Teacher Appreciation Day at the High Museum of Art – Saturday, March 21, 2015

APS Teachers, join fellow educators for Teacher Appreciation Day at the High Museum of Art - Saturday, March 21, 2015!

This Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.,  the High Museum of Art is celebrating educators with their annual Teacher Appreciation Day.  Teacher Appreciation Day is the High’s “Thank you!” to all of our APS teachers.  I am a new member of the Woodruff board of trustees, and I am so pleased to see this kind of outreach to our educators.

There are a few exhibits that I hope you check out:

Gordon Parks, Segregation Story:  View over 40 color photographs taken by Gordon Parks, one of America’s most influential photographers.  Many of the photos are on exhibit for the very first time and all feature the people and places of my home state of Alabama.

Black in White America by Leonard Freed is featured alongside the Gordon Parks exhibition. It includes 38 black and white photos featuring African Americans during the civil rights era.

Folk Art is the heartbeat of visual artistry in the south. The High is the first general museum in North America to have a curator dedicated to the work of folk artists.  Check out cool pieces from artists such as Howard Finster, Mattie Lou O’Kelley and other self-taught sculptors and painters.

Don’t forget to bring your school I.D. or proof of educator status and a guest. Yes, every teacher can also bring a guest!  I look forward to our teachers bringing their experiences back to the classroom.

Thanks again to our friends at the High!

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Crim culinary cooks up a win at the Career and Community Leaders regional competition

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I am a true foodie and a little bit of a self-taught chef, which is why I’m giving a five-star shout out to our students in the culinary arts program at Crim Open Campus High School.

Under the leadership of Chef Larry Alford, they placed 2nd in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Regional Culinary Arts Competition recently. The Crim High School students now advance to compete in the state competition March 22, 2015. This is the first time that a school in APS has placed in more than 12 years!

I love that the APS culinary program is back on the radar!! Congrats to all!

Thank You to the Sullivan Foundation and the City of Selma!

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Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate #Selma50!

I cannot begin to express how ecstatic and humble I feel. I keep telling myself, family and friends how undeserving I feel to be the first recipient of the Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Foundation Phoenix Award. There are so many people – people who paved the path … people who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and made the march to Montgomery 50 years ago … people who are still alive and contributing … that deserve this award more than me.

Two weeks ago, I had the amazing honor and privilege to stand at the bedside of one of them: Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.

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These brilliant APS students were a part of the APS/SCLC trip organized by our Curriculum and Instruction department.

At 93, Dr. Lowery, although not feeling his best, is still a firecracker, still dynamic with the wit, charm and passion about issues for which he is known. In the short time I talked with him, it was like taking a college course on leadership, civil rights and citizenship all wrapped into one.

I told him about the award and my reservations about being the first recipient when there are men and women like him still around. He gave a gentle laugh and shook his head. He said the award recognizes my passion for children.

And he told me to accept the award and live up to the award. First, he said, by engaging our students, like the beautiful young men and women from CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Atlanta International School who joined me in Selma this weekend. Dr. Lowery said you cannot let them continue on the path that they have been on and not let them be engaged about their future. Give them hope, he said.

And secondly, he said: Take that passion you have for students – don’t let the politics of Atlanta or Georgia, or anywhere else distract you from your mission to do right – and fight for our children.

I was so honored to be standing there at the Jackson House, a true touchstone of the Civil Rights movement, the humble home of Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, who made their home available during the 1965 Voting Rights movement to give Civil Rights leader a safe and comfortable respite amid the struggle.

It’s a special place for me, as a Daughter of Selma. I come here, I see my parents, I see my friends from elementary, middle and high school, and I am refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded that although much has been accomplished, much still needs to be done.

I don’t have to tell you that Selma—on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, holds and will forever hold, a special, if complex, place in the American consciousness for its role in the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. But, for me, Selma has always been in my heart and mind, holding me steady, serving as my true north – the compass that has allowed my career path to complete a full circle.

My Selma upbringing paved the way for me to take on what some have labeled the most challenging school district in America. If I had not been raised, educated and employed here in Selma, I don’t think I would have been fully prepared for the kind of work required of me in education, certainly not the kind of work for a school superintendent in an urban setting.

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What an incredible day. This award was such an honor. Thank you Ms. Jackson.

It helped me to tackle challenges with integrity, passion and grit that only Selma knows how to teach, courageousness in the face of adversity and recognition of realities about how much more we still have to overcome, and in some cases, do again. Selma helped me strive to build consensus and coalitions … often where there would have been none … and to understand when to lead, when to follow, and when to just tell naysayers and idle hands to get the heck out of the way.

It helped me at a very early stage of my career to determine exactly what it is I stand for and what I fight for. I live every day of my life without fear or worry because of traits of self-assurance and achievement my town and my family helped hardwire into me. I’ve invested in these traits and now use them as strengths to champion education for our APS children.

So I believe my job … the job of a community … must be to ensure that every student has access to a high quality education. With that high quality education, we have the power to break the cycle of poverty, the cycle of ignorance, the cycle of violence, the cycle of corruption. And, that happens because a high quality education also provides students with the skills to give them choices in life.

And as much as I am humbled by the award, I believe that is what I was raised to do when still a girl here in Selma, that is what Dr. Lowery told me to do.

Take my passion and fight for our children.

And I promise you now – as I promised Dr. Lowery two weeks ago – that I will fight to make things right for children and families again in APS.

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A special shoutout to my BOE member Eshe Collins and our awesome bus drivers who came all the way to Selma to celebrate the city’s moment in history.

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Our friends over at the Atlanta International School organized an incredible learning experience between their school and CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

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Looking good CSK ladies! I hope you enjoyed your weekend in my hometown.

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We were fortunate to have a civil rights foot soldier in our midst. This kind woman explained to students how she marched 50 years ago…and again today.

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What a fabulous museum. This house is a snapshot in time.

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Students were given the history of “the boot room” in the Jackson home, then they saw the real room in person.

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The tours were great! Thank you Ms. Jackson for inviting our students.

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That chair…that is THE chair in THE room where MLK sat and watched President Johnson speak about the Selma marches on television. Cool!

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Selma’s Mayor Evans with Madeline of Grady High School. Madeline was one of three Grady reporters who received White House Press access this weekend and covered the events.

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A HUGE thank you to our fearless school leaders from Atlanta International School. You guys rock.






Grady Debaters prove themselves to be best in state

Grady_debate3As a former high school debater, I know all too well how hard it is to win big at the state level.  I would like to give the students, staff and principal of Grady High School a standing ovation for winning this weekend at the Georgia Forensic Championship tournament.

The Grady High School Speech and Debate Team, the Jesters, won the Debate Sweepstakes Award, Speech Sweepstakes Award and for the sixth year in a row brought home the Overall Champions Sweepstakes Award at the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association Varsity State Championships at Marist School this past weekend.

Grady_debate1Here is how individual students fared:

PROSE/POETRY

Robert Brown, 4th Place

Ashley Carter, 2nd

Chloe Citron. CHAMPION

EXTEMPORANEOUS SPEAKING

Denis Goldsman, 5th Place

Keegan Hasson- 2nd Place

Sam Lombardo, CHAMPION

IMPROMPTU SPEAKING

Denis Goldsman, semifinalist

Max Rabb, 5th Place

Keegan Hasson, 4th Place

Molly Gray, 3rd Place

DUO INTERPRETATION

Robert Brown and Molly Looman, CHAMPIONS

DRAMATIC INTERPRETATION

Chloe Citron, 4th Place

Molly Looman,  CHAMPION;

LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATE

Octofinalists- Mark Winokur, Logan Mann

Quarterfinalist- Conor Downey

Semifinalist- Will Taft

CHAMPION- Meredith Fossitt

PUBLIC FORUM DEBATE

Quarterfinalists- Harrison Wilco and Chloe Prendergast Harrison Wilco, 11th Speaker

CONGRESSIONAL DEBATE

SENATE: Max Rafferty, 5th Place; Keegan Hasson, CHAMPION

HOUSE: Gregory Fedorov, 2nd Place

Grady_debate2The Grady High School Speech and Debate Team also broke some records:

  • The team qualified more entries to the State Tournament this year than any other team in the history of the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association, winning its sixth straight “School of Excellence” Award.
  •  Grady High School is now the only school in Georgia to have a State Championship in every event offered.

Mario Herrera, Speech and Debate Team coach was inducted into the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association Hall of Fame this weekend.

Way to go you guys. I am so impressed….and proud!

A big ‘THANK YOU’ to our APS Social Workers

School social workers play a critical role in creating a positive climate in our schools and developing partnerships between a student’s home, school and community. Atlanta Public Schools joins the School Social Work Association of America, March 2-6, in honoring those committed to empowering and assisting families.

There are 30 full-time social workers employed with APS, including one dedicated to our Homeless Education Program and another who works at the APS Truancy Center. APS also works with three contract social workers and two hourly social workers to make sure we meet the needs of our students.

While the primary role of the school social worker is to ensure that children are provided with an environment that is conducive to learning, Denise Revels, APS Coordinator of Social Work Services, tells me  the responsibilities include much more.

“Particularly, we are charged with addressing and removing barriers to education.  Barriers are complex and multi-layered and range from child abuse and suicidal ideation to lack of stable housing or appropriate clothing for school.  School social workers are intricately interwoven into the fabric of every school as they meet the daily needs of children both inside and outside the walls of the school,” she said.

I would like for you to meet a few of our APS social workers that help students receive the most from their educational opportunities.  I am proud of the work they are doing in the district and look forward to supporting their work so that APS can meet the needs of all of its students.

Social_worker_WIlliamsElesha Williams serves D. H. Stanton and Gideons Elementary schools as well as Price Middle School. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University. She began her first job as a social worker with APS after graduation, 17 years ago.  Ms. Williams decided on school social work as a career after an internship in the field. Her greatest memory as a social worker was the 2012 high school graduation of four at-risk students. “I met each of them during their freshman year, and they were each dealing with critical issues such as: homelessness, child abuse, abandonment, and teen pregnancy.  Each year, they didn’t think they could make it to graduation, but each year they persevered.  Through parent conferences, counseling, weekly and monthly school social work interventions, all four of them proudly graduated from high school, two went on to college, while the other two were gainfully employed,” she says. “Through that experience, I had an opportunity to see the difference that can be made through school social work services. I often think of these students, and I am fortunate to receive updates throughout the year from one of my students, which is a constant reminder of how our work makes a lasting difference with the students we serve“.

Social_Worker_Allen_C_CLLChamika Allen is the Homeless Education Social Worker for the district. She’s been a social worker since 2005 and an APS employee since 2010. Ms. Allen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Spelman College and her Master’s in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University.  The ability to help others is what Ms. Allen enjoys most about her role. “I believe that there is good in everyone and in every situation – sometimes we just have to help people find the positive. Helping people find the tools to heal, help, and hope fulfills me and encourages me to keep serving. When I see those that I have helped pushing forward and serving others, it lets me know that lives will be touched for a lifetime,” she says.

Social_Worker_FosterVenecia R. Foster has been a social worker 17 years. This is her fifth year working as a school social worker in APS. She serves students at North Atlanta High and Garden Hills Elementary schools She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work at Florida State University. There are many things about being a school social worker that Ms. Foster enjoys but ultimately she enjoys serving others. “I am most proud when I’m able to assist my students and their families by providing them with hope during a time when they feel hopeless,” said Foster. “As far as what has motivated me to remain in the profession for all of this time, it’s honestly being able to help others. I grew up volunteering at homeless shelters and feeding those who were hungry. Service has always been a part of my life. It’s an added bonus to be able to come to work and do what I love every day”.

Social_worker_JonesEmerson Jones has worked as a school social worker for 26 years. He’s been at APS for 20 years and works with students at Dunbar, Thomasville Heights and Toomer Elementary Schools. Mr. Jones earned his Bachelor’s in Social Work from Southeast Missouri State University and his Master’s in Social Work from Atlanta University.  Mr. Jones most enjoys helping children and families become better able to help themselves. One experience, in particular, helped him realize the impact of his work.  “I had a student several years ago come up to me while having my car serviced. He asked me if I remembered him, and I didn’t. He told me that he had attended one of our high schools. He added that I had spoken with him, and what I said helped him to change his life. He said that he was married now with several kids and working. That made me feel good about being a social worker,” Jones recalled.

There will be a luncheon March 16 to honor all APS social workers for the essential role they play in student success. Please join me in thanking all of our school social workers for their dedication to students and schools.

Positioning the District for a New Direction

In my experiences as a superintendent, I have come to believe that where a district puts its money, speaks volumes about what it values—this is why I take the budgeting process so seriously. I spend a great deal of time getting very hands-on and really knowing where we are going to spend our tax dollars.

Today, the Atlanta Board of Education approved the tentative FY16 General Fund budget for Atlanta Public Schools, and I thought I would update you. With our budget, we are positioning the district for a new direction— a new direction to increase instructional quality and efficiency to assure successful achievement of our vision and mission.

I want to assure you that we are taking deliberate steps to make certain that not only do we have a balanced budget, but a strategic and more efficient one that drives us to higher student outcomes. Quality budgeting means that the Board members, administrative leadership and I take the appropriate time and steps to work through the finances … even spending our weekends to do it.

The district faces considerable challenges as we restore the organizational integrity of Atlanta Public Schools, employ best practices and position our school district structurally, strategically and financially for the future.

As we embark on the FY16 budget process – in preparation for a new operating model – we find ourselves in a position where we are facing demands for mandatory expenditures that exceed the increase in available resources.

For a quick summary, the Board is working with a planned FY16 General Fund budget of $682.8 million, a little more than a $25 million increase over this year’s fiscal budget of $657.6 million. But, as we begin the process, we have about $31 million in additional required increases for special education, pension funding and teacher retirement contributions as well as increased enrollment in our APS charter schools and a decline in other APS schools.

Last fall, the Board approved parameters for the FY16 budget that directed us to focus on such areas as achieving equitable distribution of resources, funding pension obligations and prioritizing special education and achievement in math and literacy. In addition, as we transition to the new operating model, we have committed to pushing more discretionary money to the school level to increase flexibility and engagement.

As a result, we are forced to make tough decisions in the coming weeks as we tighten our budgets and make strategic investments.

To that end, we are examining ways to achieve a balanced budget while making the necessary decisions to ensure that Board priorities are supported.

As tight as the FY16 budget will be, I am hopeful that we can find additional dollars to push more and more of our available dollars closer to the classroom and to our students.

We have already reduced central administration overhead with a plan that cuts Central Office positions by nearly 10 percent and redirects approximately $5 million to flexible spending at the school-level. And, we will continue to look for opportunities to find efficiencies at all levels in the organization to further reduce overhead costs for the school district.

Furthermore, we will examine other reductions as necessary with the assumption that we do not, at this time, have additional revenues. However, the budget approval process is an evolving one, and constraints may change as we progress and as the Board considers options such as changing the millage rate, using the district’s fund balance and other financial resources due to us, and exploring new creative solutions for long standing challenges such as the pension.

In preparation for FY16, we also have found ways to maximize resources in other budgets.

For example, the Board and I responded directly to the community’s considerable feedback when we reviewed SPLOST dollars and reprioritized $39 million to immediately address ineffective heating and air conditioning systems in schools.

We have been taking advantage of extended carryover federal dollars from Race to the Top and Title I that will serve as down payments for programs and initiatives during FY16, thanks to the insightful feedback of the principal advisory committee and help from the Georgia State Department of Education.

We created a new Office of Partnerships and Development to leverage our business community and philanthropic relationships to explore creative ways to bring in new revenue sources.

As the budget process moves forward, we will do our part to keep the public up-to-date. I invite you to stay informed through budget community meetings or by following budget developments on the APS budget website.

For me, after almost one school year, I am starting to feel the build-up of great things for our district. We are laying the groundwork that we need to improve quality and increase efficiency. Now we need the support of the Board and the community to right size the district and prepare for the new direction.

$2.7 Million awarded to APS schools!

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Boyd Elementary School students love to read, as shown here during the 2014 Scholastic ‘Read and Rise’ Book Fair sponsored by Newell Rubbermaid. The school has now been awarded $261,400 as a part of the Striving Reader Comprehensive Literacy Grant from the State Board of Education.

We have some big literacy news here in APS! The State Board of Education has awarded the Striving Reader Comprehensive Literacy Grant to Atlanta Public Schools. The system will receive $2.7 million to develop and implement a literacy plan at 10 schools that will address the literacy needs of all students beginning in pre-K through 12th-grade.

The grant will provide our kids with access to high-quality narrative and expository materials in both print and digital form across all content areas.  Print materials will be purchased to supplement classroom libraries and media centers. Students will have access to technology applications in the form of presentation tools, e-books, tablet devices and assistive technology.

Additionally, professional development funds will be utilized in a partnership with the Woodruff Arts Center to provide literacy programs that have a professional learning focus. Classroom teachers will work with professional teaching artists to learn drama strategies that promote learning in literacy skills including speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Take a look at our winning schools!

School
 Grant Award
Atlanta Public Schools Early Learning
$140,000
Boyd Elementary School
$261,399
Fain Elementary School
$281,507
Grove Park Intermediate School
$154,883
Perkerson Elementary School
$296,180
Slater Elementary School
$290,746
Thomasville Heights Elementary School
$198,359
Usher Elementary School
$225,532
Harper-Archer Middle School
$323,762
Frederick Douglass High School
$443,529
School of Health Sciences and Research at Carver
$177,197