Board Approves FY16 General Fund Budget for APS

BOEMeetingI was pleased to present to the Board tonight the FY16 General Fund Budget for Atlanta Public Schools, which stands at $685.6 million. I want to thank again all of the staff, Board members and community members who toiled through this process.

This budget represents months and months of work that goes back to before my start date and the beginning of the Board’s work on the Equity Audit. It includes the incorporation of our new mission, vision and strategic plan and the Board’s identification of clear budget parameters and priorities.  It stands as the culmination of months of work that also included active engagement in the community. Based on the feedback from this Board and the public, we made considerable changes to the budget, trying to show that we are listening to you and making adjustments within the resources we have available.

As a gentle reminder the General Fund budget represents just a portion of the resources APS manages. If you remember, the Board, thankfully, recently approved an amended SPLOST IV budget to help fund much-needed HVAC improvements that we couldn’t find money to cover in the general fund. In May, we will present the Board with a tentative budget for Special Revenue, Capital and Debt Service funds. The General Fund Budget covers general operating expenses across the District while the other budgets cover other needs to benefit students and manage operations.

This particular General Fund budget is our first step, albeit embryonic, to set the course for a new direction for the District as we move toward the submission of  a Charter System operating model for our schools. It also shows our commitment to a higher level of instructional quality, operational efficiency and the direction of more flexibility spending closer to the classroom to ensure the responsible and effective use of taxpayer dollars.

Due to limited resources and certain mandated expenditures, we were not able to address all of our funding priorities or fund all of the longstanding challenges (some inherited and some created) in one year. That underscores the necessity of a multi-year budget strategy that includes defining new resource opportunities, securing dollars due to us, and maintaining an ongoing and diligent effort to find efficiencies and cuts so that we can expand fund balance reserves for challenges in the years to come.

Here are some of the new things you will see in this updated budget:

  • A focused commitment to Fine Arts and World Languages so some, but not all, the cuts could be restored. We will fund this with the additional $5 million the Board approved as part of the cluster planning investment for at least an equitable, basic standards of service levels in those areas. That means our schools will, at the minimum, offer visual arts and general music at all school levels; adding band at the middle school level and performing arts in high school. For World Languages, basic standards of service means that our elementary students will be exposed to other languages, while middle and high school students will have programs designed to reach proficiency.
  • We went back to our baseline $668.8 million budget and scrubbed for funds to help with enhancing the educational environment and address supports for schools that have students who are still not at proficiency levels.
  • There is a deliberate endeavor to guide the entire district toward IB programs or programs of comparable levels of investment and rigor.
  • There is an effort to fund about $3 million in original enhancements to the educational environment the Board identified in January and February.

Throughout the budgeting process, we worked with a goal of improving quality, while increasing efficiency and addressing equity. To that end, you have seen and continue to see significant reductions in central office administration by about $6 million – yes, we did trim the fat downtown to now reflect in district financial reports general administration budget reductions from 6.7 percent to 3.2 percent – and we reduced school administration by $2.3 million while adding $14.1 million for school and cluster flexibility. Such flexibility and autonomy at the school level enables principals to develop staffing plans and invest resources in alignment with the District’s academic standards of service.

The good news is that the FY 2016 budget fully funds many of the priorities of the district. But there also remains a considerable number of unfunded priorities – improved services in regards to custodial and grounds work, pay parity, increases in the cost of living and fully funding the IB programs or programs of comparable levels of investment and rigor are a few. As we work to secure new revenue sources (for example, a tax neutral Pension Obligation Bond this fall) or secure revenue already due to us, the Board can consider those funding priorities during the school year or for the FY 2017.

Even after Board approval, APS will continue to fine-tune this budget as we finalize cluster programming needs, firm up staffing allocations, and develop more options for rethinking current resource allocations. The District will also continue to review and address support for students who remain below proficient in basic academics. As we near the start of FY16, any adjustments or modifications will be reflected in the final load of the budget in July.

Thanks again for all of the feedback that informed our budget! Congrats to all!


Guest Blogger Rebecca Kaye Explains Diploma Recovery in APS and the Importance of House Bill 91

Guest Blogger: Rebecca Kaye, APS Policy & Governance Advisor

I am very rarely brought to tears of joy by actions of the Georgia General Assembly and our Governor. However, this week, Governor Deal signed House Bill 91 (HB 91) which retroactively eliminates previously required state graduation tests which were in place for Georgia graduating classes beginning with the APS class of 1985. This bill will provide an estimated 9,000 Georgians with a diploma who have been making their way in the world without one.

Here in our office when co-workers do really great things to improve the lives of children, we celebrate them by telling the world about their actions and giving them “shine.”  I want to give some shine to our many dedicated employees who are proactively working to communicate the news about the new law and put together a list of impacted former APS students so we can get them their diplomas. The law requires only that we allow petitions, so it is inspiring to work with individuals who care so much that they want to go above and beyond to help our former students recover their diplomas.

As of this morning, we’ve already received a dozen applications on our website –

Our data aren’t always perfect… and the classes of students whose records only exist on paper and microfiche will present challenges, but we already have a list of 814 students who exited an APS high school with a “Certificate of Performance” in the recent past. That means those students completed all of their course requirements, but failed one or more portions of the state graduation test.  Our goal is to find those students and let them know, that as of this week, they are now high school graduates!

This announcement has allowed me to reflect quite a bit this week.  In my very first policy job over a decade ago at the Southern Regional Education Board, I worked on high school issues, wrote papers urging Southern states to transition to end-of-course assessments rather than comprehensive exit exams, and I worked with southern policy makers to transition to these standardized state final exams as a better policy choice—instead of forcing students to prepare for low-level tests on content they may not have studied in years, EOCTs help measure how well students grasped the material in the course. That information provides us with a wealth of information not just about student performance… it also helps us, as policy makers understand which teachers are exceptional instructors so we can identify and disseminate promising practices throughout the district.

I urge you to continue to visit Our APS team is considering ideas for a celebration for these newly minted graduates that includes a college and career fair to provide information about HOPE grants, our local open-enrollment colleges, military service, workforce development and career options. Their thinking was not just about getting diplomas to these former students, but also about what comes next to help them and their families.  We look forward to sharing future developments with you on our website.

To paraphrase Theodore Parker and, in turn, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  Congratulations to our newest APS graduates!


Let’s celebrate our reader leaders

Readers are leaders and April is the month we celebrate our district’s literacy leaders, our awesome APS Media Specialists!  I LOVE to read, I mean I really, really, really love reading and learning new things, so I’m excited to salute the very employees who foster that same love for the written word in our students.

Atlanta Public Schools is celebrating Library Month during the month of April as recognized by the American Association of School Librarians. National School Library Month is a time to honor school librarians and highlights the essential role strong school library programs play in transforming learning.

“Resource-rich school libraries and credentialed librarians play key roles in promoting both information literacy and reading,” says our APS Media Services Coordinator Warren Goetzel.

We have 84 media specialists in APS and Warren not only manages them, but also coordinates district wide media and literacy events such as the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, the Accelerated Reader program and the Georgia Student Media Festival. He believes that when school libraries are staffed by qualified professionals who are trained to collaborate with teachers and engage students meaningfully with information that matters in the real world, school libraries become sophisticated 21st-century learning environments that offer equal opportunities for achievement to all students.

“I am exceptionally proud of all the remarkable contributions APS media specialists make towards increasing student achievement, says Goetzel. “Our media specialists do a phenomenal job at making sure APS school media programs provide a diverse array of services and resources for the benefit of our students, teachers, and the entire learning community. “

Please join me in recognizing just a few of the many talented individuals from our Media Services Department who support APS, allowing the district to fulfill its mission to help every student graduate college and career ready.


Ms. Twana Cannon has always had a love for reading since she was a young girl growing up in the rural town of Inman, South Carolina. “I was actually a part of a Reading Bowl Team in the second grade,” she remembers.

Graduating from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, her initial intent was to become a high school English teacher. When she entered graduate school she decided to switch gears and study Library Science.  She completed her Masters in Library Science with a concentration in school media at Clark Atlanta University in 2000.  She has worked as a media clerk at Tri Cities High School and a Public Librarian and Branch Manager at Atlanta-Fulton County Library for 13 years.  She is now in her third year as an APS media specialist.

Ms. Cannon loves exposing children to the joy of reading and connecting her community to resources. “I love the freedom to create an environment that foster’s learning and achievement, said Cannon.

She feels that libraries are important, because they are heart and soul of a school and the community and provide access to information and the digital world.

Favorite Book: Children’s Book- Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.  Adult Book- Indigo by Beverly Jenkins.

Interesting Fact: I can pretty much name any tune from the 80’s if challenged to a game of “Name That Tune.”

Quote: “Once you learn to read you will be forever free” – Fredrick Douglass

Born and raised in LaGrange, Georgia, Ms. Kriste Stargell attended Clark Atlanta Ms  Stargell Media Specialist1 (2)University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Marketing.  She received her master’s degree in Business Education, her specialist degree in Instructional Technology and media training from the University of West Georgia.

Before becoming an elementary media specialist, Kristen taught high school Business Education for 10 years in APS. She has been with APS for a total of 15 years, five as a media specialist, and was voted as the 2014-2015 Teacher of The Year for Beecher Hills Elementary School.

What she loves most about her job is seeing how excited students are when checking out books. She is motivated by seeing children develop a love for reading like she did as a child. “I still have a love for reading as an adult and I want children to share in my love for books and reading,” said Stargell.

“Children can dream through books and find their passion through reading,” said Stargell.

Favorite Book:   “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt.

Interesting fact: I love to watch college football!  It is the best time of the year!

Quote: “ If you want your life to be more rewarding, you have to change the way you think.”- Oprah Winfrey

Originally from San Antonio Texas, Ms. Christine Tigue received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas State University and completed her graduate studies at Georgia State University. She has worked in education for 16 years.

tigueMs. Tigue started out as a third grade teacher at Indian Creek Elementary School in Clarkston, GA. Most of her students were refugees from war-stricken countries. We had students from Bosnia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Sudan, Somalia, and many more countries,” shared Tigue.

After two years of teaching third graders she has spent the last 14 years as a school media specialist at the high school and elementary levels. Her past schools include Henderson Mill Elementary, College Park Elementary, and Stone Mountain High School.

She is in her first year at APS as the media specialist for Hope-Hill Elementary.

Ms. Tigue says that what she loves most about her job is getting books in the hands of children and seeing them enjoy reading. She’s motivated by seeing students’ excitement over a book they’ve completed.

“Libraries are more than places that just house books,” said Tigue. “Libraries are a special place where students discover their best friends, exotic places, and can go on a great adventure.”

Favorite Book: That is like asking a mother who is her favorite child.  Some of my favorites are “Esperanza’s Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan, “Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch” by Eileen Spinelli, “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Siverstien, and “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak.

Interesting Fact: Most days I commute to work by bicycle.

Quote: “The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.” –Libba Bray

Be sure to join APS this week in honoring the important work of all of our school media specialists!



A New Era at E. Rivers Elementary



The newly rebuilt E. Rivers Elementary School is almost 100 years old! I was honored to participate in their ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning, my first ribbon cutting since arriving in the district – it was a historic moment that was not lost on me.

20150327_111407During the ceremony we heard from current students, alumni, staff, elected officials and closed with an awesome song by the E. Rivers chorus.  The lyrics of their song said “Tomorrow needs us, there is so much to do…”  That sense of urgency is what pushes our educators daily to build a strong district full of students who live up to our vision of being a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system. It is safe to say our vision is already being realized at E. Rivers.

RIVERScutt2015-047Students from North Atlanta High School also graced the stage with a beautifl performance.  There is so much talent in this cluster…in our entire district…and it was great to see it on display as we ushered in a new era for this thriving Elementary School.

One of APS’ oldest schools, E. Rivers was originally named Peachtree Heights and was built in 1917 on land donated by Atlanta developer Eretus Rivers. In honor of Mr. River’s service to the community and the Atlanta Board of Education, the school was renamed E. Rivers Elementary School in 1926.

Because of the school’s strong historic background, notable memorabilia, including a historic Georgia flag, was integrated into the new design.  Check out my photo with the flag below. A big thank you to our friends at Parrish Construction who worked with the architect firm Collins Cooper Carusi and our APS Operations team to preserve all of the original E. Rivers Elementary monuments, plaques, a memorial tree and the original E. Rivers Lion into the new school.20150327_111253(0)

Nearly double the size of the original building, the new building — which is actually located on the site of the original school—will now be home to almost 900 Kindergarten through 5th grade students. I know everyone is happy to be back in their new building, and we thank all of our parents and staff for their 18 months of patience and relocation as the building was rebuilt.

20150327_111513A special shout out to Principal Matt Rogers who has managed to not only grow but thrive in the midst of all of the transition while making the task look effortless.  I appreciate his leadership and love of education.


Welcome home E. Rivers!


Gold Crown, Quill and Scroll and Pacemaker Awards Equal Historic Year for the Grady High School Journalism Department

I am so proud of the up and coming journalists at Grady High School. The school’s newspaper, The Southerner, has received the 2015 Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Gold Crown Award!  As the former editor of my high school’s newspaper and former photo journalist for an international publication, my love of reporting runs deep,  and I can truly appreciate the consistent hard work that has gone into this publication and this program for almost 70 years.

Headed by David Winter, Journalism Instructor at Grady High, The Southerner has been published without interruption since 1947.  The Awards Convocation for Scholastic Crown recipients took place at the 91st Scholastic Convention Friday, March 20, 2015 at Columbia University in New York.

With over a thousand publications submitted, The Southerner was selected as one of 20 recipients to receive the award in the “hybrid” category.  Extremely proud of his students that produced the work recognized, Mr. Winter says that they don’t set out to win awards. They simply set out to practice journalism as professionally as they can and that the awards just validate that they’ve succeeded in that effort.
Grady Maddie-2

Mr. Winter says their recipe for having an award winning program is giving students the freedom and discretion to be real journalists. “As long as I have been at Grady, the faculty and the administration have trusted the students and the publications with press freedom,” says Winters.

Written and edited by Grady students, The Southerner has made a positive impact on the lives of past and present APS students. Allison Rapoport, co-news editor from the class of 2014 said that being the news editor and on the staff of the Southerner was probably the single most impactful part of her high school experience. “The paper not only improved my writing and confidence as writer, but it also inspired an interest in current events and expanded my world view, all of which are important in life after high school,” explained Allison.
Grady High School senior Mary Claire Morris, co-managing editor and 2015 Georgia Scholastic Press Association Champion Journalist, says that it is great to be a part of a paper that has achieved so much. She says that it says a lot about the kids at Grady, but even more about the teachers and faculty who support them. “They push and encourage us to take on the important issues, increase our coverage and improve our writing,” said Mary Claire.
Grady journalism students in Selma
Mr. Winter says that being a part of the Southerner staff gives the students an opportunity to learn about the power of the press to educate, lead communities and to call attention to problems that need to be addressed. “Even if they never work in journalism beyond their high school experience, they learn the value of teamwork and of the necessity of collaborating with others in order to produce something that requires trust, interdependence and shared responsibility,” said Winters.
The Southerner has earned many individual journalism and publications awards over the years and now publish an online and traditional version of the newspaper.
This group of talented students also received the National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker Award and the Quill and Scroll Gallup Award for the 2013-2014 publication, making it the first time in history that they’ve received three national press awards in the same publication year!
I had the opportunity to witness some of the reporters in action during our recent trip to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.  Check out some photos below taken by and of the journalists during the weekend.
Congrats again and keep up the good work!
For more information about the Southerner visit

‘Shout Out’ to our great students, teachers and schools

There are a lot of GREAT things happening in our district. Each month I give “shout outs” to students, staff and volunteers who are helping us with our mission to have every APS student graduate ready for college and career.  There is SO MUCH good happening in APS, this may become a weekly blog post!

Let’s give a shout out to:

Rivers Elementary School for rallying more than 100 student walkers and their families, including dogs and strollers, for Georgia Walk to School Day. Some families walked three miles one way! What a great way to inspire community and fitness!

-West End Acadeym B  Devalle

Brijida Del’valle of West End Academy! She was chosen by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and the Center for Civil and Human Rights for the center’s first Youth Activism Fellowship. This fellowship gives metro-Atlanta teenagers the opportunity to explore the intersection of culture, community, and human rights with a particular emphasis on human rights leadership.  Students are chosen based on their leadership qualities. Way to lead Brijida!


Aleigha Henderson-Rosser executive director, Information Services and her Atlanta Virtual Academy team for offering our APS high school students free test preparation services as they prepare for college entrance exams.


North Atlanta High School for excelling in leadership, arts and athletics!


The North Atlanta High School JROTC Leadership Team placed first out of 521 teams in the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl Level II competition and have advanced to level III.   They were one of 40 leadership teams chosen to advance to Washington, DC for the Level III National Leadership Bowl, June 26-30, 2015.


The North Atlanta High School Concert, Symphonic and Philharmonic Orchestras each received Straight Superior Ratings at the Georgia Music Educators Association’s Large Group Performance Evaluation.

North Atlanta’s swim team finished 7th overall in the state!

Keep up the good work NAHS!

West Manor Elementary 5th grade student Kendall Smith. Kendall has been named a Ben Carson Scholar and will receive a $1,000 scholarship. This is the second year in a row that West Manor has produced a Carson Scholar. Congratulations Kendell!


Beecher Hills Elementary for fostering an atmosphere of parent engagement. The school’s PTA President, Antwan McKee received the 2015 Georgia Parent Leadership award. How awesome is that?

Early College pre-engineering student, Taylor Dalton of Maynard Jackson High School. She received a cash award from Mr. Rod Batiste of Fast Track Atlanta for her group’s t-shirt design in the Small Business Project contest. Taylor was the Chief Operating Officer for her group. The Maynard Jackson-NASP FAST Track Program is a nine-month program that allows students to explore different careers, learn about starting a business and prepares the student to be successful in all of their endeavours!  Congrats Taylor!

APS students that placed in the High School Innovation Weekend 2015 challenge. Senior executives from Coca-Cola invited students to create solutions to address the challenge of inspiring the next generation of teens to connect and engage, with Coca- Cola in mind. The students were split into teams with students from different high schools.  APS students whose team placed first in the challenge were Tyrhonda Stinson and Rakim Woods of Maynard Jackson High School.  APS students whose team placed second were Dominique Pope, Juaqueair Johnson and DeAndre Green of Maynard Jackson High School and Brandon Sykes of Drew Charter School. Great Job!


The Mays girls basketball team for winning their region championship and making it all the way to the State Championship game for the first time since 2003! Awesome job ladies. What a great way to represent your school and community.

Way to go APS! Keep up the great work!

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!