With Tax Digest in Hand, What Happens Next To Help Homeowners AND To Support and Invest in Our Children

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“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)”

— Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go

(UPDATE – June 22, 2018) Today, the Atlanta Board of Education Budget Commission met  to discuss the recommendation of Atlanta Public Schools administration to roll back the school millage rate by one mill, thereby providing tax relief for Atlanta homeowners. This action demonstrates the District’s continuing effort to honor its commitment to helping homeowners with tax relief and still supporting APS students.  In total, APS has taken two specific actions: 1) supporting Senate Bill 485 homestead exemption and 2) giving the one mill rollback. The one mill rollback returns 80% of that increase to homeowners, and when added to SB 485 homestead exemption, we anticipate that APS will return approximately $200 million dollars over the next four years to homeowners.

I encourage you to get involved in the upcoming public hearings scheduled as follows:

· Monday, July 16 Public Hearing 1 and 2 at 11am and 6pm (time to be confirmed)

· Monday, July 23 Public Hearing 3 at 6pm (time to be confirmed)

Given that all of this can be really confusing as a homeowner, we’ve created a back-of-the-napkin calculator (shout out to Budget Chair Nancy Meister…this was her brain child!) to help you analyze for yourself how a decrease in the millage rate and an increase in the homestead exemption could affect you. The screenshot below will walk you through how to use it. The tool will show you the percent increase in your values due to reassessments/ revaluations, the savings on the taxes you pay with a one mill roll-back and how Senate Bill 485 could provide additional relief if passed in November and applied to next year’s tax bills. While the tool isn’t perfect (remember, these are just estimates and may not be exactly what you will experience), we hope that it can offer some insight on the impacts of different scenarios!

Tax Rate CalculatorBlog

Click here for the calculator.

Thank you ABOE and ATL community! “Kid, you moved mountains!”

“You’re off to Great Places!”

-Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go

-Dr. C. in atlsuper.com

(June 21, 2018) Every year we build our budget with care. We want it to express that we value our students, our current and former employees, our taxpayers and our communities, and we aspire to stay on the path to becoming a more efficient, quality-driven school district. This year, it also requires something else, and as the wise, beloved children’s author says: tact.

Therefore we must also work even harder to be respectful to our homeowners and taxpayers. The FY2019 APS budget, like life, is a balancing act that must both help our homeowners and support and invest in our children. Here’s how we have been working to do that and what comes next to achieve our goal.

Earlier this month, the Atlanta Board of Education adopted our proposed $818.4 million general fund budget for the 2018-2019 school year (Fiscal Year 2019) with average growth in revenue, in part, to continue to rightsize the APS budget while strategically investing in schools and programs but with a mindful eye on the looming tax digest. Further, it continued to support our new operating model philosophy of pushing more dollars directly to schools and students. A new component of that work for FY2019 includes allowing schools access to more than $9 million in textbooks and substitute funds in support of site-based decision-making.

THE TAX DIGEST UPDATE:

We have now received the 2018 tax digest from the Fulton County Board of Tax Assessors with the preliminary net digest showing a 24.7% increase. That local revenue accounts for approximately 73% of the District’s General Fund revenue.

Since last school year, Atlanta Board of Education and school officials have been aware of the high property assessments homeowners would inevitably receive and committed immediately to helping homeowners with some tax relief.

Here’s what we did: First, APS joined its local legislative delegation in passing Senate Bill 485, a homestead exemption bill increasing the exemption from $30,000 to $50,000 resulting in significant property tax reductions to homeowners beginning with the 2019 tax digest. Second, I will be recommending that the district continues to honor that commitment by offering homeowners additional tax relief in the form of a reduction in the millage rate. Those two actions combined will reduce the pressure on the tax bills. The exact amount of the millage roll-back recommendation will be made on Friday at the upcoming budget commission meeting.

And, yes, there is some backfilling that the District will need to do so we won’t be able to do a full roll back, and here’s why:

  1. The increase in property assessment values takes into account a decade of failing to keep up with rising property values in Fulton County, including the 2017 assessments that were frozen at 2016 levels by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. That frozen digest resulted in a permanent revenue loss to the District of $56 million.
  2. Subsequently, cash flow issues resulted in immediate budget cuts last year, including furloughing employees. In a commitment to employees, we want to ensure a multi-year plan that will earmark reserves that can build up the fund balance for job and pay stability.

Therefore, I will also recommend that the Board restore some of the District’s fund balance, bringing it closer to the average fund balance recommended by rating agencies for a district of our size; consider some previous service level cuts for district and classroom initiatives; plan for future stability, or some combination of these. The point is that we have to correct a little of the past and be more thoughtful about future pressures.

SIDEBAR ON TADs

[Further, real talk for those who want to be in the APS money weeds, keep reading. I think it’s important to call out all of the exciting growth in the City of Atlanta related to the Tax Allocation Districts (TADs) in which APS participates. They are indeed working. TADs are a great development tool when designed and managed properly. The five TADs in which APS participates are showing roughly $800 million in growth. But, wait for it…

HOWEVER, it is important to point out the school district DOES NOT receive any money from the growth collected in TADs, under the current structure, which went into effect from 1996 to 2006. An easy way to understand the implication on APS is by looking at the Atlantic Station TAD. The 2017 numbers reflect $11 million of residential property tax collection. How much of that $11 million did we receive? Slightly over $150,000. Further, the debt on this TAD is not being paid down, so there is no end in sight for it to ever be properly managed which is out of the district’s control. Now, I’m done with that.]

BACKGROUND ON FY19 BUDGET

Meanwhile back at the ranch with the tax digest in hand, APS can now continue the process of finalizing our FY2019 budget. We are proud of the fact that our annual budget adoption process is transparent and allows opportunities for community input. The next step is for the Board to set the millage rate. It will host three public hearings in the coming weeks to allow the community to provide input and feedback as we finalize the budget. Stay tuned for those dates and locations to be announced soon. I will make that recommendation at the Budget Commission meeting too at its meeting on Friday, June 22 at 2 p.m. at the Center for Learning and Leadership at 130 Trinity Avenue SW.

As a reminder, some key highlights of the FY2019 budget include:

  • Approximately $256 million toward ensuring a more equitable distribution of funds to schools, with a particular emphasis on poverty.
  • Over $45 million for investment in the Atlanta Public Schools Turnaround Strategy.
  • Nearly $21 million toward innovative programs and initiatives in the primary grades (Pre-K through Third), as well as greater autonomy and accountability for principals to ensure all students are reading by the end of third grade.
  • More than $55 million to continue funding an annual 3% increase of pension obligations.
  • An investment of an additional $12 million in the district’s compensation strategy that includes a step increase and a 1% salary increase for all eligible employees.
  • A little over $11 million for the district’s signature programs.

Most of the district’s budget is dedicated to staff salaries and benefits (a total of $550.5 million).  This includes mandatory costs such as the unfunded pension ($55 million and increasing by 3% every year) and TRS, the state’s Teacher Retirement System ($66.5 million, an increase of $16 million over last year).  Another $118 million goes to supporting district charter schools.  Also, APS is largely an organization of instructional staffing costs with approximately 82% of the total FY2019 budget dedicated to salaries, benefits, pensions, and charters.

DEDICATION IF THIS BLOG WAS A BOOK

I want to send a shout out to our Chief Financial Officer, Lisa Bracken, and the rest of our Finance Department for all of the work they’ve done to manage our budget effectively and to help us build a strong budget for the future.

And I want to thank the Board’s Budget Commission, especially its Chair, Board Member Nancy Meister, for its hard work as well.

I also want to thank you for participating with us in this process! Keep coming to meetings and the public hearings. Help us stay true to our mission and remain focused on our core value of putting students and schools first (while also offering some help to our homeowners). We are on this Journey of Transformation together, and each year it may still have bumps in the road, but I feel we are getting closer and closer to our destination. I appreciate all your support!

OK, that’s enough reading for now. (I’ll send a quick update after the Budget Commission to keep you up to speed. Refresh this link to see latest Budget Commission materials when they are posted later this afternoon.)

Get back to enjoying your summer…we got you on this tax digest!

Congratulations, Grad Nation APS Class of 2018

GradnationDrCWashington

Congratulations 2018 Grads!

It’s late on Friday at the Georgia World Congress Center, and all of the Atlanta Public Schools’ Classes of 2018 — cheered on by happy, teary-eyed parents, caregivers and other family members, as well as teachers, principals and friends — have left the building to start the next chapter in their lives.

Once again, Operation Grad Nation was a huge success! #APSGrad18

This week – Graduation Week 2018 – we truly live the Atlanta Public Schools Mission: Graduating students ready for college and career. And as the world knows, NO ONE does graduations like APS! All 14 ceremonies were filled with so many beautiful moments when we saw our students – our community’s sons and daughters, grandchildren and godchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends – walk across the stage in their splendid school colors.Operation Grad Nation 2018 1

As we all come together as family to cheer our children – our newly minted graduates – into the future, it is rewarding to know that so many of these students worked so hard against some unbelievable odds. No matter the circumstances or individual stories – and yes, there are approximately 2,500 of them – they made it to the stage for graduation this week.

And these students in the Class of 2018 truly did their thing!

Operation Grad Nation 2018 2 (MJJ Dancers)They amassed more than $132 million and counting in scholarship dollars. They took over 3,400 AP/IB/Dual Enrollment courses! They increased the number of credits earned in AP/IB/Dual Enrollment courses! They, for the first time in more than 10 years, restored district level arts events such as the APS Dance Showcase, Honor Band, Honors Orchestra, Band Jamboree, and the CLL Art Gallery!  They brought home a ton of Ws with 20 region championships and 60 teams advancing to the state playoffs!

They represented everything we want to stand for at APS, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

I have to admit that this class holds a special place in my heart, because I remember them when they first started high school four years ago, which was also my first year as Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. So they are my founding and inaugural four-year graduating cohort!  These are my brave baby 9th graders who began the APS Journey of Transformation with me, persevering in a time when APS was at a historic crossroads. The Class of 2018 STARTED the transformation that proves we are reclaiming APS’ proud legacy of excellence!Operation Grad Nation 2018 3 (Dr. C with Carver EC)

But their work and their lives, have only begun. Indeed, the word “commencement” is a beginning, a start. Most members of the Class of 2018 have decided to continue their education in college or technical schools. I have no doubt they will excel there as they did in high school. Some students, with their high school diplomas in hand, are off to the workforce prepared to start their careers. Others have stepped up to the challenge of protecting our nation by joining the armed services, and we are so proud of their commitment to our country.  This is truly a beginning of the next chapter of the rest of their lives and I am so proud.

Whichever paths these graduates have chosen, I can only hope that they will take all of their lessons, experiences and friendships with them. But for now, I want them to take a moment to celebrate in the works and honors they have achieved.

Well done, Class of 2018! Well done!

For all of us, APS has provided many ways to relive the spirit of graduation. Of course, the first stop is to visit our main page at www.atlantapublicschools.us/GradNation for archived video and media galleries of every ceremony. My APS colleagues and I have posted hundreds of images and videos on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. My handle is @carstarphenmj; the district’s is @apsupdate.

Also, I’ve collected a sampling of my favorite new memories and have shared them in the galleries below. Enjoy! Again, congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2018.

Charles Drew Charter School, Saturday, May 19

KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Tuesday, May 22

Daniel McLaughlin Therrell, Tuesday, May 22

Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Tuesday, May 22

Frederick Douglass High School, Wednesday, May 23

Booker T. Washington High School, Wednesday, May 23

George Washington Carver High School /Early College/School of Technology, Thursday, May 24

Henry W. Grady High School, Thursday, May 24

North Atlanta High SchoolThursday, May 24

Alonzo Crim High School, Friday, May 25

Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy/ B.E.S.T. Academy, Friday, May 25

South Atlanta High School, Friday, May 25

Benjamin E. Mays High School, Friday, May 25

Putting Students and Schools First:

Proposed Budget for the 2018-19 School Year

This time of year brings with it one of the best things about being superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, as well as one of the job’s most difficult tasks.

Right now, the air is filled with excitement and anticipation as graduation ceremonies and summer break are just a couple of weeks away. However, this is also the time of year that we must finalize the year- long process and hard work of crafting a budget for the next school year. This is all anchored in the Board-approved guidance and budget revenue and expenditure parameters developed at the beginning of the school year.

This FY2019 budget is built on the following parameters:

Resource Parameters:

  1. The District will implement the expenditure parameters using the current millage rate or the Board’s Guiding Principles for Revenue Consideration to support the mission and vision.
  2. The District will continue to identify grant generating opportunities, assess the required millage rate, and/or seek additional business, philanthropic and community partnerships in an effort to support the ongoing transformation of APS.
  3. The District will maintain a fund balance between 7.5% and the statutory limit of 15% projected.
  4. The District will analyze and explore all funding sources including grants and special revenue to maximize resources and supplement the general fund.
  5. The District, with support and collaboration from other stakeholders, will continue to identify and encourage grant generating opportunities, especially through our Partnerships Office.
  6. The District will identify and sunset ineffective programs to redirect human resources and funding where possible.

Expenditure Parameters:

  1. The District will allocate resources pursuant to the District’s definition of equity.
  2. The District will continue investing in the Turnaround Strategy, providing additional support and interventions for schools that have been chronically struggling on the state accountability metric (in support of the District’s mission that every student will graduate ready for college and career, and the vision of being a high-performing school District).
  3. The District will recruit, develop, retain, and promote high-quality staff by investing in a robust talent strategy that includes a multi-year compensation model, pipeline development work, professional development, and coaching and career pathways (in support of the Talent component in the District’s Strategic Plan).
  4. The District will continue implementing its charter system operating model and core components of signature programming, cluster and flexibility funds, investments in a College and Career Academy, and a community engagement strategy (in support of the District’s mission that every student will graduate ready for college and career, and the vision of engaged families).
  5. The District will fund pension obligations in accordance with State statute and actuarial standards.
  6. In support of the charter system model, the District will modify the current school allotment plan to increase transparency, equity, innovation, and autonomy with accountability so that Principals and local GoTeams can make decisions aligned with their specific needs with a focus on:
    • Investments in Pre-K through 3rd grade to ensure all students are reading by the end of 3rd grade.
    • Whole-child development, including positive behavior supports, arts and athletics. leadership development.
    • Access to quality Early Childhood Education.

Seventy three (73) percent of our budget is derived from local tax revenue. It is incumbent upon us to be responsible stewards of those tax dollars as we remain committed to our mission of ensuring that every student graduates ready for college and career. In order for us to fulfill that mission, it is vital that we continue to focus on putting our students and our schools first in every decision we make.

Budget Photo

On Monday, May 7th, the Atlanta Board of Education tentatively adopted our proposed General Fund Budget for the 2018-2019 school year. And, just as we have done in the past, we work with the Board in Budget Commission meetings and we involve the community in our budget process through the Budget and Finance Advisory Committee (BFAC), public hearings and regional community meetings throughout the nearly year-long process, culminating in May and early June.

Our last Budget Commission meeting is Thursday, May 17th from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Mays Conference Room of our district office at 130 Trinity Avenue, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30303

Here is the schedule for Regional Community Meetings (all 6-7 p.m.):

  • Grady High School (929 Charles Allen Drive, NE), Thursday, May 10
  • Bunche Middle School (1925 Niskey Lake Road, SW), Monday, May 14
  • Brown Middle School (765 Peeples Street, SW), Thursday, May 17
  • Garden Hills Elementary School (285 Sheridan Drive, NE), Monday, May 21

Here is the schedule for the Public Hearing:

  • APS Center for Learning and Leadership (CLL – 130 Trinity Avenue, SW), Monday, June 4, 6 p.m.

Changes to the proposed budget may be made before the Board votes to adopt a final budget at its meeting on June 4, 2018.

We are committed to being open and transparent with you, so I want to bring you up to speed on where things stand, provide details about what’s in the proposed budget and share the impact we expect it will have across the district if approved. The tentative FY2019 General Fund Budget is about $815 million, roughly $38 million more than our current budget.

Even with many budget constraints and challenges that require us to balance several competing priorities, this budget still distributes more funds out to the school sites. Some constraints include an additional $16 million in mandatory costs related to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), $1.6 million towards unfunded pension, bringing the total investment in this effort to $55 million, and additional investments in healthcare benefits.

Our central office continues to work with schools to balance the Principals capacity with the operational management of certain initiatives.  For FY2019, $9 million was decentralized, shifting the authority and decision making for $5 million in textbooks and $4 million in substitutes to the individual schools.

The FY2019 budget invests an additional $250,000 towards completing the refresh of all high school weight rooms, and another $250,000 towards the continued support of the cultural experience program and continues investments in both social and emotional learning and positive behavioral interventions and supports at previous year levels. The FY2019 budget continues investments and adds $350,000 towards funding the district Pre-K teachers on the APS salary scale, bringing the total supplement for this effort to $1.3 million

As I have stated before, we have also found ways to slim down our costs, including about $4 million in reductions from our Central Office budgets. Over the past four years, we have reduced our central office expenditures by more than $25 million and more than 100 fulltime positions.

Because of that, we have been able to create more investments in our proposed spending plan. This includes:

  • $10.7 million in our long-term, over-arching Turnaround Strategy to improve our lowest-performing schools, including supplemental and critical support and partnerships with educational organizations with expertise in turnaround strategies.
  • $11.1 million for signature programming such as STEM, International Baccalaureate and College and Career Prep, up $1 million from the previous year.
  • Well over $40 million for whole-child development programs and initiatives like athletics, arts, social and emotional learning, foreign languages, physical education and more.
  • $12 million for a compensation strategy that represents a shift away from across-the-board percentage increases and makes strategic investments in remaining pay parity issues.
    • The plan includes both a step increase AND a 1% salary increase for all eligible instructional and non-instructional employees, plus increased supplemental duty stipends for teachers and market adjustments for specific positions, like bus drivers, LPN nurses and HVAC technicians. For the first time in years, pay rates for hourly employees are being increased as well.
    • To continue to right-size our budget and be able to make these pay increases, cell phone stipends and bereavement leave pay will be eliminated, and annual duty salaries are being reduced from 254 days to 252 days.
    • $800,000 in continued support for our leadership development initiative; offering training, support and leadership development for our Teacher Leaders, Aspiring AP and Principal programs and new School Business Managers.

We right size our district every year to manage against available resources and our priorities for increased savings, efficiency, and redirection to programs and schools.

So, this proposed budget also includes a staff reduction plan that would remove 299 positions (269 school-based, 30 in central office) and create another 133 positions (121 school-based, 12 in central office) to better meet the needs of our students. These reductions fall within three primary categories:

  • Downsizing of central office to ensure that we maximize the resources provided directly to schools
  • Phased transition of schools to turnaround partners as part of our larger turnaround strategy, or
  • Support for individual needs or programming of schools, including master schedules, course requests, and cluster plans.

Once the budget is approved, we will continue to implement the Student Success Funding model that moves us closer towards ensuring a more equitable and stable distribution of funds and allows Principals and GoTeams to allocate funds in a way that better meets the specific needs of their students. This keeps us on the path to becoming a more efficient, quality-driven school district.

Budget TeamI want to send a shout out to our Chief Financial Officer, Lisa Bracken, and the rest of our Budget Department for all of the work they’ve done to manage our budget effectively and to help us build a strong budget for the future. A special thanks to Nancy Meister, Chair of the Budget Commission, and Budget Commission members Michelle Olympiadis, and Byron Amos. Also, thank you to the members of the Budget Finance Advisory Committee. I also want to encourage you to participate with us in this process by attending the public regional community meetings.

Help us stay true to our mission of remaining focused on our core value of putting students and schools first. We are on a Journey of Transformation together, and each year I feel we are getting closer and closer to our destination.

#APSbudget
#StudentsAndSchools1st

Let’s Celebrate Our Teachers!

During National Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate our dynamic teachers from across the district! 

I really cannot say enough about the importance of our teachers who serve on the front line in our classrooms every school day, educating and preparing our children for a bright future. Teachers provide our students with inspiration and motivation and their work and impact extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom. After a child’s parents, no one is more instrumental in their development than a teacher.

2017 APS TOTY at Springdale Park ES

Throughout the week, we plan to shower our teachers with gifts (hand delivery to schools) and surprise giveaways (some directly from me). Some of those gifts will include a free Chick-fil-A on May 8 as well free admission into one of the most popular and iconic cultural attractions in Atlanta.

Thanks to the generosity of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, APS teachers will receive complimentary Museum Admission on Saturday, May 19, 2018 Museum admission includes access to all indoor exhibits as well as 75 acres of outdoor adventures in WildWoods and Fernbank Forest. Additionally, guests of educators will receive a $3 discount off of museum tickets. Even more, both educators and their guests can add a Giant Screen Movie to their museum ticket for only $5. 

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Again, we thank our teachers for all that they do for APS, our community, but, most of all, our students. I truly hope you enjoy your museum visit and enjoy your week! Also, if you’d like to share your National Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations with me on social media, please use the hashtag #ThankATeacher and tag @CarstarphenMJ and @apsupdate!

Join me in sharing the love and giving big hugs to our Champions for Children!!!!!

Below are our 2018 STAR teachers and students.

2018_STAR_Teachers-DESC

 

 

 

2017 NAEP Shows Gains in 3 of 4 Areas

But More Work To Do

Welcome back! As we all get back into our normal school schedules and activities, assessment results for the “Nation’s Report Card” were released. In short, there is some encouraging news about our student performance in reading and math in 4th and 8th grades.

The results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released by the U.S. Department of Education show that Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is maintaining steady overall growth. When compared to the 2015 NAEP results, the average scale score and percent of students scoring proficient and above increased in 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade reading.

It is a positive trend and can be viewed as an indication that the investments we’re making in the early grades (PreK-3), particularly in our literacy initiatives, are having a positive impact on student performance. We know that effective and high-quality early learning experiences have been shown in repeated studies to have long-lasting impacts on our students.

APS participates in the NAEP assessment as a part of a special assessment group of 27 school districts in large metropolitan areas, called a TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment). By participating in NAEP as the only TUDA district in Georgia, APS can receive district-level aggregated scores which are comparable to other TUDA districts, to the state of Georgia, and to public schools in large cities. (NOTE: Results are not reported for individual students or schools. Additional information about NAEP and APS’ district-level snapshots can be found here: 4th grade reading; 4th grade math; 8th grade reading; 8th grade math.)

We are proud to be the only district participating in TUDA in Georgia, and although NAEP is focused on key performance data across 4th and 8th grades, we continue to focus more broadly on the whole child — understanding the impacts of socio-economics on student performance — to ensure that all of our students, and especially our African-American and Hispanic students, are performing well on these assessments.

As some of you know, NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Every two years, NAEP samples students in 4th and 8th grade and assesses them in reading and math. Other subjects (science and writing) vary from year to year. In 2017, 1,300 APS students participated in NAEP.

As part of determining student performance, achievement levels are broken down into four categories:

  • Below Basic
  • Basic denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at grade.
  • Proficient represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytic skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • Advanced represents superior performance.

(NOTE: These achievement levels DO NOT represent proficiency as defined by the Georgia Milestones Assessments.)

In this chart below, you can see the percentage of students scoring proficient and above increased by four percentage points in 4th grade math and reading, and by three percentage points in 8th grade reading. The numbers dipped slightly in 8th grade math, going from 21% to 19%.

chart 1

This next chart (below) shows that in terms of scale scores on the 2017 NAEP, APS nearly closed the gap with public schools in large cities nationwide in 4th grade math and was higher than large cities in 4th grade reading.

chart 2

Although the overall results are encouraging, we must continue to focus on closing the achievement gap that exists between our White students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. This table (below) shows that achievement gap in our school district through the lens of the 2017 NAEP average scale score by race or ethnicity. The performance gaps are not different from previous years and are similar to those seen on the Georgia Milestones.

chart 3

 NAEP is one indicator of how our 4th grade and 8th grade students perform at a certain point in time in comparison to their national and statewide peers. We will continue to use these scores, our Georgia Milestone, and other assessments to ensure we not only know how our students are performing, but that we put strategies in place to continue to improve student performance.

We’re on a journey; we know we still have a ways to go, but APS is moving forward! I am very proud of the work that our teachers and administrators are doing to improve the academic achievement levels of our students.

#MovingForward #NAEP2017

#MLK50Forward

First Flames of Freedom in APS

building

When the David T. Howard Building opened in 1924, it was a grammar school for African American students. It was, perhaps, at this school that the flame that burned inside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to seek social justice and freedom for all people, was first lit.

Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, it is only fitting that Atlanta Public Schools is breathing new life into a legacy building and transforming it into a new middle school in Atlanta Public Schools.

As I reflect on the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Dr. King, I feel a profound sense of sadness, sad that he was taken away from his family at the young age of 39, and sad that the world lost a compassionate and impactful leader. But I take solace in knowing that we’ll never lose the impact of Dr. King’s legacy and the indelible mark he made on the history of this country and the world.

As the school district of Dr. King, Atlanta Public Schools takes very seriously our role to not only educate our students about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement, but to empower our students to use their voice and engage in our country’s democratic process. Our students learn about Dr. King’s legacy throughout the school year in lessons, activities, and events. From kindergarten through high school and through our Social Studies, U.S. History, and Language Arts curricula, our students explore not only the figures of the Civil Rights Movement, but they also look at the social, political, and cultural factors that contributed to the movement.

In his words:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

mlk50

This is the essence of one of our top initiatives, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which is helping our students to better understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. As we prepare our students for success in college and career, SEL is teaching the skills that Dr. King embodied.

The resurrection of the Howard Building and campus will pay homage to Dr. King’s legacy, and to that of the many trailblazers and trendsetters who attended Howard after it became Atlanta’s second high school for African American students in 1948 (Washington was the first). The school produced outstanding graduates like Maynard H. Jackson (Atlanta’s first African-American mayor), NBA Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Mildred McDaniel Singleton (the only woman from the United States to win a gold medal in the 1956 Olympic Games) – for starters! It also produced business executive and advisor to President Bill Clinton, Vernon Jordan, and Herman Russell, a ground-breaking entrepreneur, architect and real estate developer.

howard-bldg-pics-2Pictured above is an architect’s rending of the newly reconstructed Howard building when completed.

Howard High School closed its doors in 1976. Since then, the building has been used as a satellite office space and even as a storage facility. Meanwhile, the flow of more and more individuals and families moving back into the city of Atlanta, particularly in the burgeoning Old Fourth Ward, has presented both a challenge and an opportunity for APS: provide much-needed relief to the overcrowding issue at Inman Middle School while preserving one of our school system’s most iconic structures – the Howard Building.

Our solution blends the best of both worlds. We are renovating the Howard Building and campus and converting it into a new home for Inman Middle School in the Grady High School Cluster. In addition, we are doing so while respecting the tradition and legacy of the Howard campus, as well as the natural aesthetic beauty of the neighborhood. The Atlanta Board of Education has agreed to make this wonderful dream become a reality by investing $52 million of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds – $47 million from the SPLOST most recently approved in May 2016, $5 million from the 2011 SPLOST – into the rebuilding of this iconic school.

howard-bldg-pics-4Pictured above is an architect’s rending of the newly reconstructed Howard building when completed.

Our Facilities team has worked with award-winning architecture, design and planning firm Stevens & Wilkinson, as well as with Lord Aeck Sargent, a national leader in historic preservation and arts/culture projects, on the re-birth of Howard. These firms are well known for their expertise in landscape architecture and urban design and planning.

The Howard campus is roughly seven acres and sits right in the middle of the Old Fourth Ward community. Due to the age of the property, extensive amounts of re-grading and site work are needed in order to bring the school site into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This ensures student safety and accommodates the new educational buildings and circulation routes for cars, buses and delivery vehicles of various sizes.

Part of respecting the legacy of the school is to preserve the past and remove barriers for the future. While the key features of the building that Dr. King would remember will stay in place, we will also be adding new state-of-the-art classrooms and common spaces. Some of the innovative features include:

  • A network of bio-retention cells across the site to help filter surface runoff and reduce demand on city infrastructure.
  • Safe pedestrian and bicycle routes to/from the school from both the Belt Line Eastside Trail and Freedom Parkway Trail as well as a substantial amount of bicycle parking on-site.
  • New sidewalks and pedestrian walkways are required to be constructed at certain slopes.
  • Added parking spaces for staff and for visitors, so as not to take up spaces on the street in front of residential homes.

We are extremely proud of the plans and are excited about the opportunity to knit the Howard School site back into the neighborhood of the Old Fourth Ward and back into the future transformation of Atlanta Public Schools. I think Dr. King would be proud, too.

When we open the building in the fall of 2020 as the new middle school for the Grady Cluster, we want the campus to be a forward-thinking education center that embraces its history and enhances the community, especially honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

#MLK50Forward

(Spring) Break Through Barriers

It’s Friday! But, not only that, it’s the Friday before Spring Break!

I hope you are all looking forward to your much-deserved time off next week for Spring Break with friends and family. Some of you may be traveling, while others may be booking themselves a stay-cation (I am…at least for part of it!) to re-energize in preparation for the rest of the school year. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have fun and be sure to take care of yourself! I’m so appreciative of everything you do each day to make sure our district stronger for children.

image1I want to share some fantastic news with you. Earlier this week, every single classroom project request on DonorsChoose.org was funded by Ripple, a San Francisco-based technology company! They donated $29 million to support school programs around the country breaking through financial barriers for investments directly to the classroom. Many APS teachers participate in this awesome opportunity! The New York Times covered our amazing gift (and my tweet)! https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/us/donors-choose-donation-ripple.html

What that means for APS is that every single one of our school projects were immediately funded. That’s 260 individual projects, supporting 177 teachers. When combined, our projects are receiving over $282,000 to support classroom efforts. Since our new partnership began with DonorsChoose three years ago, they have invested $4 million into our classrooms for teacher projects.

DZZjlhnV4AAZBg6Wowza! We couldn’t be more thankful to Ripple and to DonorsChoose.org for the #BestSchoolDay ever! I have to give a shout out to our APS Partnerships team, especially Rachel Sprecher, for their work with DonorsChoose.

If your teacher or school has never used DonorsChoose.org here’s how you can break a barrier for learning! It’s really simple:

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  1. Come up with a project idea that you think will bring your classroom to new heights. The more it’s able to boost how your classroom is bringing our transformation strategy to life, the better!
  2. Sign up for an account at donorschoose.org/teachers if you don’t already have one.
  3. Submit your request — the whole process shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes. When your project is funded, DonorsChoose.org ships the supplies directly to your classroom.

How easy is that to be a champion for kids!

Finally, while you are on Spring Break, I hope you will take a moment to remember the man who was greatest giver, barrier breaker and “donor” of love and freedom on Wednesday, April 4th . It is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and death are being commemorated under the theme MLK50 – Where do We Go from Here. As the school district of Dr. King and as a district that continues to celebrate his life and legacy throughout the year, APS is proud to join civil rights groups, schools and other organizations across the country and around the world to show our appreciation for choices he made in the fight for social justice. We’re proud that all of our students, from kindergarten through high school, have a rich legacy to draw from and they are engaged, both inside and outside the classroom, in learning about the Civil Rights Movement and about exercising their civic rights in the world around them.

I will be posting a special blog commemorating #MLK50 on April 4th, and I encourage you to engage in the many activities and events at our schools and in the community in the coming days and weeks and to learn more about #MLK50 on the National Civil Rights Museum’s website at mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/.

Be safe, have fun and see you on Monday, April 9th!

#BestSchoolDay

#SpringBreakthroughBarriers

#MLK50

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