Milk Mustaches, Mice and Morning Storytime: APS Celebrates Pre-K Week!

This week I wore mouse ears, and I LOVED it!


What a great group of young learners at Bethune Elementary School! They kept me on my toes.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” is the book being read in pre-kindergarten classrooms throughout the state this week, including in Atlanta Public Schools, as our early learners participate in Georgia Pre-K Week. Pre-K Week is a celebration of the tremendous learning taking place in our Pre-K program and early learning classes. I started my day yesterday with the 4-year-olds at Bethune Elementary School and later visited M. Agnes Jones Elementary School. Together with students and their teachers, we read Laura Numeroff’s sweet book about an insatiable little mouse who is not content with simply receiving a cookie before bedtime. There were plenty of props (I always bring props…remember my guitar last year with Pete the Cat?), there were “a-ha” moments and great questions from our kiddos about the book.


Students at M. Agnes Jones Elementary gave great feedback and asked a ton of questions!

Quality early education, especially in urban districts, can provide life-changing opportunities to students. One of the reasons I was so excited about becoming the superintendent of APS was that I knew this district, and the state of Georgia, valued the early learning classroom and its teachers. In APS, I am proud to say that we have made a tremendous investment in our earliest learners. We currently have 44 Pre-K classrooms at 39 school sites across the district, serving over 920 students.

Now THAT'S a cookie.

Now THAT’S a cookie.

Our program is growing and thriving under the leadership of Early Learning Coordinator Courtney Jones, and I’m always impressed with the activities I see taking place each month when I visit teachers and students. She’s increased the interaction between our early learning office and parents by becoming active on Twitter (and you know how I love Twitter), and also publishing a monthly online newsletter for parents – Click Here to check out the October edition. And our teachers…oh man, those are our soldiers. One thing I was reminded of this week was that Pre-K students REALLY like to talk…about everything! And they have strong opinions…again, about everything! And they like to hug and even tackle superintendents!

Where am I? Under all of the Pre-K students! They were smothering me with love!

Where am I? Under all of the Pre-K students! They were smothering me with love!

Our teachers are so patient, and loving and smart and they understand the science (and heart), behind teaching our youngest brains. We are a very fortunate district.

Happy Pre-K week everyone – let’s keep this celebration of early learning going all year long!





25 Years of Service – Hands On Atlanta Day

HOA1The gloomy weather could not keep thousands of volunteers from showing up for service projects across the city today as part of the annual Hands on Atlanta Day.  For 25 years, Hands on Atlanta has been a driving force behind positive community change in Atlanta, and year after year they rally volunteers to help transform our APS campuses. From planting gardens and painting murals to building playgrounds and overhauling classrooms – thousands of generous folks moved mountains, and for that we say thank you!

Our APS Deputy Superintendent, David Jernigan, visited multiple campuses and chronicled today’s events. Take a look below…and again, thank you to everyone who came out to transform our schools!

Guest Blogger: David Jernigan, Deputy Superintendent

I was thrilled to be able to kick-off the day with Hands on Atlanta president, Gina Simpson. We met at D. H. Stanton Elementary School, where Principal Robin Robbins was preparing for a school make-over, thanks to volunteers from several organizations and businesses including Mercedes-Benz.  Steve Cannon, their dynamic CEO, took a few minutes to greet everyone, but he was eager to roll up his sleeves for a tree-planting project.  It was also appropriate that Michelle Nunn, Hands on Atlanta’s Founding Executive Director, joined in on the fun and reminded the group of volunteers of the organization’s rich history.

After the inspirational kick-off, the volunteers got busy with the many projects that included gardening and painting murals.  I know the kids are going to be so excited when they return to school on Monday and see the transformation in the building.

HOA2After D. H. Stanton, I was off to Connally Elementary School where volunteers from Global Payment were busy sprucing up the school’s marque, painting walls in the cafeteria, and creating murals in the gym and hallways. Principal Lincoln Woods was running around when I arrived, but he was not too busy to provide affirmation to the volunteers who were painting murals that were “out of this world.”

Around the corner from Connally Elementary School, volunteers from Delta Airlines were partnering up with Kaboom! to build a playground for the KIPPsters at KIPP STRIVE Primary.  It was so awesome to see Principal Mini’imah Shaheed and KIPP Metro Atlanta’s Executive Director Kinnari Patel-Smyth getting their hands dirty and their boots quite muddy!  Delta’s Vice President for Community Affairs, Tad Hutcheson, was also on the scene providing support and encouragement to his team.  While the project was still in its early stages, he assured me that by 2:30 p.m., they would be cutting the ribbon on a new playground.  I guess that old proverb, “Many hands make light work,” will truly manifest itself today at KIPP STRIVE Primary!


My final stop before heading back to Zoo Atlanta to close out the day was at Bethune Elementary School.  The volunteers from Coke were already wrapping up by the time I arrived, but their hard work was very evident. Clorox is clearly a very generous sponsor of Hands on Atlanta Day because the fresh smells of their cleaning supplies welcomed me from the minute I walked in the door. Principal Amia Burnette seemed so pleased with the landscaping and cleaning projects completed in such a short period of time!

While I wasn’t able to make it around to the dozens of other APS projects happening this morning, I am confident that they were equally impactful. As a former principal, I know first hand how powerful a service project can be for a school.  Not only do these projects model for our students the importance of service and giving back to one’s community, they also demonstrate to our kids that their community cares about them.  While it may seem like a small gesture, bright flowers and freshly painted murals tell a kid that his school matters and that his community is behind him.


I’m so inspired by the thousands of volunteers who crawled out of bed this morning to give a little of their time to their community.  Thanks so much to the many corporate sponsors and especially to Hands on Atlanta for making today possible for our students!


Thank you @MBUSA volunteers! Photo courtesy of Hands on Atlanta Twitter feed.


Great work today at Carver High School! Photo courtesy of @SenatorCarter Twitter feed.


Thank you Delta Airlines for the awesome new playground at KIPP Strive! Photo courtesy of @KIPPMAC Twitter feed.


Looking good Falcons volunteers! Photo courtesy of Hands on Atlanta Twitter feed.

APS in Wonderland


A photo from this morning at the SBOE monthly meeting, where the board approved Atlanta Public School’s application to become a charter system for the 2016-17 school year.

For so many members of our APS team, after years of watching the public school charter system legislation unfold in Georgia, it seemed impossible that what happened today at the Georgia State Board of Education’s (SBOE) monthly meeting could happen for APS this quickly and with this much support. Though, like Alice in Wonderland, “Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Grow, lead, transform. Those are the words that come to mind as I reflect on the vote that took place this morning at the SBOE monthly meeting, where the board approved Atlanta Public School’s application to become a charter system for the 2016-17 school year. In some ways, it feels like the end of a long journey. In other ways, it’s just the beginning, and it is not impossible.

From the 700+ pages of Title 20—Georgia’s voluminous code of education laws—and other regulations that are well-intended, but that can stifle innovation and that don’t necessarily make sense in every context, each district is allowed to find its own voice and plan of action for its students.

The concept then—and now—is that a charter system operates under a contract with the state. The district signs the contract committing to continuous improvement and sharing the authority of the superintendent with the principals and local school governance teams. The state agrees to give the district broad flexibility from state laws as well as State Board of Education rules and guidance (except those laws and rules that safeguard health, safety, and accountability). Flexibility does not extend to federal laws like civil rights and Title I.


Our presentation team was pretty awesome!

While APS was late to the party when it came to considering what operating model was right for the district, we packed a ton of work into the last 14 months, and the community tried to be with us during every step of the process. It was hard though, as the pace can be daunting even for those who are committed to this type of work. The approval this morning was the culmination of dozens of community meetings; hundreds of one-on-one conversations; hours and hours…and even more hours spent learning with the Charter Advisory Committee; countless consultations with our colleagues at the Department of Education and other charter systems (Fulton, City of Decatur, City of Marietta and Putnam County deserve special shout-outs for helping us); monthly presentations to and two votes of the Atlanta Board of Education; and more late nights and personal sacrifices from my colleagues here in the district than can be mentioned.

All that work really paid off—our application was submitted on June 24, and we went to an interview with the state’s Charter Advisory Committee (CAC) in August. The CAC unanimously recommended approval of our application after we sent in a few written responses to some clarifying questions.

The dedication of the district’s educators, leaders and community members continued to pay off yesterday. Usually, the SBOE reviews charter applications for information one month and then moves it for approval the following month. For us, that would have meant approval in November because the state board goes on a retreat in October instead of having a regular meeting. The SBOE’s Charter and District Flexibility Committee was impressed with the quality of our team’s presentation and unanimously recommended that the approval of our application be moved to today’s SBOE consent agenda for a vote of the full board. That means we went from application to approval in three months! Whew, that was fast and intense but it is now so rewarding.

Now, of course, more rigorous work begins. And I must admit, I believe this is the fun part. We have the opportunity to open up the leadership table of our schools and our district in a way that will provide equity of voice and that will build leadership capacity in all parts of the city.

While our contract with the state won’t be effective until 2016-17, we aren’t waiting to lay the groundwork for this new structure. What you can look forward to seeing during the 2015-2016 school year is:

  • Beginning today – community members interested in getting more information about future school governance in APS can submit their contact information to the Candidate Bank ( You can email questions and feedback to
  • October – Charter System Overview presentations by the Local School Council and Principal at each local school
  • November and December – Candidate Information Sessions will be held online and in-person around the system to share information about what being a member of the school governance team means and how to run
  • January – Candidates file to run and district-wide elections are held
  • February – Newly elected teams meet with their principals to select community, swing seats and student members
  • February and March – Initial governance training
  • April and May – Teams begin working on school strategic plans
  • July 1, 2016 – APS begins operating under a charter contract

A very special shout out to two folks who have been dedicated to this work in APS for some time, even before my arrival. This effort is led under the skillful and dynamic leadership of Angela King Smith, my Special Assistant, and supported not only by her team, but by our Policy Director Rebecca Kaye. They work with the input and support of the Charter System Advisory, our Board of Education, (and I must specifically thank Chair Courtney English who testified on our behalf), and many, many others who believe in a future APS where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system.

Today was an incredible day in APS – we are growing – and while it feels good, it does come with some pains. I hope we don’t get too overwhelmed with the work ahead. We are so excited and there is much work to be done…I may just print out the King’s advice to Alice and post it prominently in my office, in case we forget our way.

Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” 

Run, APS, RUN (or Strut)!

image3Rushing out of the door to get to Piedmont Park Oval where I will join my running buddies and colleagues on this is the final night of practice before we participate in the East Atlanta Village (EAV) Runfest this weekend!

The time has finally come where all our hard work and practice will pay off! This Saturday, about 100 of my co-workers and I will run (and strut) our stuff through the streets of the EAV and not only have I personally prepared by practicing with student athletes, but my APS family and I have been preparing together and pushing image6ourselves for the past few weeks during practice runs at Piedmont Park.

While we aren’t professional runners we have developed a fitness routine to improve our health and experience including aerobics and stretching! For this training challenge, we designed a schedule that would maximize the fitness potential of our seasoned runners, as well as our beginners.

More importantly, we’ve been running in style! For every practice run, I requested that our run image1club members wear an APS t-shirt that represented their school or department. Oh my goodness, I had no idea so many APS t-shirts existed!

Every week, folks got out there and gave it their all and boy were they cute. Some came to every practice, others, only a few – but the objective was met, we got up, got out and made a healthy choice together as a team.

As Saturday approaches, I have confidence in our practice routines so this 5K will as much fun image5as rewarding! Saturday we will run in support of our APS family—the students of Burgess-Peterson Academy Elementary School. Come out and run with us, or cheer from the sidelines! Hope to see you there.






In the center in the black tee is David White, principal of Burgess Peterson! Thanks for the support David.


These are the handmade medals being made by David White and team! Aweeeesommmme!

Chillaxin in the ‘A’

“And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but
Now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind
That I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”
Your Song by Elton John

Hanging with our APS teachers at the Janelle Monae concert!

Hanging with our APS teachers at the Janelle Monae concert!

Sadly this is the final weekend of the summer (according to the calendar), and I’m not ready to let go (even though we’ve been in school for months)! As superintendent, I’m still trying to figure out how to have a good work-life balance while leading APS. We have launched districtwide efforts such as The HearRtbeat newsletter where we promote wellness, profile employees and applaud their hard work, and started a running club that is preparing for a 5k. I just think it’s important that both students and staff be happier, healthier and more engaged. Honestly, if it were not for my colleagues, I would never have been able to maintain my stamina to grow, lead and transform our district, and I want everyone to know how wonderful my life is because of my APS world (thanks for the words Elton).

I plan to replenish this weekend with an 8:30 a.m. Saturday East Atlanta Village (EAV) practice run with our team of employees at Maynard Jackson HS and then a full day of sun, fun and music!

Front row seats!

Front row seats!

After one of my practice runs at Piedmont Park for the EAV RunFest, participating runner – Board of Education member Eshe’ Collins – introduced me to the ‘real deal’ behind the Atlanta music scene. It was one of those secret location deals where you don’t know the venue until a few hours before the event, then you stand outside waiting to see if you were selected to attend. It was some kinda crazy, for sure. Who knew!?! Much like the Peachtree Road Race, I begrudgingly participated at the beginning but now I’m so glad I did. In the end, we saw Janelle Monae’ together, and I even made it to the FRONT ROW with some APS teachers!

(PHOTO) My running buddy Run-Eshe’-C won best costume as her alter-ego Run DMC at the Leadership Atlanta annual retreat. That’s when I knew she understood music!

Board member Run-Eshe’-C won best costume as her alter-ego Run DMC at the Leadership Atlanta annual retreat. That’s when I knew she understood music!

Eshe’ knows how much I love music and music has been my saving grace while training for the Peachtree Road Race and now the upcoming East Atlanta Run (I have a playlist for the running group that is a super hot mix of our collective favs).

Apparently the penultimate Atlanta music scene for the summer is Music Midtown. I plan to hit as many performances as possible this Friday and Saturday…but it’s not looking good because concerts have already started and I’m still at work and writing this blog.  This is my first big Atlanta concert so board member Collins is going to teach me the ropes of how to navigate the concerts, stages and crowds.  Maybe I’ll see you there…or you may see me on stage with Billy Idol or Elton or Lenny K!

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at King Middle School


(Photo Source: Communities in Schools Facebook Page)

Atlanta Public Schools celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month September 15-October 15 to celebrate Hispanic culture and recognize the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the United States.

The students of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School kicked off National Hispanic Heritage Month this month with a visit from Patricia Arevalo, a representative from the Latin American Association. Speaking to Hispanic students, Ms. Arevalo encouraged the students to continue to pursue their education and dreams after high school, and even shared her struggles as a student.

Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School students painted a mural and created a display for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School students painted a mural and created a display for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Also, check out the beautiful mural and board created by King Middle School students!  The mural was painted by seventh-grade students Milisan Castro and Brittany Perez. Milisan and Brittany along with their fellow seventh-grade students Jessica Escandon, Brighit Chavez, Jacqueline Mencias, Jasmine Reyas and eighth-grader Artura Guzman designed the board to compliment the mural.

A big thank you to our partners Communities in Schools for hosting and sharing the visit via Facebook.

A Strong Performance for Grady Debate!

Wake Forest LD Champion Conor ?. Congratulations!

Wake Forest Lincoln-Douglas Debate Champion Conor Downey. Congratulations! (Photo courtesy of Grady Jesters Facebook Page)

A super-duper debate ‘shout-out’ to our Grady Jesters, the speech and debate team of Grady High School, who competed against 104 schools and 700 entrants from 22 states in this weekend’s Wake Forest University competition in Winston-Salem, NC.

The Jesters took a team of 10 students and here are the results:

Will Taft, Octafinalist and 10th Place Overall Speaker, Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Gregory Fedorov, Quarterfinalist in Extemporaneous Speaking

Sam Lombardo, Quarterfinalist in Extemporaneous Speaking

Molly Looman, 5th Place, Dramatic Interpretation

Keegan Hasson, 3rd Place, Extemporaneous Speaking

Conor Downey, CHAMPION and 5th Place Overall Speaker, Lincoln-Douglas Debate

A big thank you to our coaches Mario Herrera and Lisa Willoughby, along with volunteer and Grady alum Lucas Bailey (c/o ’11), for your continued dedication to our students and the speech and debate program. Way to go!


The Grady Jesters (Photo courtesy of Grady Jesters Facebook Page)


A beautiful day at Wake Forest University. (Photo courtesy of Grady Jesters Facebook Page)


Keegan Hasson, 3rd Place, Extemporaneous Speaking and Molly Looman, 5th Place, Dramatic Interpretation. (Photo courtesy of Grady Jesters Facebook Page)