EPIC

True Tales from Our Journey of Transformation
and the Quest for Excellence

Nearly 1,000 stakeholders from the Atlanta Public Schools community this morning gathered at Harper Archer Elementary. Following a ribbon-cutting launch of that school, we related an epic tale of an urban school district in Georgia, once beleaguered but re-emerging as if a Phoenix from the ashes. We told tales of transformation and of student and teacher exploration.

Experience or relive the journey.

Also enjoy our featured intro video with live accompanying music from North Atlanta symphony orchestra. More details and many photos are below!

Atlanta Public Schools: Where exist brave children – some 52,000 of them ever so deserving of the richness of knowledge and experience. As do intrepid educators and support team members – 6,000 strong – dedicated to a culture so caring and true thus to teach our young heroes so that they may have abundance of choices in life – whether collegiate-, service- or career-related – and beyond.

Our dear friends – students, educators, partners, families alike – joined us on a voyage where we are no longer left adrift, a voyage well at sea but far from completed – a journey of transformation … a quest, if you will, for excellence … and choice-filled lives.

I have so much gratitude — as we related my Sixth State of the District — to have the opportunity to delve into this work. I love this city, I believe in the mission and vision and wake up every day ready to serve Atlanta’s students and families. I am thankful to the Atlanta community (especially our taxpayers) and Board of Education, and I believe so much in the APS fleets and crews – including our teachers, principals, bus drivers, partners, parents,  and everyone else who helped get APS back on track.

As has become APS tradition, those narrated the State of the District were the ones who I love and admire most: our talented, beautiful and heroic students. Books were illustrated by Henry Gelber from Grady High, along with shadow puppeeters and the Jester debaters. We also had more debaters from across the district as part of the Harvard Diversity Project; dancers and singers from Beecher Hills Elementary and Mays High; Washington’s Bad to the Bone; JROTC units from BEST, Carver, CSK and Therrell; video technicians from Therrell High; slam poets from Jackson High; the reading trailblazers of Harper Archer; South Atlanta’s football players, cheerleaders and band… and even a Greek Chorus, a DJ, and live symphony orchestra from North Atlanta!

We heard field reports from our new Principal of the Year, Eulonda Washington of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy; our Principal of the Year finalists, Robin Christian of Barack and Michelle Obama Academy and Audrey Sofianos of Morningside Elementary; and the 2019 APS Teacher of the Year as well as the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year, Tracey Pendley of Burgess Peterson Academy.

And thus, the State of the District for Year Six:

As we near the end of one strategic course to embark on another, a more stable, valiant Atlanta Public Schools has emerged, experiencing progress with greater proficiency and higher graduation rates. But the epic tale of the APS Journey of Transformation continues as work remains on our quest for excellence to be a high-performing district.

Looking over the journey thus far, while the vision stays true, the APS mission will now specifically include equity. We are, indeed, at the end of our five-year strategic course with the four pillars of Academic Programs, Talent Management, Systems and Resources and Culture, and, thus, we have conditioned our fleet and warriors to chart the next stage of the journey.

We certainly relayed much of the district’s data, including College and Career Readiness Performance Index, Georgia Milestones, SAT and ACT and NAEP.

And our brilliant Grady Jesters and Harvard Diversity Project debaters stoked the debate over equity.

No matter where the debate turns, for the rest of the school year, we will continue to work the strategic and turnaround plans, set up APS to accelerate the dismantling of the achievement gap, protect the collectible tax digest, identify more areas to address inequities that will need to be resourced, engage the community in the Facilities Master Plan, including a fleshed-out proposal for a fine arts school.

Most of all, we must double down this year on our literacy campaign. Literacy, after all, is the most important arrow in our students’ quivers and the most critical part of their armor.

As we sang to the song of “Glory” from Selma performed by soloist Montez Sutton, rapper Camaal Strickland and pianist Aaron Langston, all from Mays High School, and supported by the North Atlanta High orchestra:

Glory will be ours when literacy is won.

Today, we invited the entire APS community to become immersed in the campaign. With a $60,000 grant from the Urban League and the Hewlett Foundation, we will continue our Race 2 Read campaign, which challenges our students and community to read together at least 20 minutes each day. We have a district-wide goal to log more than 10 million minutes of reading over the course of the year.

In the State of the District itself, we read to Harper Archer first and second graders from our Social Emotional Learning Book of the Month: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. What a thrill to hear from more than 200 students reading along and several hundred caring adults reading along!

We concluded with our Jackson High School slam poets – Epiphany, Asmara, Tyler and Elliott – recited:

Destiny is in the hands of those who put students and schools top of mind.

Those who come with THAT mission/ Have the right motivation

To create a situation / Of trust and collaboration

So all of Atlanta’s children may have lives of hope and ambition

An abundance of choices, college, career and service … say AYE!

Such a journey some describe as grand, monumental, majestic

Perhaps copasetic, heroic, gigantic.

But we prefer this perfect word for our mission, our journey, our quest, and that singular, particular, spectacular word is …

EPIC!

I sent the APS community back out to continue this journey for our kids:

Thus, the 2019 State of the District is over, the program is done. Not so for our Journey and our Quest until literacy is won!

For only when all students can read and see choices in life, will there be an end to the cycles of violence, illiteracy and strife.

That’s the truth, and I’m being prophetic, if we get this right for our kids, it will be EPIC!

Go forth on your paths for THEM. Don’t stray. Until we meet again, I bid you an EPIC way!

APS Shows Significant Improvement in 4th Grade Math, 8th Grade Reading on ‘Nation’s Report Card’

District posts growth in all grades and subjects tested since 2015.

Just as every student gets a report card, so does Atlanta Public Schools – directly from the U.S. Department of Education.

Officially, it’s called the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), but it’s also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Quick summary: 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 mathematics. In 2019, NAEP selected approximately 2,500 representative APS students to participate in the assessment.

Now onto the news – and it’s good: APS continues to make gains in all grades and subjects tested since 2015! (See our previous report from Spring 2018 here.)

More specifically, APS continues to make incremental gains. The percentage of students scoring proficient and above has increased in all four tested grades/subjects since 2015; according to NAEP, gains are statistically significant in 4th grade math and 8th grade reading. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. APS NAEP Percentage Proficient and Above, 2015 to 2019

Figure 2 shows the average scale score by grade/subject for APS, Georgia, public schools in large cities nationwide and all public schools. Nationwide, the average 8th grade reading score decreased compared to 2017 (statistically significant). APS scores, however, held steady. Additionally, in 4th grade reading, APS scored similarly to other large city districts and narrowed the gap with other Georgia districts since 2017 (not statistically significant). APS students also narrowed the gap in 8th grade math with other students in large cities and across Georgia, though these changes were not significant.

Figure 2. NAEP Average Scale Score, 2015 to 2019

Figure 3 shows the APS average scale scores by race/ethnicity.  Gaps persist between black/Hispanic and white student achievement.

Figure 3. APS NAEP Average Scale Score by Race / Ethnicity, 2019

NAEP achievement levels provide a breakdown of scale score by below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. These achievement levels do not represent proficiency as defined by the Georgia Milestones Assessments and are not intended to reflect Georgia’s grade-level standards.

APS voluntarily participates in the NAEP assessment as a TUDA district (Trial Urban District Assessment), which is a special assessment group of 27 school districts in large metropolitan areas. By participating in NAEP as the only TUDA district in Georgia, APS is able to receive district-level aggregated scores which are comparable to other TUDA districts, Georgia, and public schools in large cities nation-wide. Note that NAEP results are never reported for individual students or schools.

Additional information about NAEP and APS’ district-level snapshots are available on the NAEP website:  https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/.

We’re encouraged to see the transformation strategies and related investments contributing to significant gains, including APS narrowing the gap with our large urban peers in reading. However, there is still work to be done. We must ensure that our students are more competitive with students from across Georgia and the nation in order to prepare them for college and career and to provide them the opportunity for choice-filled lives.

APS 2019 Graduates Achieve 19.1 Average Composite ACT Score, Slight Gain over 2018

About a month after the College Board released SAT data, the other leading college entrance exam has released its own data. According to figures released today by ACT, Atlanta Public Schools’ (APS) 2019 graduates achieved an average composite ACT score of 19.1, a slight increase of 0.4 points from the 2018 average of 18.7 and the highest in recent history.

However, the percentage of 2019 APS graduates taking the ACT decreased compared to 2018, from 72% to 52%. ACT participation among 2019 graduates also declined at the state and national levels, and the average composite scores were stable (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Average ACT score and participation – APS, Georgia, and nation

While we saw a decline in ACT participation, we have actually seen a dramatic increase in the total number of students taking college entrance exams. As I wrote earlier this month, the district engaged in a simple and targeted initiative with SAT School Day last year, which allowed all juniors to take the SAT exam at their home school during a normal school day, removing funding and transportation barriers for many students.

The APS class of 2019 was the first cohort to participate in SAT School Day: Students had the opportunity to take the SAT in their own schools, on a school day, at no cost to them. As a result of this initiative, 90% of 2019 APS graduates took the SAT – nearly 900 students more than the class of 2018.  As expected with such a dramatic increase in participation, the average total SAT score for the class of 2019 decreased 53 points compared to 2018, from 997 to 944. For the first time since the redesigned SAT in 2016, more graduates took the SAT than the ACT.

I really want to stress the importance of this as I did in my previous blog post. Without taking a gateway exam, like the SAT or ACT, college is not an option. But so many of our students in the past did not have the opportunity because of funding or transportation issues. This is a perfect example of APS removing barriers of the past, creating equity and increased rigor … in all, living the mission of college and career readiness.

We will continue to do more.

Returning to the test results themselves, three APS schools exceeded the average ACT score for the nation (20.7):  Grady High School (23.1); North Atlanta High School (22.2); and Drew Charter (21.1); Grady and North Atlanta also exceeded the state average ACT score (21.4).  See Table 1.

Table 1.  2019 ACT results by school

For more information, including more school level results, please visit APS Insights at https://apsinsights.org.  

And the 2019-2020 APyeS Winners Are:

Atlanta Public Schools teachers, administrators and staff tonight took a much deserved break to celebrate those among us who best demonstrate the efforts to prepare our beautiful children for college, career and choice-filled lives. I’m talking about the annual APyeS Awards, which were held at the Delta Flight Museum!

We’ve been teeing up the 2019-2020 awards season with stories about our finalists for the District-wide Excellence in Teaching Award and finalists for both Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year.

Many thanks to Delta Airlines for providing us such a beautiful venue for our event. Also much appreciation to all of our partners, who made tonight’s event possible: Family First Credit Union, Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Inspire Brands, Four Seasons Hotel – Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons, Ray Entertainment Design Services and Atlanta United.

Without further ado, here are our winners! Congratulations!

Krissi Davis, orchestra director, Grady High School – District-wide Excellence in Teaching Award

District-wide Excellence in Teaching Award:

Krissi Davis, Orchestra Director, Grady High School –  Krissi Davis, our High School Teacher of the Year, has served as the Orchestra Director at Grady High School since Fall 2017 and has taught for 15 years. Before teaching at Grady, Davis taught at Sutton Middle School and served as the Lead Middle School Orchestra Teacher for APS. Under her direction, the Sutton Middle School Sinfonia Orchestra performed in the National Band and Orchestra Festival in Carnegie Hall in New York in Spring 2016.

Principal of the Year:

PRINCIPAL of the YEAR:
Eulonda Washington, CSKYWLA

Eulonda Washington, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy – Eulonda Washington, an educator for more than 28 years, has been a guiding force at Coretta Scott King for the last three years.

Under Washington’s leadership, Coretta Scott King has many areas to celebrate including an increasing the graduation rate from 89.7 to 100%, becoming a state Beating the Odds school and earning a National AdvancEd certification in STEM, the first all-girls school to achieve that in Georgia.

Students at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy were the center of attention and recipients of several surprises when Good Morning America featured the school for its first-ever “GMA” Yearbook.

Assistant Principal of the Year:

ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL of the YEAR: Joy Antone, Inman Middle

Joy Antone, Inman Middle School – An accomplished instructional leader with more than 25 year, she has a track record of increasing student achievement through the use of strategic planning improvement cycles and supporting a positive change in school climate. In her paper, Using Student Ambassadors to Create and Maintain a Positive Climate, has been presented at educational conferences!

Students First winner:

STUDENTS FIRST: Michelle Birdsong-Walker

Michelle Birdsong-Walker, Family and Community Engagement Specialist at Dunbar Elementary School – Birdsong-Walker has extensive experience developing parent empowerment and community outreach programs. As a result of her dedication, Dunbar Elementary has established an active PTA, a food and clothing bank and wrap-around services for families facing homelessness. She also serves as coach for the soccer team, bike club and Dancing Dolls dance team.

Schools First winner:

SCHOOLS FIRST: Sara Womack

Sara Womack, Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator – In her third year as the fine and performing arts coordinator, Dr. Womack has worked toward making APS an arts-rich district with arts-rich schools by providing opportunities for student engagement, building the capacity of teachers, and partnering with community organizations to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality, sequential arts education.

Other awards:

GO Teams – Excellence in Leadership winner:  Dr. John Waller, Principal of E. Rivers Elementary School

Outstanding GO Team: Hollis Innovation Academy, led by Principal Dr. Diamond Jack- Ford.

Excellence in Family Engagement Parent Award: Alicia DeCriscio

Excellence in Family Engagement Community Award: HTI CATALYSTS, Led by Dr. Folam Prescott 

Excellence in Family Engagement School-Based Award: Hollis Innovation Academy Family Engagement Leadership team, led by Principal Dr. Diamond Jack- Ford.  

Atlanta Volunteers Lawyer Foundation

Districtwide Partner of the Year: Atlanta Volunteers Lawyer Foundation, has tackled one of our district’s biggest barriers—transiency—through their efforts to provide stable, safe and healthy housing. Through their Standing with Our Neighbors program, the foundation embeds legal program staff inside seven APS schools to stop housing instability and work as a first responder so they can stabilize families, schools and the community. As a result, their work has dramatically decreased the mobility rate in their schools by double digits!  

Cluster Partner Award Winners:

Carver Cluster – OneCoast

OneCoast has provided monthly donations of food to stock the pantries at Finch and Perkerson elementary schools.

Douglass ClusterBuckhead Church

Buckhead Church has a longstanding history of service in the Douglass Cluster and continues to provide volunteers, mentors and monetary support for wraparound services at KIPP Woodson Park.

Grady Cluster – Wheat Street Baptist Church

Wheat Street Baptist has adopted the 4th grade classes at Hope Hill Elementary. Members serve as tutors and mentors and make regular monetary donations to support initiatives, such as the school’s game room.

Jackson ClusterWellspring Living

Wellspring Living has impacted the lives of over 120 students at Phoenix Academy by providing therapeutic services and sponsoring an amazing onsite clothing boutique for personal and professional needs.

Mays Cluster Salesforce

Salesforce employees have provided service, such as volunteers and career experts, at Young Middle School and also donated $10,000 for needed uniforms and supplies.

North Atlanta Cluster – Station 16

Station 16 has supported Bolton Academy with its branding campaigns focused on IB so that students, parents and the community stay engaged and informed about school goals.

South Atlanta ClusterWitherite Law Group

Amy Witherite and her team have made a long-term commitment to students at South Atlanta High School, including providing 10 renewable scholarships to the Class of 2019.

Therrell ClusterThe Speak Life Foundation

The Speak Life Foundation has been providing life skills development opportunities at Therrell High since 2007 to include offering over 20 tours of college campuses for students.

Washington Cluster – L.E.A.D.

L.E.A.D. uses the sport of baseball to support Black males to overcome barriers to academic achievement. To date, L.E.A.D. has served over 3500 APS youth in grades 6th-12th including many at Washington High School.

APS Raises Overall District CCRPI Score to 74.1, Narrows Gap with State

District narrows gaps with state with its elementary and high school scores and surpasses state in middle school grades.

Through the course of the year, a number of state agencies, testing boards and national assessment programs deliver a wide range of data to school districts around the nation. For Georgia schools, this includes Georgia Milestones, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SATs and ACTs, among others.

We have made it a steadfast practice to make that information readily available to everyone in the Atlanta Public Schools community through our website, social media, my ATLSuper.com blog and especially through our innovative data portal at www.APSInsights.org.

Today, the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) released results for the 2019 College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). And as always, in the spirit of trust and collaboration, no one rolls out their data like Atlanta Public Schools!

Atlanta Public Schools achieved an overall score of 74.1 on the 2019 CCRPI, an increase of 0.7 from 2018. The overall 2019 CCRPI score for the state is 75.9, down 0.7 from 2018, according to data released today by the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE). APS’ 2019 overall score narrowed the gap with the state by 1.4 points to 1.8.

At the high school level, both district and state scores increased from last year. APS outpaced the state with a gain of 4.9 to a score of 70.4, narrowing the gap 3.2 points with the state compared to 2018. At the middle school level, while the state declined 4.1 points, APS only declined by 0.6 to a 2019 score of 72.2. As a result, APS surpassed the state score of 72.1. Similarly, despite a slight decrease at the elementary level for APS to a 2019 score of 77.1, the gap between APS and the state decreased to just 0.5 points (compared to 1 point in 2018). See Figure 1.

Figure 1. APS & State CCRPI Scores by Grade Band

Additionally, 19 APS elementary schools beat the state average of 77.1, six more than last year; 13 middle schools beat the state average of 72.1, nine more than last year; and five high schools beat the state average of 77.0, the same as last year. See Tables 1-3.

Table 1. APS Elementary School CCRPI Scores Above the State

Table 2. APS Middle School CCRPI Scores Above the State

Table 3. APS High School CCRPI Scores Above the State

Six APS schools – led by Audrey Sofianos, Terry Harness, Monishae Mosley-O’Neill, Jay Bland, Brent McBride and Emily Boatright – achieved scores above 90.  Another 13 scored between 80 and 90! Congratulations to John Waller, Betsy Bockman, Sharyn Briscoe, Kevin Maxwell, Curtis Douglass, Anita Lawrence, Gail Johnson, Lara Zelski, Chris Knowles, Stacey Abbott, Estee Kelly, Gregory Leaphart and Michael Bray as well!

I also want to recognize Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan, the associate superintendents and the Academics team, Chief Accountability and Information Officer Bill Caritj, and Executive Director of our Data Information Group Michael LaMont and his team for providing us with a full analysis of these results and for helping us keep these results in perspective as we look holistically at all the academic experiences of our students. For a complete list of APS CCRPI scores by school, see Tables 4-7 below.

What we’re seeing with the CCRPI scores largely reflects the performance trends we saw in our Georgia Milestones results. We can see the foundational work started in 2014 beginning to take effect across the District as we narrow gaps with the state. But the scores for all schools must increase so we are continuing the hard work to provide our students with a rigorous academic experience.

According to the latest results, 48 of 87 APS schools saw increases in their CCRPI scores compared to 2018. Schools achieving double-digit gains include: KIPP Vision Primary (+24.7), KIPP WAYS Primary (+21.6), M.A. Jones ES (+19.1), Bolton Academy (+17.5), Hutchinson ES (+15.7), KIPP Vision (+15.7), Thomasville Heights ES (+15.5), Forrest Hill (+14.9), Towns ES (+14.1), E. Rivers ES (+13.2), Humphries ES (+12.6), Carver STEAM (+11.4), Jackson HS (+11.3), Garden Hills ES (+10.2) and Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (+10.1).

Due to changes GaDOE made to the CCRPI components and indicators and the weighting of those components, this marks the first year that one-to-one comparisons can be made to the previous year of CCRPI scores.

While the state CCRPI scores decreased overall, we are proud that more than half of our schools achieved increases in 2019. We continue to look at multiple measures, including Georgia Milestones, graduation rates, student growth percentiles, climate star ratings and other indicators in order to get a full picture of our students’ overall academic experience.

Definitions

Following the reauthorization of the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, GaDOE redesigned CCRPI for the 2017-2018 school year. Every school and district in Georgia receive a CCRPI score on a scale from 0 to 100. The CCRPI reporting system includes four components for elementary and middle schools and five components for high schools:

  • Content Mastery – The achievement of students in English language arts, math, science, and social studies.
  • Progress – A measure of growth in English language arts and math students have made relative to academically-similar students across Georgia and a measure of the progress English learners are making towards English-language proficiency.
  • Closing Gaps – The extent to which all students and all student subgroups are meeting annual achievement improvement targets.
  • Readiness – A measure of literacy, student attendance, and enrichment beyond core academic subjects in middle and elementary schools, while additionally including accelerated enrollment, pathway completion, and a demonstration of college and career readiness for high schools.
  • Graduation (high schools only) – Four-year and five-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.

The overall CCRPI score is reported on a 0‐100 scale. Each CCRPI indicator and component is also reported on a 0‐100 scale. Components are weighted and combined according to the weights defined in the table below to determine the overall CCRPI score.

For more information and analysis on all APS’ CCRPI scores, click here. To view detailed score reports for the state and every public school district in Georgia, visit  the GADOE CCRPI page.

As always, we remain focused on the academic success of every child in APS. The APS Journey has been ongoing, and it’s going to take a steadfast commitment to the course to reach the end where ALL students graduate ready for college and career.

Additional Charts:

Table 4. APS Elementary School CCRPI Scores (A-H) and Change from 2018

Table 5. APS Elementary School CCRPI Scores (J-Z) and Change from 2018

Table 6. APS Middle School CCRPI Scores and Change from 2018

Table 7. APS High School CCRPI Scores and Change from 2018

It’s Georgia Bus Driver Appreciation Day: Three Honks for Our Teachers on Wheels!

APS honors our beloved transportation team – bus drivers, monitors, mechanics and support squad – all charged with safely transporting our precious students to school, field trips, athletic events and co-curricular activities

Honk if you love our bus drivers today!

Every school day, nearly 400 buses Atlanta Public Schools take to the streets to transport more than 30,000 students over 21,000 miles to school. At the helm are our bus drivers and monitors. After a child’s parents or care givers, they are often the very first adults our students see at the start of each school day … and sometimes the last as they return home.

Their interaction with our students can often set the tone for the day and whether they are truly ready to learn. They are more than transportation professionals … they are our Teachers on Wheels! And I cannot thank them enough for keeping Students and Safety First and doing their part in our mission to graduate every child ready for college and career.

Today is Georgia Bus Driver Appreciation Day, which also kicks off National School Bus Safety Week. But I love our transportation team – bus drivers, monitors, mechanics and support squad – so much that I consider every day as Bus Driver Appreciation Day! Safety is so essential that every week MUST be School Bus Safety Week.

Research studies from the Brookings Institute and others tell us that there are great benefits associated with students riding the bus – including the following:

  • Students who ride the bus have fewer absences.
  • Students are 50 times more likely to arrive at school safely on a school bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends.
  • Students who ride the bus are more confident and have higher self-esteem and social skills.
  • Students who take the bus are contributing to cleaner air by doing their part to reduce pollution.
  • And students who take the bus are benefiting the community! Fewer cars means less Atlanta traffic, lower emissions, and safer roads!

Who makes this possible for APS students each day? Teachers on wheels! Our bus operators and monitors, mechanics and transportation support personnel!

That’s why we support them with specialized training, including social emotional learning techniques that focus on the ability to set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships. Earlier this summer, we celebrated our APS Elite Bus Drivers – drivers who have perfect attendance and remain accident-free. Check out this amazing video!

If you are not able to thank a bus driver, monitor or anyone else from our transportation department today or this week, there is one thing everyone can do to show their appreciation: Drive safely. Drive slower and safer, especially around the vehicles carrying our most precious cargo.

Nine APS Middle School Scholars Selected for REACH

Atlanta Public Schools has a specific mission to see every student graduate ready for college and career. And while we often think mostly about high school students when thinking about graduation and entering college, we fully live the mission when we think about students in all grades.

Today, we focused on middle school students; specifically nine eighth grade students selected as REACH scholars for the Class of 2024. As REACH scholars, these students along with their families participating in a signing ceremony at Phoenix Academy to commit to continuing excellence throughout their education to earn scholarships to colleges and universities in Georgia.

REACH Scholars from Atlanta Public Schools include:

  • Amir Robinson of B.E.S.T. Academy
  • Jameeya Woods of Brown Middle School
  • Calik Hill of Bunche Middle School
  • Shataira Hightower of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy
  • Ajoni Douglas of John Lewis Invictus Academy
  • Laiylah Sheffield of Kindezi Old Fourth Ward
  • Alexis Hernandez-Tellez of King Middle School
  • Kelly Abigail Reyes-Cruz of Sutton Middle School
  • Leia Maduakalom of Wesley International Academy

REACH, which stands for Realizing Education Achievement Can Happen, was created in 2012 by former first lady, Sandra Deal, and former Governor Nathan Deal to encourage middle school students to continue excellence throughout their education. I am thankful that Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp have continued the program that not only honors and recognizes student achievement but challenges them to go further … to not only graduate from high school, but to achieve success in college itself.

The program doesn’t stop there. It creates partnerships with families, the community and with Georgia’s institutes of higher learning to ensure the supports are there so our students achieve and find success in both college and career.

Each of these scholars – along with their parents and care-givers – sign a commitment to complete certain obligations and responsibilities in order to complete their work as REACH scholars and earn their $10,000 scholarships. These are:

  • Keep an overall 2.5 (“C”) grade point average
  • Have good attendance
  • Have good behavior and remain drug and crime free
  • Meet with your assigned mentor weekly
  • Meet with your assigned academic coach at least once each month
  • Attend REACH events, meetings and programs
  • Engage in activities to prepare for college
  • Graduate from high school with a diploma
  • Enroll in and graduate from Georgia HOPE-eligible post-secondary institution

The program requires a lot of hard work, but I believe in our REACH scholars. I cannot wait to see how they progress through middle school, high school and into college!