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.

I can actually begin 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 blessings of the Board and of our community to go forward.

$2.7 Million awarded to APS schools!


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!

 Grant Award
Atlanta Public Schools Early Learning
Boyd Elementary School
Fain Elementary School
Grove Park Intermediate School
Perkerson Elementary School
Slater Elementary School
Thomasville Heights Elementary School
Usher Elementary School
Harper-Archer Middle School
Frederick Douglass High School
School of Health Sciences and Research at Carver

Monday was a humbling and inspiring day

As Black History Month comes to a close this week, I have pondered many things about the contributions of African Americans to our country over the centuries, particularly from the brave men and women who contributed to the struggle during the Civil Rights movement. And I realized that we have fewer and fewer of our Civil Rights heroes among us.

On Monday, we had the spirit of two of them in Atlanta Public Schools.

Lowery_DrC_MitchellThe Rev. Joseph Lowery, who has a lecture on civil engagement that bears his name at D.M. Therrell High School, and Barbara Cross, who is the daughter of a former pastor of Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham and was in the church when it was bombed in 1963.

At 93, Rev. Lowery was unable to attend the lecture himself that day. But his daughter, Cheryl, stood in his place and brought the same contagious optimism her father became famous for when he walked with King, Abernathy and Lewis all those years ago. I was pleased that hundreds of our own students are getting to learn about the contributions of the Rev. Lowery and others.


I was honored to join in with some of our board members, including APS Board Chair Courtney English, to help kick off the lecture, which was provided by Atlanta City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell offered inspiring words about leadership and gave pointed advice directly to the students on how they can start engaging in their communities now to be our teachers, principals, school superintendents and council presidents of the future.


Our students also represented themselves well with Amadou Bah of B.E.S.T. Academy High School, Gilbert Young of Henry W. Grady High School, Danielle Bell of South Atlanta High School of Health and Medical Services, and Donavan Harris and Keiyitho Omonuwa of Therrell bringing their own remarks to the occasion. Ziana Townsend of Therrell offered rousing renditions of the National Anthem and Lowery_singer“The Greatest Love of All” to complete the morning and make the 14th Annual Lowery Lecture for Civil Engagement one that all of us will remember for years to come.

Before heading over to the elementary school, the Lowerys invited me to visit Rev. Lowery at his home – just a few blocks from the high school. He’s still a firecracker with wit, charm and a passion about all issues. In that short time, it was like taking a college course on leadership, civil rights and citizenship all in one! Many thanks to the Lowery family for allowing me the time to learn and love with one of our country’s greatest Americans.

Afterwards, I visited D.H. Stanton Elementary School, where Mrs. Cross related the compelling story of her family’s move to Birmingham so her father could take over as pastor of Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church.  Mrs. Cross told our students about the horrific event on Sept. 15, 1963, when their church was bombed and four little girls lost their lives.

What’s more, Barbara Cross was inside the church at the very moment when it blew up. And it was powerful for our students to hear history directly from someone who was there.

It was a privilege for many of our students to participate in events today that put them in touch with history.

And it inspired me as well.



Atlanta Neighborhood Charter named 2015 Charter School of the Year


Congratulations to Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School for being named the Georgia Charter Schools Association 2015 Charter School of the Year.

The award honors excellence in Georgia’s growing charter school community and is given to a school that “demonstrates academic excellence, strong governance, operational sustainability, and sound fiscal practices.” Along with being named charter school of the year, ANCS will also receive a $50,000 grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation. How awesome is that?

Atlanta Neighborhood Charter is a K-8 school with two campuses formed by the merger of two successful charter schools — Neighborhood Charter School (NCS) which opened in 2001 and serves K-5 students; and Atlanta Charter Middle School (ACMS) which opened in 2005 and serves 6th-8th grade students.

The merger of the two schools establishes a great framework for them to share resources and pursue a common goal. That goal is to provide an innovative small school alternative choice within Atlanta Public Schools that actively involves the diverse families of southeast Atlanta neighborhoods. Learn more at: http://www.gacharters.org/press-releases/atlanta-neighborhood-charter-school-is-gcsas-2015-school-of-the-year/#sthash.KbX7NPLw.dpuf

Way to go ANCS! Keep up the great work!

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

There are a lot of GREAT things happening in our district. Each month I will 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.

Let’s give a shout out to:

The 107 students at North Atlanta High School who earned Microsoft Office Specialist Certifications. Thirty-six students earned two or more certifications and Aliaksandra Khrypkova earned three certifications ­ Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  These are fantastic skills that will help ensure you are college and career ready. Congratulations!

The Maynard Jackson Lady Jaguar Track team for receiving $4,000 worth of free track and field shoes through a partnership with Big Peach running company.  What a great gift for these dynamic scholar-athletes.

South Atlanta High School for being one of 11 sites chosen nationwide to host an hour of code workshop. Media specialist Shanna Miles spearheaded the partnership with Best Buy as a part of Teen Tech Week. What a great way to introduce students to careers in STEM!

Grady High School principal Tim Guiney for being recognized as a 2015 AP Honor School by the Georgia Department of Education.


Grady High School Principal Tim Guiney

The recognition is based on the results of its 2014 AP course enrollment and exams taken. Grady was recognized in the following categories:

  • AP Merit School
  • AP Humanities School
  • AP STEM School
  • AP STEM Achievement School
South Atlanta High School Region 4AAA Champions

South Atlanta High School Region 4AAA Champions

The following high school basketball teams who have won their region championship games: North Atlanta Boys- Region 7AAAAA Champions, South Atlanta Boys- Region 4AAA Champions and Mays Girls-Region 6AAAAA Champions.

Good luck to South Atlanta Boys and Mays Girls as they advance to the Elite 8 of the state playoffs.

Way to go APS! Keep up the great work!

Winter Weather Descends upon APS

As snow flurries fall outside my window, I want to take a moment to remind you of our inclement weather practices as well as our notification procedures. Remember: amid the threat of inclement weather, our No. 1 concern is the safety of our students and our staff.

When severe weather threatens Atlanta, we diligently update our website and keep every school principal notified. Whenever you feel the need to contact APS about weather issues, please call your school first. I make certain all principals are updated in real time about our inclement weather decisions, so they will always have the information.

In addition, I encourage you to log in to the campus portal for parents, update your preferences for emergency notifications, which include robo-calls, text messages and    e-mails at http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/CPP.

I first addressed our weather procedures back in November in the blog when severe wintry weather was not as likely and provided a detailed explanation of the decision process about when to close school operations when the weather conditions forbid a safe school day. You can review that post here.

In general, we maintain a vigilant watch on weather conditions, particularly through the harshest parts of winter. I have a Core Weather Team (comprised of representatives from APS Operations, Transportation, Safety & Security, Facilities Services, Communications, Curriculum and Instruction, Nutrition and Information Technology departments) which monitors reports from such groups as Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management, Georgia Emergency Management, and the National Weather Service.

In a live conference call, we assess the weather information and emergency plans driven by Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management Office, the National Weather Service and others. In these conference calls, the team relies heavily on National Weather Service input. Before I make a final decision, I also communicate with area superintendents.

We notify parents, caregivers and staff as soon as we make a decision based on weather conditions with the intent of providing such notifications at a time that enables you to take care of your children and families safely and expediently.

We understand our school community’s concerns during these moments, and we always do our best to communicate these latest developments with you.

Stay warm!