JROTC cadets are put to the test during Summer Leadership Challenge

Lt. Col. Rooker, who leads our Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program here at APS, is spent a week earlier this month with high school cadets during their annual summer camp at at Fort Benning!

The JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge is held near Columbus, GA at the Fort Benning Army base and gives our high school JROTC cadets a chance to test their endurance and stamina.  From citizenship-building exercises to learning military skills in a real military environment – our students push themselves and return home with a new perspective on learning and leadership.

Be sure to check out Col Rooker on Twitter at @rmrooker or https://twitter.com/rmrooker where he has posted lots of great photos and updates on our fearless students.  Nice job cadets!

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E. Rivers Earns Project Achievement Award!

The annual CMAA South Atlantic Chapter Construction Management Project Achievement Awards program recognizes outstanding achievement in the practice of construction management. The awards program is designed to recognize and promote professionalism and excellence in the execution and management of the building construction industry.

The annual CMAA South Atlantic Chapter Construction Management Project Achievement Awards program recognizes outstanding achievement in the practice of construction management. The awards program is designed to recognize and promote professionalism and excellence in the execution and management of the building construction industry.

Earlier this spring I blogged about what a great time I had at our ribbon cutting for the newly renovated E. Rivers Elementary School. Mr. Jere Smith, director of Capital Improvements for the district, has informed me that Rivers has earned a “Project Achievement” award and recognition from the South Atlantic Chapter of the Construction Management Association of America for the awesome building design!

 
The award is the sixth such award by CMAA to APS projects in the past 10 years and represents continuous industry acknowledgement of project achievements in the district’s Capital Improvement Program.
 
The 98 year-old campus, which is the location of one of the oldest continuously operating schools in the district, is now home to a new facility opened in January 2015 that was part of a $28 million project designed by Collins, Cooper, Carusi, Architects and built by the Parrish Construction Group.
 
Great work everyone!

APS Reviews Grade-Changing Issues across District

When I became superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools a year ago, I knew that many parts of the school district were broken, some even before the CRCT cheating of 2009. I knew that we had a lot of work to do to change the culture of APS and restore its integrity and public image.

A year later, the Atlanta Board of Education and my staff have figured out how to lead the district together in a collaborative, professional and respectful fashion. We have approved a budget and operating system model that emphasizes a more aggressive effort to right size the district for more efficiency and quality. And we have a five-year strategic plan that puts into motion our mission to graduate all students ready for college and career.

But we still have much to do.

During the 2014-2015 school year, APS conducted eight investigations into inappropriate grade changes. Four of those incidents existed before I came on board; four came to light this past school year.

Whenever we peel back another layer of something that needs to be fixed or corrected, it reminds me that this administration is devoted to making APS the best it can be. That, in part, is why I created the Office of Accountability immediately after joining APS.

Let me stress that there is a lot that is great about APS – enthusiastic students, dynamic new programs for the development of the whole child, and a move to a child-centered culture. The vast majority of our employees are doing the right things all the time, and we should praise them for doing their jobs with integrity. However, we must remain laser-focused in our efforts to root out those who are not and remove them from APS.

Unethical behavior of any type will not be tolerated in our school district.

In regards to grade changing, we are doing a comprehensive review of grade changes across the district and identifying process improvements and procedural safeguards before the start of the new school year. That work is in addition to completing the remaining investigations currently underway.

Our new Chief Accountability Officer Bill Caritj and his team are currently reviewing all existing data to determine how extensive grade changes have been over the past few years. The administration is working closely with the Atlanta Board of Education to ensure that all necessary resources are dedicated to this review.

I have many questions. So as part of the review, I have asked my team to determine where and when grades have been changed over the last three years and for which students. The review will reveal the prevalence of grade changing, the most common reasons for them and whether the changes were appropriate. Finally, the review will help ensure that we have a uniform standard across the district for the approvals and documentation for a proper and ethical process for changing grades when necessary.

We will also continue to partner with the District Attorney’s Office and seek advice in the event that additional inappropriate grade changes are discovered.

The public can count on us to operate with complete transparency as we complete this review and hold all employees accountable who have not demonstrated the high standards we expect of them. As we work aggressively to rebuild the culture of APS and to restore the public’s trust in our system, it is imperative that all of our stakeholders know that unethical behavior, again, will not be tolerated at APS.

Achieve Atlanta: $20M for APS scholarships! This kind of investment will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.

I am thrilled about an incredible new partnership for our district with Achieve Atlanta, an organization spearheaded by The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.  This initiative will dramatically increase the number of APS students graduating from high school and then entering and successfully graduating from colleges and technical schools.  Their $20 million investment in our students is beautiful, bold and aggressive. I truly believe that this is the kind of investment that will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.  This type of partnership is exactly what our students need and deserve.

Achieve Atlanta will bring partners to APS who will provide college counseling support to our students. These counselors will work in conjunction with our APS high school counselors beginning in ninth grade, show them how college is actually accessible and help them secure scholarships.

Achieve will also help with gap scholarships so that APS students have fewer financial barriers to access college.

This week Achieve Atlanta named Tina Fernandez, a former bilingual elementary school teacher and law professor, as executive director of the organization.  While serving with the University of Texas School of Law, Ms. Fernandez launched a Pro Bono Program that helped deliver legal services to low-income individuals.  She is currently a partner at Bellwether Education Partners.

I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Fernandez in Austin and I am excited to see her bring her passion for education to Atlanta.  I’d like to thank our Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan, who served on the search committee.

Earlier this year, Dr. Timothy Gadson, our APS Associate Superintendent of High Schools and I were able to see this type of programming in action during a site visit to Denver, Colorado to visit the Denver Scholarship Foundation.  I was joined by the team of people who have really made this partnership happen for the students of Atlanta – Lizzy Smith and Russ Hardin with the Woodruff and Whitehead Foundations and Lesley Grady and Alicia Philipp with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

I think that this partnership will go a long way towards ensuring that kids who historically have not been able to access college have the academic, financial and emotional supports to not only get into college but complete college.  Our APS counselors do a heroic job of getting kids into college but their case loads are enormous and Achieve will help ensure more students have access to the counseling they need to identify the right college for them.

As they thoughtfully and carefully prepared this initiative, the folks over at Achieve Atlanta commissioned a research study around issues and opportunities for improving college access and completion for APS students.  Click HERE to read the full study, but their results tell us that:

  • Atlanta’s students are not receiving high quality consistent advising while in high school that prepares them for post-secondary education;
  • Too many students are not enrolling in college;
  • Many APS graduates do not graduate from college due to emotional, academic and financial barriers; and
  • Atlanta’s nonprofit and civic community organizations are not responding to students needs in a holistic manner.

Our students will participate in the following Achieve Atlanta signature programs:

Achieve College – external advisors are placed in APS high schools to ensure students receive early access to information and assistance to create career goals, apply for college and financial aid and gain experiences that expose them to postsecondary options. Advisors will work in tandem with school counselors and other professionals.

Achieve Graduation — Advisors from post-secondary institutions to provide intensive counseling to students enrolled in APS.

Achieve Atlanta Scholarship and Achieve Atlanta Micro Grants – Last dollar financial assistance to students who have unmet financial needs for college, as well as responsive grants for unexpected needs that arise throughout a student’s college experience.

This partnership helps to support our ability to execute on our mission and vision.

We hear all the time about the students who would have gone to college and completed their degree if they had just had a tiny bit more financial assistance, a better understanding of the application process or an advisor they could trust once on campus.  Achieve Atlanta will make sure we have less of those stories here in Atlanta.

Thank you Achieve Atlanta for your generous donation of time, talents and financial support.

11 Year Old APS Student Edith Stubbs is Publishing Her First Children’s Book

AmeliaWe have so many talented students in our district, and I am proud to recognize this particular young lady for such a spectacular achievement. 11-year-old, Edith Stubbs “Speedy” McGruffin of Mary Lin Elementary School is publishing her first book “Amelia – The Crazy Jumping Hedgehog.”

Edith says it was right before her 10th birthday and she was on vacation with her family. The weather was ugly, she was sitting in the rain with nothing to do and she became bored. After a suggestion from her father to use her imagination, her book character, Amelia, was born!

Amelia is a hedgehog that lives in a pet store but dreams of being taken home to a house with a nice hedge. While she is at the pet store dreaming, she has a series of capers and discovers what makes her special.

Edith is currently raising money for the printing of the book with a Kickstarter campaign she set up with the help of her father. It also includes a really cool video about the book where you can hear from the young author herself.

Check it out here!

<https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/10486027/amelia-the-crazy-jumping-hedgehog-a-book-by-speedy>

You can also follow Amelia on Facebook:<https://www.facebook.com/Ameliathehedgehogbook>
and Twitter<https://twitter.com/Amelia_Hedgehog>.

Edith says that “Amelia – The Crazy Jumping Hedgehog” is just the first of a five-book series.

Congratulations Speedy! I look forward to reading your books and following the professional writing adventure of Speedy McGruffin!

Music and the Arts Remain at APS

Due to incorrect information circulating, there is a lot of confusion about the status of music and the arts in our schools. In fact, some are suggesting that Atlanta Public Schools simply eliminated all music and arts in one fell swoop.

We have not.

APS is one of the few districts in the state that offers band and orchestra programs, and this will continue to be the case.

Here’s the synopsis: Next school year, there will be 10 fewer band teachers and eight fewer orchestra teachers. But there will still be approximately 40 band and orchestra teachers serving our schools. Some elementary schools will be sharing teachers (as they do now), and others did make the decision not to offer band and/or orchestra usually in situations where there were few students enrolled in those classes. Those schools are instead using their staffing allocations for positions elsewhere in their school based on the needs of the students. Every elementary school will continue to offer a general music program, and band and orchestra programs will continue at the middle and high school levels.

For those who like more details, there is more backstory. APS is continuing arts and music, but we did make reductions against a set of standards of service, which all schools and clusters must work together to meet.

It was, indeed, a tough budget year for APS, due in part to the entire district being over-staffed and to limited resources. Reductions were made across the district two months ago, not just in music and fine arts, to realign teacher numbers at each school with actual enrollment. As part of our right-sizing strategy, we cut 368 full-time positions, nearly 20 percent of which came from the central office.

In our cluster planning and our move to a new operating system, APS has given clusters and schools more freedom and flexibility to choose how they staff their schools in order to meet the specific needs of their students. This includes the decision about which arts and music instruction to offer students.

For example, if principal A observed high interest in band over orchestra in their elementary school, that principal could choose to enhance the band program and remove the orchestra program. If principal B saw a growing interest in visual arts, principal B could decide to invest more in visual arts, eliminating band and orchestra. If principal C was interested in enhancing band and orchestra programs, principal C could choose to increase school class sizes in order to offer a more robust fine arts program.

Thus, it is incorrect to state that APS is taking away band and orchestra from schools. We are giving schools the choice to incorporate these fine arts as part of their general music instruction, which includes chorus, music appreciation, introduction to instruments, etc. and to be the masters of their master schedules. At the elementary level, all of our schools must provide general music, but band and orchestra are optional offerings. As outlined by both APS and state standards, band and orchestra are offered as elective classes in all APS middle and high schools. In regards to other fine arts, we will provide, at the minimum, visual arts at all school levels— adding performing arts in high school.

In making these critical staffing decisions, it was important to us that the decisions were made on the front lines at the school and cluster levels, not at the central office. Principals had increased decision making through this process; however to be fair, they were working within very tight budget parameters.

As an oboe player as well as an avid lover and supporter of the arts, I truly understand the importance of these programs to our students. I will do all I can to keep them as part of school district focused on providing a quality education at the highest levels of efficiency.

Congratulations, APS Class of 2015!

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Graduation elicits a broad swath of emotions from the thrills of reaching the end of high school to the pride of a job well done to the sadness of leaving friends, families and classmates behind to go to the next step of college, career and life.

For me, the graduation of Atlanta Public Schools’ Dr. CClass of 2015 marked my first with the District and brought forth in me all of those emotions.

I can hardly express the thrill of attending all of the graduations and generating great memories that I will always cherish.

  • The chance to lead enthusiastic school cheers at Mays, Jackson and Grady
  • The stirring musical performances from North Atlanta, Douglass and Therrell
  • Heartfelt speeches about perseverance, grit and determination from students at Carver, South Atlanta and Crim high schools
  • The joint ceremony with B.E.S.T. and Coretta Scott King academies where nearly every graduate on stage had been accepted to college
  • The 90-year legacy and sense of family and community at Washington
  • Sharing my first APS graduation with the first-ever graduating class from KIPP Collegiate Atlanta.

And then there’s the pride. The pride that the Class of 2015 is 2,250 graduates strong, earning more than $85 million in scholarships for college.South Atlanta

And finally a sense of sadness, because I, too, will miss all of the students of my first graduating class as APS superintendent.

For the families, friends, teachers, staff and community members who did not get a chance to join any of the fantastic APS graduation ceremonies last week, I invite you to visit livestream.com/k12aps to view them and experience some of the excitement for yourself. Go to Twitter and search for #APS2015 or your school’s hashtag and see running accounts, photos and videos of every graduating class.

You can also visit our TalkUp Blog, which featured numerous students across the District including all of our valedictorians, salutatorians and STAR students and many of our Posse, Gates and Georgia Scholars as well as other champion athletes and students. Crim

Needless to say, we are super proud of our students.

And we know that they will continue to make us proud, because they know it doesn’t end with graduation. As I told them at graduation, the word “commencement” literally means “beginning.”

And while they experience a fresh beginning, it’s not a hard, new start. They have all of the lessons, experiences and friendships they developed at APS with them and the support of family, teachers and the community.Family

We wish them all the best of luck. We are definitely proud of them, and we will miss them.