Celebrating Our Strong Students

This is a week of reflection and celebration.  As our high school students in grades 9-11 prepare to take final exams, our youngest students are cleaning out their desks and lockers – preparing to move on to the next grade and our seniors will graduate high school this weekend.  Our mission here in Atlanta Public Schools sets the goal of graduating students ready for college and career and over the course of the 2014-2015 school year, the Board and I have recognized many students for their distinctive accomplishments in academics, their successes in athletics and their dedication to community service. We are so proud of all of them, that I wanted to bring to APS, a great Austin tradition of setting aside a specific day to honor and celebrate our highest performing students.

For me, this afternoon is full of as much celebration and pomp and circumstance as Graduation Day itself. We should do all we can to recognize students who truly succeed, and I am thrilled this Board has called a special meeting for recognitions today at 5:00pm devoted solely to honoring and praising students for going far above and beyond the basic requirements and expectations of an Atlanta Public Schools student.  We are going to celebrate high academic achievers; scholars of such programs as the Posse and Gates foundations; our valedictorians, salutatorians and STAR students; writing and spelling bee champions; social sciences, science and engineering fair winners; champion athletes; master chefs and more.

We are also introducing the first Throwback Award!  We will salute a few former students as part of the first Throwback Award as we recognize the 1973 Southwest Atlanta Wolves football team.

And because this is a special meeting and special day, we have invited a local celebrity – Karyn Greer – to serve as our mistress of ceremonies.

Tune in tonight online to watch our ceremony live: https://livestream.com/k12aps/events/4060557

We will also rebroadcast during the summer break on our very own APS Comcast Channel 22.

SHOUT OUT to Our Awesome Students and Staff!


EAT, SLEEP, RUN!  That was the Maynard Jackson Lady Jaguar track & field team motto this season, running all the way through the finish line to capture the 2015 GHSA Class AAA State Championship.  Marking the first state title for the school’s athletic program since 1990 when then Southside High School Lasers won the state title in basketball, these young ladies have made history!

I was a door prize! During pre-planning this year, Dr. Margarent McKenzie, our coordinator of World Languages and ESOL, had a little fun and offered me up as a door prize to teachers attending planning sessions. I love connecting with our teachers every chance I get – and I had a pleasure of spending time recently with our two winners.  From World Languages, Erica Pereira, Spanish teacher at BEST Academy High School and in ESOL, Ms. Timothea Cokley, an ESOL teacher at West Manor Elementary.  I REALLY enjoyed their classes – and appreciate their dedication to teaching English to our young learners and Spanish to students who will use the language for the rest of their lives.

I have to give a HUGE congratulations to a very special kid, Carter Lewis Guensler for being selected as the 2015 State PAGE STAR student. Valedictorian of Grady High page FOUNDATION GRADY STAR STUDENT School’s class of 2015, Carter was selected among 27 PAGE STAR student region finalists. Fourteen of which received a 2400 score on the SAT and all were in the top 10 percent or top 10 of their class.  Carter’s impressive grades and perfect SAT score earned him the school’s STAR student nomination and the opportunity to select Mr. Lee Pope as the school’s STAR teacher.  Mr. Pope is the Grady Social Studies department chair as well as instructor of Advanced Placement European history and theater.  AT&T Georgia presented Carter with a $5,000 scholarship and Lee Pope will receive a $2,500 cash award from the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation.

North Atlanta Golf

After an impressive season, the North Atlanta High School golf team is headed to the state championship tournament, Saturday May 18, 2015.  They’ve played in eight tournaments finishing second three times, third three times and have five wins with no losses in match play.  The girls soccer team also made it to the state championship this month.  Way to go!  Jackson said that playing in the state championship this year is an incredible feeling considering the youthfulness of their team. The team’s starting six is comprised of two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.  Young and talented, they’ve been making some noise over the last couple of seasons and are looking to bring home a championship!

mutual award3

Shout out to APS! Atlanta Public Schools was awarded the 2014 Mutual of America Community Partnership Award Honorable Mention. The award was given to the district for the role it played in the revitalization of the East Lake Community and for being an outstanding example of leadership in the facilitation of partnerships.

Visiting Latin Academy

A middle school with almost 300 students, The Latin Academy, one of the district’s newest charter schools, opened in the 2012-2013 school year.  I had a chance to visit with the staff and students this week.  The school moved into the former APS Capitol View Elementary school building last school year.

True to their name, the Latin Academy focuses on a classical curriculum.  Principal Larry Thompson told me that all 8th graders take Latin as a foreign language and attend fine arts classes each day.  Two 6th grade scholars have been awarded the Ben Carson scholarship, and according to our charter schools office, scholars are growing on average 1.5 years in both reading and math.

This was our lunch stop for the day and the students were eager to tell me what they liked and didn’t like about their school lunch.  While they don’t receive the same lunches as students in our non-charter schools, they still had plenty to say about how school meals could be improved.  I love hearing feedback from kids when it comes to their food – and I plan to include students in our decision making process next school year as it relates to menu choices.

I heard that 11 of the school’s 8th graders will travel to Rome for an end-of-the-year field trip June 18 – June 24.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about the experience.


Our charters are an important part of our APS family, and as I toured several of our charter schools this week, I noticed multiple opportunities to support and enhance their facilities and buildings.  I’ll be brainstorming with our charters and our operations team on how we create a plan and leverage our efforts to get support for some upkeep and maintenance of facilities – we want all of our staff and students to have safe, welcoming and clean environments to work and learn.

But for now, enjoy your summer vacation and your travels – carpe diem and see you next year!

Oh, and my favorite quote in the entire world is in Latin – Maxima debetur puero reverentia. Translation: The greatest reverence is due a child.

North Atlanta Golf Team headed to the State Championship

After an impressive season, the North Atlanta High School golf team is headed to the state championship tournament, Saturday, May 18!

They’ve played in eight tournaments finishing second three times, third three times and have five wins with no losses in match play.  I wanted to check in with Coach Sarden to see how he feels about the upcoming tournament.

Coach Sarden is confident in his team as they are plenty prepared from practice and tournament play.

“In youth we learn, in age we understand,” he constantly reminds his players.

“I try to give them a little understanding about the game. A lot of golf is mental,” said Sarden.

“I ask them to take one shot at a time and visualize it going down the fairway.”

Visualizing bringing a championship title home, junior golf player Jackson Perkins said they are going out there with something to prove. “No one is really giving us a shot. So were going to go out there, fire at some pins and see if we can make some history.”

Jackson said that playing in the state championship this year is an incredible feeling considering the youthfulness of their team. The team’s starting six is comprised of two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.

Young and talented, they’ve made some noise over the last couple of seasons.

Sophomore, Winston Meshad finished second in the State Championship last year shooting a four under par and has won several other honors for outstanding play in other tournaments.

Andrew Taylor showed up big last year to post a score that helped North Atlanta place in the top four in the state championship tournament.

Jackson Perkins has put up some good numbers, but it’s his leadership and attitude that Coach Sarden admires the most.

Jackson expressed what he loved about playing golf. “I love the team atmosphere and everyone playing for each other. Not just yourself,” he said. “It’s a family thing.”

Golf, like many other sports, translates into the classroom well— requiring patience, discipline, thinking skills and composure. Coach Sarden said that the term student-athletes truly embodies their commitment to the classroom; sharing that his girls golf team has a perfect 4.0 GPA.

He is confident in his players’ ability to win a state title. He reminds them to be committed to doing their best every time out. “If we do that, we win,” said Sarden.

“I believe we can win the state championship.”

The state championship tournament is Saturday May 18, 2015 at the GHSA State Championship Courses.  Best wishes, I hope you bring home a win!

For more information about the state championship event, visit www.ghsa.net/golf.

A Successful School Year for Our Scholar Athletes

Our APS Athletics Director Jasper Jewell just gave me some incredible news about the district’s scholar-athletes.  45 APS teams and athletes advanced this school year to state playoffs!  This is a tremendous accomplishment for our athletes and coaches.  Mr. Jewell says that in his five years in APS, he has never experienced this much success across all sports.

From academics to athletics, our students are soaring to new heights.  Check out the full list below!

APS 2014-2015 Playoff Teams

Fall Sports

Cross Country

  • Grady Boys and Girls- Advanced to the State/ Girls finished 10th, Boys finished 12th
  • Douglass Boys- Advanced to the State
  • North Atlanta Boys and Girls- Advanced to the State


Competitive Cheerleading

  • Mays- Region 6AAAAA Champions/ Finished 13thoverall in Class AAAAA State Competition
  • Douglass- Advanced to the State
  • Grady Coed- Advanced to the State


  • Mays- Class AAAAA State Runner Up
  • Carver- Advanced to the State AAAAA Playoffs
  • Maynard Jackson- Advanced to the State AAA Playoffs/ First Time in School History


  • Maynard Jackson- Area 3AAA Champions/ Advanced to the state playoffs
  • Grady- Advanced to the State AAAA Playoffs
  • South Atlanta- Advanced to the State AAA Playoffs 

Winter Sports


  • North Atlanta- Finished 7thin Class AAAAA State Competition
  • Grady- Advanced to the State AAAA Swim Competition


  • Mays Girls- Region 6AAAAA Champions/ Class AAAAA State Runner Up
  • South Atlanta Boys- Region 4AAA Champions/ Advanced to the Elite 8 in Class AAA
  • North Atlanta Boys- Region 7AAAAA Champions/ Advanced to the State AAAAA Playoffs
  • Grady- Boys- Advanced to the State AAAA Playoffs
  • South Atlanta Girls- Region 4AAA Runner Up/ Advanced to the State AAA Playoffs
  • Douglass Girls- Advanced to the State AAA Playoffs
  • Mays Boys- Advanced to the State AAAAA Playoffs


  • ·        Therrell- Dexter Brown- State Qualifier

Spring Sports


  • Mays Girls- Advanced to the AAAAA State Playoffs
  • Therrell Girls- Advanced to the AAA State Playoffs
  • Grady Boys and Girls- Advanced to the AAAA State Playoffs
  • Drew Charter- Region 5A Champions/ Class A State Runner Up



  • North Atlanta Girls- Region 7AAAAA Champions/ Advanced to the state semi-finals in AAAAA
  • Grady Boys and Girls- Advanced to the AAAAA state playoffs



Track and Field

  • Maynard Jackson Girls- Region 4AAA Champions/ Advanced to the State
  • Grady Boys- Region 6AAAA Champions/ Advanced to the State
  • Mays Girls- Advanced to the state meet
  • Douglass Girls- Advanced to the state meet
  • Douglass Boys- Armani Williams- Advance to the state in the AAA long jump
  • Carver Girls- Advanced to the state meet
  • North Atlanta Girls- Chloe Tillis/ 100 meter hurdles and Zamir Steed/ triple jump advanced to the state meet
  • CSK- Keiyanna Sealy – Advanced to the state in the 800 meters
  • BEST Boys- Advanced to the state meet
  • Therrell Boys- Dexter Brown advanced to the state meet in Shot Put
  • Jackson Boys- Advanced to the state playoffs
  • North Atlanta Boys- Julius Washington- Advanced to the state playoff in the 400 meters
  • Grady Boys- Region 6AAAA Champions/ Advanced to the state Meet
  • Mays Boys- Advanced to the state meet
  • Jackson Boys- Advanced to the state meet



  • Mays- finished- 4thin Region 6AAAAA- Advanced to the state playoffs



  • North Atlanta- Advanced to the state meet


Supreme Douglass High teacher headed to the Supreme Court

douglassCongratulations to Frederick Douglass High School teacher Jameka Fields! Ms. Fields is one of 60 civic education teachers selected to attend the Supreme Court Summer Institute.  The Institute will give Ms. Fields the chance to study Supreme Court cases and learn how she can bring innovative teaching techniques back to her classroom.  She will have a chance to visit the Court, attend decisions and also rub elbows with Supreme Court lawyers, reporters and other educators while she’s there.  This Institute is co-sponsored by Street Law, Inc. and the Supreme Court Historical Society.  I can’t wait to hear about her adventure.  Way to go Ms. Fields!

Keeping up with the KIPPsters

I had the pleasure of visiting two KIPP campuses this week, KIPP Ways Academy and KIPP Strive Academy, both serving just over 300 students in elementary and middle school. kippsters14

KIPP Ways Academy is an APS charter school housed in the former Herndon Elementary facility. Principal Dwight Ho-Sang has been with the school for four years and leads a stellar team of teachers, co-teachers and a great group of kids in the intermediate school. He took me by Ms. Jones’ 7th grade English class, where students were writing – prompted by some pretty heavy topics such as child sex trafficking and the “Black Lives Matter” campaign.  Ms. Jones is a member of a unique program at KIPP where new teachers shadow veteran instructors for one year, eventually teaching the class themselves. The kids were having some pretty robust conversations in small groups, respectfully discussing their topics as they wrote.  kippsters11

Over at KIPP Strive, it was obvious that Steve Jones, the school leader and Tasha Davis, lower school Dean, have a great time working with their students at KIPP Vision.  This was my first time visiting the school which was founded in 2010 and has 323 students. Vision is currently located in the former APS Waters Elementary School and has been there since its founding year.

There was so much color throughout the school – take a look at their wonderful reading nook below for kindergarten students! I loved the energy in the school and the banners that displayed positive affirmations.


The KIPP curriculum is modeled after the highly successful Knowledge is Power Program “KIPP.” KIPP has been recognized as one of the country’s top urban educational programs, closing the achievement gap for students from low-income demographic areas.

kippsters2At KIPP Strive, I visited a first grade class where I was impressed with the “Amazing Words” wall and the posted schedule of activities.  In the sixth grade village I sat through a Language Arts class where students were studying the vocabulary of World War I.  The school is growing and school leaders showed me the former media center that will be turned into four classrooms this summer.

I love to travel and immerse myself in learning about other cultures, so I was excited to hear that local and international travel and service projects are woven into the KIPP culture. KIPP Ways’ Sounds of Royalty Band performed over spring break in South Africa and the 8thgraders were in Puerto Rico when I visited.  The younger students are headed to New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and Camp High Rocks in North Carolina over the next two weeks. kippsters19

This is the school’s 3rd year in a partnership with Big Brother, Big Sister sponsored by the Chick-Fil-A Foundation, and their third year in a partnership with Morehouse College to sponsor the Young Entrepreneur Club where students learn about starting their own business.  We are so grateful to our business partners throughout Atlanta who give such great opportunities to students.kippsters21

At Strive I asked Principal Jones about the beautiful banner hanging in the Strive hallway that read “Nyansapo.” It is a West African Adinkra symbol known as a wisdom knot – and for the kids of KIPP, Principal Jones says it is a reminder to students that every choice has a consequence and that they are charged with making positive choices that will yield positive outcomes.  What a powerful reminder for students to see every day.

Before I left KIPP Ways, I spent a little time in a 5th grade English class where students were giving their end-of-the-year speeches.  They spoke passionately, as 5th graders usually do, about the funniest moments of the year, their accomplishments over the past school year and what they hope to get from 6th grade.  One young lady even took the opportunity to give her teacher a shout out, saying, “Essays are not as hard as they seem, once Byrd teaches you.”

What a beautiful sentiment and an awesome way to end the school year.  Safe travels Kippsters and stay positive! See you next school year.