Taking Further Steps in School Event Security


Over the last two school years, I have already seen more shooting incidents around our Atlanta school community involving children than the rest of my other two superintendency tenures combined. It’s so disheartening but it also means we have to be more proactive to protect our students, parents and staff.

As a school district, we responded last year with the “APS United We Play” education campaign, an enhanced game management for sporting events at both Grady and Lakewood stadiums. This campaign, which continues through this football season, was designed to improve safety as well as game day experiences for the participants and the fans.

Another shooting incident this past weekend in a school parking lot while innocent athletes, band students and parents were trying to make their way home after a game raised enough concern for the board and me that we are increasing our safety and security measures for the rest of the season.

Throughout the district, our kids and families should never worry about being safe at school or at a school-sponsored event … during the school day or at any time. Further, our children shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder when they are in their communities.

I cannot express enough my gratitude to the staff and parents who rallied around the kids at Mays to ensure that they were protected and safe. But these incidents show that we must be a school district that stretches harder to be leaders who will protect its children. Because of the world we live in, we must take even more precautions.

We only have so much in resources, so we have created a real-time, stop-gap approach for more security until we complete budgeting for Fiscal Year 2018. These are our additional steps:

  1. We will assign security to our teams and bands to and from games both at our own stadiums and outside of the district for away games.
  2. We will provide security coverage at school parking lots for when the teams and bands return. The officers will remain until everyone has left the property safely.
  3. We will provide coverage for parents and caregivers waiting for their children at the school parking lots.

We will find a way to manage the costs of the additional security to support the real-time adjustments necessary to cover the costs.

There are many community ills that extend beyond our school properties and spill onto our schools. As such, we could, indeed, work to prevent these incidents through proactive efforts. We may have the opportunity to be so when we have our budget conversations on unfunded components of transformation.

It’s something we must consider, and I look forward to identifying ways to ensure stronger safety and security investments as we prepare for FY18.




Today (and Every Day), We Are #YellowTogether!

Today is Georgia School Bus Driver Appreciation Day, and we should all extend our deepest gratitude to our bus drivers for their commitment to our students during school and during their many after-school activities.

They aren’t just bus drivers. They are educators on wheels!busdayweek

After parents and care-givers, they are often the first adults our students see during a school day. As part of changing to a child-centered culture and our work in social emotional learning, our bus drivers have learned how they can set a positive tone for students’ education every day.

While their first priority is to drive the bus, each of our drivers strives to be another caring, trusting adult in our students’ school life with a genuine and vested interest in their education and success. They know their students’ names. They ask them about their day. And they are learning other ways to ensure they make a positive impact on students.

So please make the time to thank a bus driver! #YellowTogether

This week – Oct. 17 through 21 – is also National School Bus Safety Week, but we should be promoting bus safety all year long. Nothing is more important than safety any time we transport students to and from school or provide transportation for field trips, for school events or for athletic competitions.


In Atlanta Public Schools, we are #YellowTogether!

Students are about 50 times more likely to arrive at school safely if they take the bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends.

This school year, Atlanta Public Schools has worked to do an even better job of getting our students to and from school safely and on time. Our Transportation Department has made significant improvements in on-time arrivals, which is not only due to our bus drivers but to the wonderful employees working in the brand new Transportation Call Center.

Bus safety is also about everyone else on the road respecting our school buses and drivers. So think about our children whenever you drive on Atlanta’s roads. We all need to drive slower and safer, especially when we are near the vehicles carrying our most precious cargo. Let’s all be mindful and respectful of our drivers every single day, not just during National School Bus Safety Week.

Our Atlanta Board of Education deserves a big thank you for giving us a real-time, $3 million investment so that we can have the safest buses on the road.  We have more new buses, a reorganized fleet and more Automotive Service Excellence-certified mechanics to maintain our fleet, ensuring the consistent, reliable operation of our buses.

So for APS, both Georgia School Bus Appreciation Day and National School Bus Safety Week go beyond transportation. It’s yet another child-focused effort to help prepare our children to graduate on time and ready for college and career.

Hat’s off to our wonderful and caring bus drivers! #YellowTogether



America’s Urban School Superintendents Call for National #SELectLOVE Movement

On October 14, 1964, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  On that historic occasion, the Nobel Committee praised him for being ‘‘the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” For Dr. King, nonviolence was at the heart of the movement to challenge the government to correct centuries of racism and injustice resulting in a civil rights bill.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receives Nobel Peace Prize from Gunhar Jahn, president of the Nobel Committee

Today, the struggle continues and in the same spirit as Dr. King, we, representatives of America’s school superintendents, call for a new nonviolent movement to persuade our nation’s leaders to prioritize the social and emotional development of students, especially in our urban centers, to end violence and create a safer, kinder world for us all.

We refuse to accept that students cannot reach their full potential when we know all students can be taught the skills, like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, to reach their hopes and dreams.  When we arm them with these skills, we hope to ensure all students become knowledgeable, responsible, caring and contributing members of society. Once empowered with a toolbox that will help them cope with the volatility of the world, the next generation will be able to seize the opportunities inherent in it. Therefore, we need the leaders of this great country to empower schools and communities to be places that motivate students to discover and pursue their dreams for the future and above all #SELectLOVE.

We refuse to accept a new “civil rights” revolution focused on policy alone but instead call for an educational movement in public school districts across the country focused on reshaping school culture that will bring about long-lasting positive change. Coming from dozens of cities around the nation and representing almost two million children, we have begun to reshape the practice of teaching and learning in our districts to integrate the most powerful principles of social and emotional development with the traditional focus on academic learning to create schools that inspire children from the inside out.

As Collaborating Districts Initiative superintendents and partner superintendents with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), we refuse to accept the status quo and demand a national imperative to do things differently.

We need leaders at the top to support our work in a bold way.

We need a Presidential Executive Order to harness the power of the federal government and begin to channel a coordinated and comprehensive effort to support schools.

We need more powerful partnerships with business leaders who see the need for intrapersonal and interpersonal skills as the key to workforce development.

We need a national conversation that captures the creativity and unique experiences of our youth.


Dr. King delivers his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on Dec. 10, 1964, in Oslo, Norway.

We need a national effort to bring to life what Aristotle understood thousands of years ago when he said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

We, the country’s urban school superintendents on the front lines of both possibility and despair, refuse to accept violence in urban centers and schools any longer, and call for our nation to unite to create educational mandates for peace just as Dr. King did 50 years ago.

Students in our schools are in dire need of support in developing critical life skills. While we are providing that support, we cannot do it alone and we need help. The science shows that social, emotional and academic learning together produce results. Economists have shown us that this approach is cost effective.  Teachers overwhelmingly endorse it. Kids respond to it.

The urgency for this movement reached a peak decades ago.  The time for action to create a better future for our children is now.

It is time to unite around a powerful new vision of what it means to teach and learn. It is time that every child benefits from the lasting impact of social and emotional learning. It is time to call our nation to action to create a powerful new paradigm that will help transform our schools.

We saw a good start with the recent launch of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development by the Aspen Institute. This commission will identify specific action steps in research, practice, and policy and includes prominent leaders from education, science, government and the private sector serving on the Commission. The diverse group includes two sitting Governors, a Google executive, a university chancellor and a retired four-star Air Force general.

The next step is to get everyone on board. Go to www.CASEL.org today, and join the movement with us and the many thousands around the country championing the work of SEL.

In accepting his Nobel Prize on December 10, 1964, Dr. King said in his remarks, “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

We choose to #SELectLove.

Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools

Mr. José Banda, Superintendent, Sacramento City Unified School District

Mr. Juan Cabrera, JD, Superintendent, El Paso Independent School District

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Dr. Paul Cruz, Superintendent, Austin Independent School District

Ms. Traci Davis, Superintendent, Washoe County School District

Mr. Eric Gordon, CEO, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Deena Paramo, Superintendent, Anchorage School District

Mr. Antwan Wilson, Superintendent, Oakland Unified School District


APyeS! Applauding our 2016-2017 Teachers of the Year Finalists


I love our schools – especially the classrooms – and the best part of my job is when I get to do my work in our schools with our beautiful students and brilliant teachers.

Every week, I have the pleasure of watching teachers as they work intensively with students to examine chapters of fascinating history, conduct science experiments, simplify complex mathematical concepts and immerse students in foreign languages. Then I meet them again after school as they supervise band rehearsals, direct theater productions and coach athletic practices.

I often call our teachers “superheroes” because they have the power to nurture original thinkers and create life-long learners. As educators, teachers can completely change the trajectory of a child’s life with knowledge. What they do is truly ‘heart’ work, as much as it is hard work and year after year, they return to our classrooms and pour into our students with compassion and energy.


Shh! We’re surprising a Teacher of the Year!

Today was an especially wonderful day because I had the pleasure of surprising our best of the best – our elementary, middle and high school Teachers of the Year – during special announcements at three schools.

As finalists, they will compete for District-wide Teacher of the Year. The finalists will be recognized during the APyeS! Awards ceremony at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Rich Theatre, Woodruff Arts Center, located at 1280 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta 30309.

The 2016-2017 District-wide Teacher of the Year finalists are:

APS Elementary School Teacher of the Year – Jennifer Kraften of Toomer Elementary

toty-elemJennifer Kraften is a 15-year veteran gifted and talented teacher at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School. Kraften focuses on gifted education, and boosting programs for all high academic achievers in her school through grade-level collaboration, technology leadership, academic and service clubs, and engaging classroom activities.


APS Middle School Teacher of the Year – John Wingate of King Middle School

toty-middleAfter 26 years in the field of transportation and distribution with C.R. Bard and UPS, John Wingate began his teaching career in May 2013 after joining Teach For America. At M.L. King Middle School, Wingate is a special education teacher and case manager who teaches students of high incidence disabilities in all content areas and grade levels in consultative, collaboration co-taught and resource room settings.


APS High School Teacher of the Year – Jerry Kosoff of KIPP Atlanta Collegiate

ttoy-highschoolJerry Kosoff, an algebra teacher and math department chair at K.I.P.P. Atlanta Collegiate, is in his fourth year of teaching at APS. Kosoff began his career at Carver School of Health Sciences and Research, where he taught Math IV and helped seniors prepare for the Georgia Graduation Test (GGT).




2016 Georgia Counselor of the Year – Alexandra Huguelet of Mary Lin Elementary

And if that wasn’t enough great news this week, Alexandra Huguelet, counselor at Mary Lin Elementary School, has been named 2016 Georgia School Counselor of the Year by the Georgia School Counselors Association.ttoy-counselor

Known for her positive attitude, love of children, and commitment to improving school climate and culture, Huguelet was nominated for the award by former colleagues. Her selection was based on essays, a video submission, and data from her previous elementary school showing a 47 percent decrease in student discipline referrals. Through her work as a school counselor, Huguelet serves as an advocate who strives to remove academic, social, and emotional barriers to student success.  She will be honored during a special ceremony on Nov. 2 in Macon, Georgia.

Operation Rochambeau: The #StateofAPS, a District in Transformation

Excellence in everything we do, come along/
We’re changing the focus from what’s wrong to what’s strong/
Equity – we gotta remedy the past/
Remove barriers so our new future comes fast/
Ethics – our integrity is rebuilding/
From the top down for the sake of our children/
Engagement, connecting with our community/
To build trust with everybody & create unity/

image1This morning, hundreds of us gathered in the amphitheater at King Middle School for what was indeed an extravaganza of student excellence — a State of the District that highlighted the talents of more than 100 students from more than a dozen schools across our district.

Inspired by the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, our hour-long program of videos, raps, and dances was indeed a significant evolution from years past. The focus, as it should be, was squarely on our beautiful students as they showcased their amazing talents. We presented the State of the District using the same hip-hop stylings of the play and the innovative learning method of “Flocabulary” as a way to demonstrate how learning can be more relevant and engaging for our kids … and willing adults!image2

The event was also an opportunity for me to provide an update to our community on the State of Our District:

“After two years of analysis, triage, planning and a lot of hard work phasing in components of our strategic plan, we are now in full-scale implementation of our transformational framework. While the organization is stronger structurally, academic performance is mixed. The Atlanta community must do more if we are going to fully transform of Atlanta Public Schools.”

As I look back at the year since our last State of the District, I am struck by just how much we’ve undertaken as a system: Full conversion to our new charter system operating model and the creation of GO Teams at every school; embracing signature programming as a way to instructionally align all schools in a given cluster; beginning the implementation of our Turnaround Strategy, rolling out social-emotional learning across the district, the renewal of E-SPLOST last May, and the creation of our new APS Police Department this summer.

These bold and ambitious initiatives are beginning to show real results. Earlier this year, we reported the average ACT scores for APS students increased in every subject area while our students also saw a 37-point increase in average SAT scores.

But that’s not all:

Now let’s talk graduation rates/
Last year, APS had a cause to celebrate/
With a recent high of 71.5/
Percent of students who threw their graduation cap in the sky/
There’s more work to be done, we all know that/
But compared to the state’s rate – we’re closing the gap/

Now about a partnership that we’re proud to have made/
‘Achieve Atlanta’ has us making the grade!/
The goal is to get more kids in college with/
The help of funds in the form of a scholarship/
From our friends at the Whitehead Foundation/
It’s thanks to them that we can make this profound statement/
725 APS kids/
Are eligible for the help from their scholarships/

Those accomplishments should be celebrated— but we also have to acknowledge that when 40 percent of our students are considered “beginning” learners on our Georgia Milestones, much work remains to be done. That’s why I was excited about the opportunity to talk with our community about our new Request for Information (RFI) that is open right now.

We are inviting everyone— educational service providers, current and potential partners, professional learning organizations, foundations, current staff members and you – to submit ideas on how we can accelerate transformation in critical areas like early childhood education, literacy, whole-child development, wraparound services, summer learning loss, career readiness, and more.

As I reflect on this morning, I believe so deeply that APS has a true shot at transformation. My optimism is rooted in the improvements we’ve seen and the work that our staff and families do each and every day. But the Atlanta community must do more if we are going to fully transform our district. We need your support, we need you to join the transformation, and we need you to rise up!

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound/
Of Atlanta Schools making a turnaround/
But we’ve still got a lot of work to do/
And we can’t go anywhere without YOU/


Water in APS: All Clear!

I am relieved and pleased to report to our students, families, teachers and staff that the water they drink and use has met Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

That means that following the district’s voluntary water testing initiative for the presence of lead this summer, all occupied APS buildings have met the standard of being below the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for public water systems. This is even more stringent than the EPA’s action level for schools, which is 20 ppb.


Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan and I drink from the fountains of the Center for Learning and Leadership

Full details of our test program are available at our water testing web page and in my numerous communications over the summer available here and here.

I am proud that our school district was the first in metro Atlanta to take the proactive step to test our water and ensure that it is in compliance with EPA standards. As always, the safety and well-being of our students, employees, and visitors to any of our facilities is paramount. The public can be assured that we take that responsibility very seriously.

We began our water testing initiative last spring in response to reports of lead in the drinking water in a handful of cities nationally, such as Flint, Mich., and Washington, D.C. The district contracted with two independent environmental firms to conduct the tests, which involved taking samples from 25 water sources in all 113 APS-owned facilities.

At the halfway point of the testing process last July, we reported that more than 97 percent of the water sources tested district-wide met the EPA standard. Since then, our team worked diligently to resolve the issues with the remaining 3 percent. Today, we can report that water in every occupied building in APS has been cleared.

But we remain diligent and have established protocols and procedures for addressing the buildup of lead in the water systems of our facilities. This includes:

  • Closely following EPA-recommended guidelines for flushing all water sources in all school facilities that have been unoccupied by students and staff for longer than seven days.
  • Development of a regular testing schedule, whereby water sources in district facilities are tested on an ongoing basis.
  • Continue working with the City of Atlanta on any water testing initiatives.

Nothing is more important than the safety of our students and staff, and I am proud of the leadership this district took in being the first school district in Georgia to test water across its system. Thanks to Chief Operating Officer Larry Hoskins; Alvah Hardy, executive director of facilities; and Yvonne Douglas, project manager for APS Energy and Environmental Services for championing this effort.

As always, you can learn more about water quality investigations here or by contacting Yvonne Douglas at 404-802-3720 or at ydouglas@atlantapublicschools.us


Join Us for #StateOfAPS!, Friday, Oct. 7, at King Middle

I am not throwing away my shot!

I am not throwing away my shot!

Hey yo, I’m just like my country

I’m young, scrappy and hungry

And I’m not throwing away my shot!

–           Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton

Atlanta Public Schools is on a journey of transformation, and I am thrilled to invite every APS stakeholder to the beautifully renovated Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School for my annual State of the District address.sod-tweetinvite

We are using the hip-hop Broadway musical Hamilton to help frame the event because, in part, it encapsulates the struggle that transformed our nation much like the transformation journey for our district. We are also showcasing our students and a new teaching method called Flocabulary to help tell the story of our APS transformation, using educational hip-hop music in the Hamilton style. It will be fun, fast-paced and engaging, so don’t be left out!

Please RSVP at this link with a “Yes” to join us on this journey. Doors open at 7 a.m. with coffee and light refreshments; program begins promptly at 8 a.m. If you cannot make it in person, we will broadcast the event live (available at www.livestream.com/k12aps).

sod-tweet-hamiltonI have also asked our students, teachers, staff and stakeholders to embrace the Hamilton spirit, and join me for “Operation Rochambeau,” our social media effort to promote the State of the District. Please share news of this event across social media from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram or whichever social media platform you use.

Our official hashtag for State of the District is: #StateofAPS. Please use that on all of your social media communications involving the event, and tag me at @atlsuper!