Benjamin E. Mays Raiders brings GHSA state quarterfinal football contest to Lakewood Stadium

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Coach Jarvis and players from the Mays Raiders football team at the 2014 APS Media Day event.

Congratulations are in order AGAIN for our Benjamin E. Mays Raiders football team! They pulled off a spectacular upset last Friday with a 21-18 victory over the number one ranked Ware County Gators in Waycross, Ga.

The Raiders now advance to the Georgia High School Association state quarterfinals for the first time in school history and host the Jones County Greyhounds at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 28 at Lakewood Stadium. This is the first time in four years that APS has hosted a quarterfinal football contest. The Grady Knights were the last to accomplish this in 2010.

Come show your Raider and APS pride! Tickets to the game this Friday are $12.

Congratulations to Coach Jarvis and his football team. The entire district is cheering for you and supporting our students this weekend as they compete to advance to the semi-finals of the GHSA state playoffs.

 

Watch Now: Inside look of APS construction projects

Facilities matter, and I’m a big believer in creating dynamic, open and creative learning spaces which foster great teaching and learning.  APS continues to work to ensure that all students have an enriched learning experience. Often that begins with a working space that can comfortably accommodate our growing student population.

I would like to share with you an update on the current construction and renovation projects in progress across the district.

We currently have four active construction projects in the works— E. Rivers Elementary, Bunche Middle School, Sylvan Hills Middle School and Mary Lin Elementary.

Watch this video to hear from builders at three of the current construction sites.  This is such a great first-hand look inside the building and designing of our schools.

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APS Prepares for Winter Weather

Colder temperatures have arrived, and I want to share, as the new superintendent, how the district goes about our decision process for weather-related school delays and closings.

I know how frustrating and scary it can be not knowing if bad weather will impact you and your family, especially when our littlest ones are on buses or walking home while you are at work or trying to get home yourself. Having studied, lived and worked in cities and states with snow and ice such as Cambridge, Mass. (always cold and snowy), Washington, DC (sometimes cold and snowy), Saint Paul, Minnesota (absolutely freezing, snowy and icy) and Austin, Texas (icy);  I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would know about bad weather and its impact on schools. I know what it takes to ensure the school system is doing all it can to keep our staff and students safe and our families informed, but I do not control “Mother Nature” so we will do what we can to get closure and delay decisions as accurate as possible. Therefore, when we have one of those days, I want you to know in advance how APS will notify the school community in a timely manner so that you can plan accordingly.

Before severe weather is even predicted, I analyze with our operations and human resources team as much as I can about the housing, living and travel patterns of our staff, especially the support staff who we depend on to pick up our students on school buses, safely get them across the street as crossing guards and to prepare meals at breakfast and lunch in food service, and do much more. Many of our staff live outside of the city, and it becomes important that we know how that would affect our operations during the day if they were not in attendance. Sometimes weather in another community can impact our school district by default. These are all small but important details that go into my decision-making.

So, when severe weather is predicted for our area, the next step begins where we prepare immediately by monitoring the weather and holding conversations throughout the day and, if necessary, throughout the night and early morning hours with Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management, Georgia Emergency Management, National Weather Service, and our newest partner Delta Air Lines, to help us make the best decisions for our students’ safety.

We then launch our severe Core Weather Team, which includes representatives from APS Operations, Transportation, Safety & Security, Facilities Services, Communications, Curriculum and Instruction, Nutrition and Information Technology departments. We enter into a live conference call to assess the weather information we are receiving as well emergency plans driven by the city of Atlanta’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office, Fulton County Emergency Management, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and others.  In these conference calls, we rely heavily on information provided by the National Weather Service and local meteorologists to provide the best and most reliable information. The meteorologists often want to wait as late as possible, when better data allows for more accurate forecasts and precise solutions. Sometimes, this wait can conflict with the district’s need to notify families early as possible.

Once we make a decision about school operations during bad weather, we will begin notifying parents and caregivers as soon as possible.

Here is a sample of key decision times mapped out throughout the day so you can understand where key decision points will be made.

Should we need to close our schools early due to inclement weather forecasted for the same day after school has already started, the Core Weather Team will convene as early in the school day as possible, likely around 9:30 a.m. to make a recommendation. You would, in this case, begin receiving notice of our decision by 10:30 a.m. that day from the district’s communications channels, including the local news media. If inclement weather is expected the next day, our team will begin the conversations and close monitoring on whether to delay or close schools.

We will aim to give you as much lead notice so you can put plans in place for your children should we have to cancel classes or afternoon activities early or if schools have to close for a full day or more. We will communicate our decisions in time for local newscasts (4a.m., noon, 4p.m., 5p.m. 6p.m. 10p.m. or 11p.m.). However, you don’t have to wait for news broadcasts. We will communicate with families via robo calls, texts and emails, the district website, social media, and local news outlets when there is a change in our normal school routine. Please note too, we will not contact you if we are not changing our school schedule.

I will remain in constant contact with principals and assistant principals as the district makes decisions about school closings and delays, and again, we will contact families beginning at 5:00 a.m. on that day, if the district needs to delay or cancel school.  I have reviewed the district’s lessons learned from Winter Storm Leon which will help us address issues faced by students and staff last winter.  As I speak with district leaders, I continue to determine what worked well during previous bouts of inclement weather, what did not and changes needed to move forward.

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.

We understand our school community’s desire for timely information, and we do our very best to balance this desire with the need for coordinated community-wide emergency planning in these situations.

In the end, the superintendent does make the final call as to whether schools close for inclement weather. However, it is important that the district coordinates with outside agencies so that these decisions are not made in a vacuum.

My 100th blog post – Hooray for learning!

There are at least a hundred reasons to get excited about the great things happening in APS. What is the best way for me to celebrate my 100th blog posting? By celebrating our students of course!

Take a look at a few awesome highlights from around the district.

Two North Atlanta video broadcast students, Jada Jackson and Joy Longely spent today on the set of the daytime show, Atlanta & Co. with television hosts Rashan Ali and Christine Pullara. They were able to go behind the scenes and were encouraged to dream big, network and give back. These students were chosen to cover APS football games as a part of a mentorship program with Atlanta Football Insider.

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Photo from Thomasville Heights Twitter feed

 

It is important to keep our kids physically active on a daily basis. Check out this group of Thomasville Heights students exercising in Coach Rambo’s physical education class. Way to keep our kids moving!

Photo from Perkerson Elementary's Facebook page

Photo from Perkerson Elementary’s Facebook page

Perkerson scholars learn about conservation and protecting the environment as they work with Trees Atlanta to plant 50 trees, including the ceremonial tree at their school. Their efforts help to launch TOTO USA’s Urban Greenways project.  The initiative is to improve children’s well-being by planting 250 trees on the streets that lead to schools. Way to keep our communities beautiful!

Photo from Mr. Foster's Twitter feed

Photo from Mr. Foster’s Twitter feed

Technology department chair Terry Foster and students at Carver School of Technology work to refine their programming skills using EV3 Robots in the GAETT (Geniuses Achieving Excellence through Technology) after-school program. Mr. Foster along with Instructional Coach Christina Rogers were able to implement this program from the Google Rise Award they received earlier this year. Thank you Google for supporting our schools!

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Photo from Kipp Strive Primary Facebook page

The Kipp Strive Primary flag football team did an amazing job this year. They finished the season undefeated and took home the first place trophy. Their Facebook post says “ ‘Like’ this post for the hardest working scholar athletes in Atlanta.” Way to work hard KSP!

Photo from Inman Middle School Twitter feed

Photo from Inman Middle School Twitter feed

Seventh graders in Ms. Vaughn’s science class at Inman Middle School get creative with their project about the human body. The students were learning how the different parts of the body work together to keep the body at homeostasis. Look at that great work!

My day with the KiPPsters of KIPP Strive Primary

IMG_1107KIPP Strive Primary was my first stop during school visits this past Friday.  I visited the adjacent middle school, KIPP Strive Academy recently to give out AFAEE awards, but this was my first time on the primary side of the building.

From the moment you walk into their beautiful  Beltline adjacent facility, you are greeted with tons of natural light and an amazing mural
IMG_1089painted by a local artist.  I could hear the 2nd grade choir singing on the second floor and man, did they sound great.  Their choral director had them singing a variety of songs and they seemed to really enjoy themselves.  Founding principal Ms.Shaheed showed me her K-2nd grade classes.  The school will add on a grade each year until they reach fourth grade.

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In Ms. McCuane’s kinder class, students were learning about the parts of a book and reading Ezra Jack Keats’ “Snowy Day.”  Down the hall in Ms. Dec and Ms. Williams’ classes, they were learning about story sequence.

First graders, or the class of 2030 as they are known around the school, were studying subject verb agreement in Mr. Fairbanks’ class.

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I love that the staff visits every new scholar at his/her home prior to the start of the school year.  Principal Shaheed, says it gives her a great opportunity to access the student’s personality and academic abilities.  Approximately 80 to 85 percent of students who attend KIPP Strive attend a local pre-k.

Thanks for the warm welcome KIPPsters!

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Psychology Awareness Week

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By now, you know that I truly believe that the social and emotional learning of students is equally as important as their academic success.  This week we celebrate School Psychology Awareness Week in our district and we are featuring conversations with several school psychologists on our Talk Up APS blog.

The article features several of our hard working school psychologists, including school psychologist David Hosking who explains how school psychology is a hybrid of many different disciplines: clinical, educational, counseling. He says there isn’t a single thing that isn’t happening in the community that doesn’t touch schools.

I encourage you to take a moment this week to acknowledge your school’s psychologist and thank them for their dedication.  The National Association of School Psychologists’ theme this year is, “Strive. Grow. THRIVE!” and I look forward to doing all three here in APS.

My Visit with the Beecher Bees

I spent time Friday at Beecher Hills Elementary School, an IB Primary Years Programme neighborhood school with 360 students in grades PK-5 that feeds into J.C. Young Middle School and Mays High School.  The school has a great sense of community. It sits on the Atlanta Beltline and the staff likes to walk on the path together to IMG_1157stay fit.  Principal Crystal Jones, who also grew up and attended school in the Mays cluster, and has served Beecher as a teacher and administrator, led my tour.  IMG_1230

 

 

 

My first classroom stop was to see Kristie Stargell, the school’s Teacher of the Year and its media specialist.  The Beecher Hills library received a makeover in 2009 from our friends at Heart of America and Target and it still looks really sharp! IMG_1220

Over in Ms. Brown’s first grade class, students were learning about senses and descriptive language.  In Ms. Fowler’s class they were on their feet, experiencing a hands on wind energy lesson in science.  I sat in on the 3rd grade team IB planning period with teachers. The IB model requires additional, rigorous classroom certification by teachers and Beecher Hills received its certification in 2011.   IMG_1217

Principal Jones expressed a strong desire to seek IB certification for the entire cluster.  Currently, students who receive instruction under the IB model at both Beecher Hills and Deerwood elementary schools (Therrell High School cluster) have no IB continuum at their cluster middle or high schools.  We also talked about how the district’s new charter model requires aggressive parent involvement at all levels, a trait also found in the IB model.  I’ll be looking into the whether there is an appetite by parents in both of these clusters for this certification.

IMG_1239On my way out of the building, I noticed a colorful bulletin board created by the school’s PTA.  The theme, “Have a ball with the PTA,” was supported by cute gumball machines containing one gumball for each parent in each classroom who joined the PTA.  I love it!  It’s the most creative display of parental involvement I’ve seen on my school tours.  Keep up the great work Beecher Hills; this is a dynamic small neighborhood school with really big ideas.

 

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