and am the youngest of three children. My parents’ names are Antonio Sandate and Connie Sandate. I am Mexican-American and attended public schools K-12 in Newton, KS USD #373. My wife Heidi Sandate and I live in Smyrna and have three children, Francesca 10 (4th Grader at King Springs Elementary), Renzo 7 (1st Grader at King Springs Elementary) and Maximo 5 (Rising Kindergartner who will attend King Springs Elementary). We attend Holy Spirit Catholic Church. We have lived in Cobb since 2006. I attended The University of Kansas where I earned a BS in Business Administration and my MBA. I am Head of Capital Market at a venture-backed fintech company headquartered in Atlanta called Nectar.
Currently President of King Springs Elementary School Foundation 2019-Present
Formerly Board Member-At-Large of King Springs Elementary School Foundation 2018-2019
Member of the King Springs Elementary School Principal’s Council 2021-Current
Founder of the King Springs Dad’s Club 2022-Current
2020 Volunteer of the Year Cobb Schools Foundation
Wolf Den Leader of Pack 22 – Smyrna, GA 2021-Current (Tiger Den Leader 2020-2021)
Head Baseball Coach in Smyrna Little League Rookie Division 2021-Current
Head Baseball Coach in Smyrna Little League T-Ball Division 2022-Current
Assistant Head Coach NASA TopHat Soccer U8 (and for past four seasons)
Assistant Head Coach Smyrna Slammers Travel Baseball Club U8 2021-Current
Why are you running for the Cobb school board?
To get the focus back on our mission: Student Success. We haven’t faced a bigger educational turning point and challenge in our country in the past 30 years.This challenge requires leaders with unique experience and skill sets. I relish this kind of environment when you have to be bold, visionary, and find consensus to tackle complex problems.The global pandemic has forever changed education and students, teachers, staff, and community stakeholders deserve to be represented on the Cobb school board by individuals who will place the interests of kids (and their success) above power trips, political ambitions, personal agendas, or scoring political points. We are the 25th largest school district in the nation and the second largest in the State of Georgia and yet we often don’t operate, plan, communicate, or lead like the district our communities and our kids need us to be.
What kind of work do you do with the King Springs Elementary School Foundation?
Chair the Executive Committee and Lead a Board of Directors of 13 who provide resources to King Springs Elementary. The mission of the King Springs Elementary Foundation is to provide resources beyond those currently provided by the Cobb County School District to supplement elements of enhanced education. The Foundation has set a goal to provide funding for teacher support, teacher training, and teacher stipends, incentives, and rewards for going above and beyond to support KSE goals. Additional areas of focus include enriched curriculum, technology, STEM support, and capital improvements.
What changes can the board make to improve its working relationship moving forward?
The board needs to make a concerted effort to put politics, power plays, and egos aside and work in conjunction with Superintendent Ragsdale and his staff to focus on execution of the Cobb School District’s Mission: One Team. One Goal. Student Success. I think fresh energy, perspectives and ideas are necessary as it is clear to anyone paying attention that the current board has been divisive in recent years. Finger pointing needs to stop and strategic planning and serious discussions around governance, transparency, closing achievement gaps, addressing learning losses, creating a literacy policy and strategy, budget allocations and capital investment of a proposed FY 2023 $1.4B budget, properly investing CARES Act funds to get proportional change to name but a few issues of importance.
How should the district approach literacy education in light of the whole language vs phonics debate?
I believe we ought to begin by listening to teachers and literacy specialists on the ground at our schools who work with kids every day in the classrooms. I do believe we should make it our goal that our kids are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. I do believe Cobb County needs a plan of attack and a strategy to make this a reality. That should be Cobb School District policy. This plan should get funding in the budget each year. We have to get creative with our financing while maintaining a tax exemption for seniors. This makes Cobb County a desirable and attractive place to live for all demographics. All schools have some population of their kids behind in reading and we need to provide a plan and resources for each school to tackle literacy education.
How can the district most effectively address learning loss from the pandemic?
We need to ensure the investments we are making are proportional to the magnitude of the learning loss. We need to make sure we are asking teachers what they think we can do to address learning loss and what interventions would work. Let’s not forget their input in this equation.
I fear the district could be significantly underestimating the magnitude of loss we are going to be dealing with as a result of the pandemic. My first concern is our leaders, and our board may not get it right and we could set our kids back several more years from receiving the resources needed to address learning losses. Think about the following scenario:
If results from milestones in Spring 2022 come back in late Summer 2022 and show we have problems – what likely will happen? Keep in mind the Fiscal 2023 budget is getting approved now. The results come back, and the staff and board will spend the entire Fiscal 2024 budget planning cycle digesting Spring 2022 milestone testing data and making plans. Principals will be asked about allotments (e.g. headcount) in Winter 2022 and they will have to make difficult decisions for the 2023-2024 school year knowing they have to catch kids up and put requests in far in advance. Part of their calculus will be deciding what new things can they try to implement to address the losses. If they are not Title I schools they may not get grants and be part of pilot programs. They may or may not have private foundations who can step in with funding. The learning losses will get addressed (hopefully) in the Fiscal 2024 budget cycle. By now we will be in the 2023-2024 school year when a new cycle of testing will begin… I think you get my point. We could be looking at a budget cycle that never catches up with what is really going on with our students. Years could be lost if we are not careful, and this is no fault of the kids and it is preventable.
This calls for an experienced board member who has a background in serving on boards along with business, finance, asset allocation and multi-million-dollar budgeting experience. I have been in roles where investment committees have to make tough calls to allocate, and risk manage capital. With the utmost respect to my opponent who has valuable teaching experience in the classroom, that isn’t the only important factor at this point. Look at my track record of involvement, service, and getting parents involved in schools and you will see I am not only committed to getting teacher input and fighting for our schools but am the only candidate with the experience needed at this historic moment in education finance history. If you are open to getting feedback and listening to teachers and staff as a board member and you have been involved in building consensus and crafting deals worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, you will be prepared when it comes to allocating a $1.4B proposed FY 2023 budget.
While we won’t make up losses in 1 or 3 years, we can make smart decisions now that put us on the right course. If we undershoot investing in addressing losses in the next 3-5 years we will pay for it societally for the next 30-40 years. Let’s not undershoot to start.
Federal data shows that Black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately referred for exclusionary discipline and to law enforcement in CCSD. How can the district address this?
We need to ensure we have comprehensive programs in place for teachers, staff, and students to ensure matters of discipline are handled with fairness and equity. We need a safe workplace and learning environment for students, teachers and staff. We need to make sure, like any modern, diverse workplace, that our employees have cultural competency. We need to have professional development programming that is relevant, and our teachers find beneficial to the workplace.
I do think we also need to look at discipline across all student populations, not singling out any one demographic, as recent surveys show that a top reason for teachers leaving the profession and low morale was a lack of discipline. I think we need to make sure our social and emotional learning programs and investments continue but that we begin to accept that post-pandemic reality is here to stay. We need to ensure our student populations are adjusting, along with our teachers and staff, to this new reality. Let’s ensure supports are in place and we provide the necessary tools and resources for students and teachers to both thrive.
What are your thoughts on the district’s handling of COVID-19 and use of CARES Act funds?
I think it is easy to Monday morning quarterback. I am not here to be critical and suggest that in the heat of the moment in 2020 and 2021 it was easy for our district’s leaders. Every single school district in the country was faced with unprecedented and extremely complex circumstances. I commend the hard-working leadership, staff, teachers, and board for getting our kids back in school as quickly as they could because if they hadn’t, we would be much further behind than we are in certain areas. I believe our leaders were trying to make informed decisions and didn’t always get it perfect but were doing their best.
As it relates to the CARES Act, I would like to see more details on how CARES Act funds are being used and I look forward to gaining more visibility on CARES Act spending in the weeks ahead. I was happy for the teachers and staff that they received a 8.5%-13.10% raise. I think we will continue to require additional investments in recruiting, retention, professional development and remuneration, this is a fact of life when competing for talent. We want the very best workforce in the country in Cobb County and want our kids taught by the absolute best teachers. We need to provide a safe workplace for our students and our teachers and have fair processes when we do encounter problems.
What is your reaction to legislative bills here in Georgia related to the CRT debate and tackling “divisive concepts?” Are they needed?
I think it is unfortunate that the CRT debate and tackling divisive concepts has turned elections for school boards into political minefields. I understand it and accept it. We shouldn’t run from talking about race and our history. I do think our teachers and educators in Cobb do a great job and I have never had any problems with what my kids’ teachers are teaching. I trust them and the curriculum they are using.
Everyone I speak with wants school boards to be non-partisan – that is why I am running. I am a consensus builder, and I am eager to work with the board to find common ground for the benefit of the kids in Cobb schools. I do not think the CRT debate is more important than addressing learning losses and achievement gaps. My father grew up in an era when he wasn’t allowed to go to the public swimming pool because of the color of his skin. The town I grew up in didn’t necessarily welcome Mexicans with open arms who were immigrating to work on the railroads and provide for their families. I have had people hurl racist insults at me directly for being Mexican-American. These things are part of our comunidad and the Sandate familia but the majority of people don’t necessarily know that history. It isn’t their fault but if they ever come to Newton, Kansas for the 4th of July Weekend they will experience something truly magical and special that is worth knowing about. I am working to teach my own kids their family history. They need to know about their ancestors and the things they have had to overcome. I do think we need to make sure we teach real history and not politicize the classroom.
I think the County needs to take a position on the CRT debate and allow teachers, educators and staff to do their jobs free of politics and distractions and not get caught in the divisive crossfire. Teachers want to teach and educators want to educate. Kids want to learn. Let’s allow this to happen.
[note from the Courier: Cobb County School District passed an anti-CRT resolution in June 2021]
Is there anything you want to discuss that I haven’t asked?
I am running a grassroots campaign for school board. I don’t have establishment and incumbent political support. In this race and at this time, I think that will attract voters. They want a school board that isn’t political and always fighting. They want fresh energy and ideas.
All I have ever done is roll up my sleeves and do the work. I have been busy at our school for five years now, long before the pandemic surfaced a lot of the issues we now find ourselves talking about. That is commitment. I know how to get folks involved and build support for causes. Just ask the 350 folks that showed up a few weeks ago to our first King Springs Dad’s Club event. Too many parents have tuned out because they grew tired of the drama and the divisiveness of our school board. People want change and not more of the same. I represent that change.
I entered this race and am taking the message to the people, the parents, the teachers, the students, and the community. They see me in our communities on ball fields, coaching, volunteering, and leading. I do it with passion, purpose and intention and it began long before the pandemic. It is who I am and what I stand for.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.