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Considering a Moment of Atlanta History for APS Transformation

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Mary McMullen and Lawrence Jefferson finish their first day at Grady High School on Aug. 31, 1961

I couldn’t leave the office today without acknowledging a transformative moment in Atlanta Public Schools, one that unfolded this very day exactly 55 years ago.

It was on Aug. 30, 1961, that nine students – Willie Jean Black, Donita Gaines, Martha Ann Holmes, Madelyn Patricia Nix, Arthur Simmons, Lawrence Jefferson, Mary James McMullen, Rosalyn Walton and Thomas Franklin Welch – bravely walked into four previously all-white schools in APS and changed Atlanta history forever.

It is fascinating to review some of the history. TIME magazine a week after the event would call it “the smoothest token school integration ever seen in the Deep South.” Not a single report of harassment, hostility or demonstration made the news.

Soon after the Atlanta school integration, President Kennedy congratulated our city as a model and encouraged other cities to “look closely at what Atlanta has done and to meet their responsibility… with courage, tolerance and above all, respect for the law.”

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Thomas Welch and Madelyn Nix integrated Brown High School.

That brings a certain amount of civic pride to know that our predecessors in education and nine wonderful and brave students brought the integration of our schools to reality in peaceful fashion. But it is a bit disheartening to realize that while Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka established the right of African-American students to have equal opportunities in education in 1954, it was not until 1958, when a group of African American parents challenged the segregated school system in federal court, that integration entered the official discourse for black students in Atlanta. And it would be another three years for it to actually happen.

In some ways, the extended time allowed the city time to get the process right and avoid a lot of the violence, hostilities and ugliness seen elsewhere across the nation. But then, why should we wait to do what is right for our children?

As I think about the integration of our schools and the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, it reminds me that our nation actually demanded our children to grapple with issues of race and inequality in classrooms across our nation. And while I am convinced that it was the children of that generation who paved the way for race relations, I don’t want to have the next transformation in Atlanta rest on their backs.

The academic and social emotional needs of our children demanded that we take immediate action to turnaround Atlanta’s schools. A proposed state takeover Opportunity School District put the whole effort on a short runway. While I wish we had more time to be deliberate and thoughtful, we must do the work now. And we must do it in a fashion that doesn’t leave the burdens of transformation upon our children as the city did 55 years ago.

Imagine what a transformation would look if we all put our shoulders to the wheel, pushing in the same direction and not in counterforces to each other. Imagine what a transformation would look like if the adults put aside their own agendas to do what is best for our children. Imagine if we created the kind of classrooms where children not only received the academic training but the wraparound services and college and career guidance that truly gave them choices in life.

Actually, we don’t have to imagine. We only have to look to at our own history.

This city has done it before. This city can do it again.

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Guest Blog on Huffington Post: I Have a Dream for a Kinder, Braver, Safer World

Today is the 53rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. HuffPostSELBlogToday, I shared my thoughts about this historic occasion in this Huffington Post blog along with my own dream for a “kinder, braver, safer” world. #Ihaveadream #SELectLove

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/i-have-a-dream-for-a-kinder-braver-safer-world-advancing_us_57c10ea1e4b06384eb3fbe98

Grady Knights present me with my own uniform! I’m No. 6!

Huddle Up and Have a Ball!

Huddle up, fans of our schools, teams and athletes in Atlanta Public Schools. After playing football with B.E.S.T. Academy, Carver, Douglass, Grady, Jackson (USA Today covered my touchdown!), North Atlanta and South Atlanta, I’m ready for opening day! (Don’t worry KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Therrell, Mays and Washington! I’ve got my eyes on you next!)USATodaycoverage

I’ve worked with the cheerleaders at Carver, the softball players at Coretta Scott King and trained on weights with Douglass. I even dove into the pool with the water polo squad that included students from across the Grady and North Atlanta clusters (and with Olympian Genai Kerr to boot)!

So when football season for Atlanta Public School officially opens today, you know I will be there.

The season opens tonight with three APS games all starting at 7:30 p.m. At Grady Stadium, the North Atlanta Warriors and the Grady Knights face off for their first game of the season. I cannot choose! Can they both win (or at least tie)? Go Warriors and Knights!

At Lakewood Stadium, the Carver Panthers are prepared to put a leash on the Lithonia Bulldogs. Go Panthers!

Our Douglass Astros travel to take on Calhoun on the Yellow Jackets’ home turf. Beat the buzz out of them, Astros! The Big! The Bold! The Black! The Gold!

WaterPolo2No matter which team you cheer for, we want all of our APS football fans to huddle up and have a ball while enjoying their games in a safe and secure atmosphere. Following a shooting incident near Grady Stadium last year, we developed an updated game management plan for events at both of our stadiums to ensure a better game day experience for students, families and the surrounding community.

We designed our #APSUnitedWePlay campaign to improve civility and behavior standards for spectators in and around our sports venues. This includes crowd management, ticketing, traffic and parking, and emergency planning. And we have used elements of our social emotional learning (SEL) initiative as well as our new police squad to further improve the game experience.

As part of #APSUnitedWePlay, we have:

  • Created a more visible police presence both inside and outside Grady and Lakewood stadiums, including assigning more marked vehicles outside the stadiumsBestTweet
  • Managed ticketing procedures to ensure quicker service and shorter lines
  • Assigned perimeter security officers around the stadiums to focus on pedestrians walking to and from the games through neighborhoods
  • Improved security mobility with use of additional vehicles for quicker responses
  • Improved staffing and training for stadium employees in the form of drills and exercises.

I want every community and every school cluster to have the confidence that we are very serious about our security measures so they can enjoy themselves at our games.

Are you ready for some football? You know I am! I look forward to seeing everyone at the games tonight and throughout the season!

#APSUnitedWePlay

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Week One Reflections, Selfies and Dispatches by the Super on Super Staff and Students

As we end the near of another first week of school in Atlanta Public Schools, I have finally had  a few moments to reflect upon the past three days among our students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the rest of our community. Day One for the 2016-2017 school year marked my third opening day at APS as the superintendent, and I can say that this year’s Day One was the best yet.

Folks who know me, work with me and follow me (on Twitter, ha ha!) understand how important seeing and experiencing the evidence is to me. So let me share some of our outcomes.

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Enjoying chalk work and writing at Fain Elementary School

We have made attendance a high priority all three years, and I am thrilled to report that our preliminary numbers show that we had 902 more students on the first day of school this year compared to last year.

The official number (when adjusting for charter schools start dates): 42,396 students!

Now that we have the kids in school, it’s important that we have adults to teach them. We have also been stronger in human resources in making sure we had as close to full staffing on the first day as possible. We hired 463 new teachers for 2016-2017 and had only 9.5 teacher vacancies on the first day. We hired 14 new principals and 20 new assistant principals, all ready for Day One. This was the third year in a row in which all of our principals were in place by the start of the year!

Transportation is always a concern on the first week of school. We had more buses online at the start of this school year than at the start of any other year, and we started with the year with drivers for every single route.

And, course, our 68 new school resource officers (SROs) were on duty on Day One, and I would like to think that they contributed significantly to the fact that there were no major safety issues.

But it is the anecdotal and boots-on-the-ground feedback that provides the most significant evidence about our first week of school.

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Ag and soon-to-be Aggie Superstar Sydney Stepney from Mays High School.

To sum it all in one word: Positivity.

I saw people trying to create new and better relationships – from teachers and students learning more social emotional learning (SEL) skills in class to our SROs interacting with their new schools and the community working inside the schools. These connections will eventually lead to more mutual understanding and respect and more!

Most of all, I saw effort and progress – not enough movement in one, two or three days to push the needle immediately to full achievement but enough that made you feel – really deep down – that if we are doing the work, making the changes and bringing our best selves to school.

If we continue on that trajectory, we will see significant change.

So I challenge our students, our teachers, our administrators, our GO Teams and anyone with APS to come in every day this year and just work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter with a focus to push ourselves that little bit more. Make Day 4 next week better than today’s Day 3. Come in with the same attitude on Day 5 and so on until the last day of school. Over time, we will turn around the district and be proud when we see our kids achieving, our kids graduating and our kids leaving APS ready for college and career.

In sum … a transformation!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone for an amazing first week of school!

And now please enjoy my Day 3 dispatches:

Day Three, 7:53 a.m., Miles Intermediate School (Mays Cluster)

Walked into Miles Intermediate School this morning to the theme song of Welcome Bank, Kotter, and Principal Thalise Perry, her teacher, staff and students certainly made me feel welcome!Day Three

Had another pre-packaged breakfast – mini-pancakes this time – and joined Latoya Mallory’s third graders for Breakfast in the Classroom. While we must ensure our students must have full tummies as they start a full day of instruction. Mrs. Mallory did a strong job of keeping students focused on the “Mountain Math” lesson, while implementing Breakfast in the Classroom.

We ended the visit with a stop at the new community health clinic under construction. It really does look like a full-fledged medical office, and I’m pleased that it will be open later this month!

Day Three, 8:47 a.m., Mays High School

Now I know who I want to be when I grow up: Sydney Stepney, a senior at Mays who is the Governor’s Honors Recipient for Agriculture and plans to attend Texas A&M to study agriculture. We were at Mays this morning to visit the schools’ greenhouse where teacher Timiko Gray and Ray Williams of Mirror Image Mentoring provide (dirty!) hands-on lessons in aquaponics (raising fish and using their poop, instead of soil!) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) greenhouse systems. Yum!

2016-08-05 13.28.15_1470418226846We’ve featured the garden last school year on Talk Up APS, and I encourage you to click here to learn more as I did in my lesson from Sydney today. (Sydney also was featured in this Fox 5 news story.)

She gave a thorough and impressive overview of this burgeoning gardening technique and how it would enable us to use our limited farming resources in an efficient manner that could better use land at a ratio of as much as 20 to 1. In fact, the 800-square-foot greenhouse has provided enough herbs to season food at all 87 APS schools!

Thanks for teaching me about agriculture, Sydney. I’m a new fan and am seriously thinking about how we can bring more agriculture to urban school districts like ours!

Day Three, 9:53 a.m., Fain Elementary (Douglass Cluster)

Stopping by to see the soaring Eagles at Fain Elementary, and I was thrilled to see the school’s dynamic new principal, Desmond Moore, as he and his staff and Board Member Steven Lee greeted me at the door.2016-08-05 13.26.58_1470418227212

Mr. Moore and his teachers and staff have created a welcoming and caring environment. I was pleased to see evidence of social emotional learning (SEL) at the school, where they have created their own Fantastic Four. I learned them in Jennelle Timmons’ third grade class: Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, Be Honest!

And I loved the innovation in Meliva Holmes’s kindergarten class – multi-colored chalkboard tables! The kids couldn’t help but write and write and write with chalk dust filling the air. The highlight of the visit was seeing Kaya her first name by herself after working on it for nearly the entire visit.

Soar, Eagles, Soar!

Day Three, 10:50 a.m., KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School

Walked into KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School into a sea of purples, blacks, greens and greys. It’s Spirit Day as the KIPP Warriors faced Our Lady of Mercy for a pre-season football scrimmage tonight.2016-08-05 13.14.22_1470418227636

While KIPP has certainly got spirit for athletics, it was also clear that everyone from KIPP director Kinnari Patel-Smith to Principal David Howland to the teachers and students were pumped for the academics as well. Senior Lyric Hawkins and juniors Jamall Beazer and Migyana Thomas escorted me to Kulsum Vakharia’s social studies class, where the students were developing brands and flags for nations like Jamaica, Greece and Nigeria. Then I got to work on my Spanish with Shyann Gilkey’s students. And I watched as Josh Adair’s physics students constructed towers using only spaghetti, pipe cleaners and masking tape.

A great day at KIPP for sure. And its going to be a great night when our Warriors whoop Lady of Mercy.

Day Three, 11:45 a.m., B.E.S.T. Academy

Midway through my day, I learned that my practice session scheduled for tonight with the B.E.S.T. Eagles had been cancelled for a scrimmage against Pace Academy. I was devastated! (Was looking forward to tackling board member Steven Lee.) But I still got to see many of my boys at B.E.S.T. when we stopped by for a Day 3 check-in.Best

Principal Timothy Jones agreed to allow seniors Jahizreal Aquart, Deonte West and Darius Worthem escort me through the school. They are all dear friends of my beloved mentee, Qwantayvious Stiggers, who is now at University of Michigan. #GoBlue (I am still wearing your No. 11 on my jersey, Stigg!)

Love the energy of these young men at B.E.S.T., and while I couldn’t be on the field with them, it was even better being with them at school during the first week.

We had lunch. Because I view every school lunch as an official taste test, I had my team sample a bit of everything on the menu from the boxed lunches to the kale salad (yes!) to the pizza to the fries. Thumbs up on the green offering and better tasting fries and pizza!

Day Three, 12:55 p.m., Morningside Elementary (Grady Cluster)

After being on a bus for much of the day, it was fantastic to go into a super cool (in attitude and spirit as well as temperature!) building.

MorningsideMorningside is midway through a major HVAC project, and I am thankful that we landed on a plan where we didn’t have to move these kids from this beautiful school. Phase I, which involved most of the downstairs of the school, was completed this summer. Phase II will be finished over the summer next year.

We were met by a young dynamic administrative team – new principal, Audrey Sofianos, and one-year assistant principal Jay Bland and new assistant principal Holly Brookins.

Holly served as a professional intern with me last spring. But before she was my intern, I was actually her intern! You see, when I became superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, I didn’t have the proper special education certifications that is required of superintendents in Georgia. Holly let me crash her classes and pick her brain until I could pass! Thanks, Holly, and congrats on the new role.

I always love being at Morningside with its historical building (with an actual old fireplace in a classroom!), its beautiful courtyard, and, of course, its beautiful children!

Day Three, 2:05 p.m., Carver High School

I enjoy speaking with high school students whenever possible because of their frankness, honesty and natural curiosity. I always come away inspired, more insightful and in awe. In fact, conversations with Carver High students played a large role in our decision to form our own police force. We also are placing considerable positive behavior supports, such as social emotional learning, at this school.Carver

Thanks to the junior American Literature class for keeping it real with me today. I very much enjoyed that chat (and seeing football players engaged in class).

I am truly excited about Carver’s new principal, Yusef Muhammad. He comes to Atlanta from New York City, fresh after turning around one of its most challenging schools – City Poly Tech, a Title I school in Brooklyn.  But Mr. Muhammad has Atlanta ties – his wife, Tanya Gathers, is a 2002 Spelman alumna – so he has a vested interest in doing right by this city’s kids!

Day Three, 3:10 p.m., Sutton Middle School (North Atlanta Cluster)

 For our last school visit, we stopped by Sutton Middle School and spent time with the school’s new principal, Gail Johnson. This is her third principal role – the first in APS – and the students, teachers, staff, parents and community have made her feel so welcome that she has already called this her best job yet! As a former middle school teacher myself, I love hearing that!

And having taught in middle school, I understood when the kids in Daniel Lloyd’s 8th grade English Language Arts class hesitated at first to talk when I walked into the room. They were working on an International Baccalaureate learner profile project (IB is the signature theme for the North Atlanta cluster).

As they explored what kind of personality traits and learning styles they prefer, I explained that APS uses Gallup StrengthFinders program where each employee learns what strengths they bring to their work and how to maximize them. The kids then opened up, saying they wanted to do such an assessment. We will look into that!

At some point, I learned that my desk neighbor – Elizabeth Clippinger – played water polo with me at the pool in Washington Park last night with North Atlanta and Grady high schools and other students from around the district who were interested in water polo. I didn’t recognize her without one of those funny, little swim caps.

We closed the visit in Madame Zemmali’s French class, learning through song how to break down parts of that beautiful language. Great spirit and fun at the school. Viva la Sutton!

End of Week One

After three days of testing new systems, implementing new models and executing research-based strategies, I, too, feel so positive about the potential for transformation in the district, which must be led and supported our entire school community.

So imagine my delight in seeing reporter Eric Stirgus’ compilation in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of some of my best APS moments from the last 72 hours captured in “super selfies” made great, to me, because of our super staff and students.

Happy new school year!

Continental Colony Day 2

Dispatches from the District, Day Two

It’s Day Two in Atlanta Public Schools. We had such a rewarding and fun experience traveling around the district on Day One that we are out among the students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on even more Back-to-School happenings across the district. Here are my live reports for Day Two:

Day Two, 1:40 p.m., Continental Colony Elementary School (Therrell Cluster)

I believe the future President of the United States is sitting in Ms. Skipper’s second grade class at Continental Colony! Seriously!

After watching a nice activity on classroom community and responsibility in Ms. McKelvey’s second grade class, I walked next door to Ms. Skipper’s class. Her students were doing something similar, but their assignment was to draw a picture of themselves and write four words that best describe who they are.

I worked with Araya on her drawing, and drew my own self portrait. But before we left, Araya said she wanted to recite the Continental Colony school pledge. She proceeded to blow everyone away by reciting the entire pledge – more than 100 words – clearly, succinctly and without any pauses to gather her thoughts! So impressive! I’m glad District 6 School Board Member Eshe Collins was there to see it and hear it with her own eyes and ears!

Araya for President in 2056!

 

Day Two, 12:52 p.m., Cleveland Avenue Elementary School (South Atlanta Cluster)

I found a new buddy at Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, while sitting in on Ms. Jones’ kindergarten class, where she is assisted by a paraprofessional, Mrs. Snowden.

The class was working on identifying and writing the number three, using bright red counting chips and tiny white boards with dry erase markers. One student, Demontae, was having a little trouble. But he and I kept working at it, and working at it until finally, his “threes” began to take on the proper shape. He made my heart burst with pride when he was able to write the number twice on his own.

Demontae solidified our friendship when he asked me for a big hug before we left! Awwww! He’s such a sweetie!

 

Day Two, 12:03 p.m., Gideons Elementary School (Kindezi Partnership)

At Gideons, I managed to spend all of my time in Yolanda Harrell’s second grade class. I was able to put my “teacher hat” on during a math lesson where the students were learning the commutative math property.

Ms. Harrell is one of several “Turnaround” teachers at Gideons, assigned to work with the most challenged students. It is hard work, but Ms. Harrell and her co-workers are up to the task. New principal Jesse Berger and his staff are helping the school transition into becoming a full-fledged Kindezi-run school in 2017-2018. Meanwhile, great community partners like Communities In Schools, the Salvation Army and Hands On Atlanta are stepping up to help Mr. Berger and his staff with the heavy lift of changing the lives of their students for the better, through education.

I know great things are on the horizon for Gideons!

Day Two, 11:07 a.m., Centennial Academy (Conversion Charter)

Next we headed to Midtown to Centennial Academy, a conversion charter school with grades K-8.

We checked out the new technology lab and the leadership lab, a room where administrators at the school work collaboratively and do joint planning sessions. The room features large windows, so teachers and students can walk by and observe true collaboration at work.

We ended our brief tour with a visit to the “Learning Lofts,” a group of portable classrooms connected by a covered wooden walkway. The area doesn’t look like a traditional group of portables, and inside one of the seventh grade classrooms I took part in a project based learning exercise in which students formed two circles and crisscrossed their arms around each other, with the goal of “untying” the human knot they made. It was like a game of Twister, only we were standing.

But don’t worry, Centennial. As cute as the Learning Lofts are, we’re working to get the school into a temporary home at the former Bethune Elementary building. This will give Centennial time to expand its Midtown campus before moving back in.

 

Day Two, 10:25 a.m., Bolton Academy (North Atlanta Cluster)

As soon as we walked into Bolton Academy, we felt the love!

A group of first grade Owls from Ms.Tomkins’ class greeted me with a handmade sign that read “Look Whoooo’s Coming to Bolton Academy. Dr.Carstarphen”! How cute! They are the owls. Whoooooo! Get it?

We caught the last part of the daily Spanish lesson by Eduardo Muga in Celine Brown-Roberts’ third grade class, before he had to pack up his cart and head down the hall. Hope we can help him get his own classroom at some point … hmmmmm…putting on my thinking cap.

Later I had “una fiesta” in a Dual Language Immersion kindergarten Spanish class with Vivianne Delgado. There was dancing and movement, and nothing but Spanish. Dual Language Immersion is such a great theory for instruction! Helping our students become bilingual is awesome, especially at a school where a large percentage of the population are English language learners. It is has been a great life skill for me in my career and personal life.

What a neat little community school! Gracias, Bolton Academy!

 

Day Two, 9:09 a.m., Jackson Primary (North Atlanta Cluster)

As we pulled into our next stop of the Day Two tour, we were welcomed in force at Jackson Primary school by Principal Brent McBride, PTA co-presidents Erika Eaton and Dana Ugwonali, several teachers and board members Nancy Meister and Cynthia Briscoe Brown. Obviously, they were proud to show off a freshly renovated school, which brought its HVAC system into the 21st century. (The rooms still had window units and refrigerator-sized AC units from decades past!)JacksonPrimary2.jpg

While I love beautiful, well-designed buildings, I especially love dynamic teaching!

I enjoyed Kim Shield’s inventive Thumbs Up Thursday lesson, in which she used the “Up the Ladder” song to help the students learn each other’s names. (In SEL parlance, that’s a way to build relationships among our kids and help them to work together!) And I taught them the Firecracker. SSSS-Smack-Aaaahhhh!

And check out this mural from Kit Wigdale’s science class for Jackson’s K-1 gifted students. The student’s work provided an interactive way to show how anatomy and DNA works in horse breeding. They will be breaking down Ancient Rome this year complete with the Coliseum!JacksonPrimary

My favorite moment was reading with the kindergartners in the library and as one student read: “I am jumping from one vine to another in the Amazon jungle.” (There was only three actual words on the page LOL. I loved his spirit; he is SO close to reading! Keep it up!)

Throughout my visit, I could hear that catchy, healthy buzz across the school that epitomizes learning, curiosity and exploration. A quiet student is not an engaged student! We have to HEAR our kids learning.

Day Two, 7:55 a.m., Finch Elementary (Carver Cluster)

Today, we started in the southside of Atlanta with Finch Elementary School, where Principal Carol Evans and I welcomed the beautiful students in their red, blue and white outfits on the second day of school.CpBAK_JWcAERxMC

I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I grabbed something that looked like a gooey cheese blueberry-flavored burrito bar and milk from the cafeteria and ate in Wanda Vance’s classroom with her first graders. As APS followers know, I’ve been enthusiastic about our advances in school nutrition, but we need to ensure we have more hot meals. I’m not sold on breakfast in the classroom – it seems to distract our kids when instruction starts – but we have to have a solution that effectively feeds both our children’s bodies and minds.

Both Ms. Vance and teacher Yolanda Coleman opened the day with a social emotional learning (SEL) lesson about what makes a community and exciting happenings over the summer. The kids were shy at first, but some related about their new pets and visiting family and parks. We are still relatively new to teaching these concepts in our classrooms every day, so I know we will improve significantly.

As part of our Turnaround Strategy, Finch is one of 10 schools working with Rensselaerville Institute, which is providing professional learning services for principals and teachers. Along with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), these partners are giving us the leverage to make a real difference in schools!

 

Dispatches from the District, Day One

As part of Day One in Atlanta Public Schools, my team and I have boarded an APS bus to visit students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on Back-to-School happenings across the district. Here are my live reports:

Day One, 3:25 p.m., Martin Luther King Middle School (Jackson Cluster)

Last stop for Day One: The new Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.KINgms4

OMGosh! Do yourself a favor, and go take a tour of the building. The foyer is massive, and the big bold, bright colors on the walls reflect the fact that you are in a special place. Thanks to the Branded Environments Group at Perkins + Will, Inc., the new facility is befitting of its great namesake. It features a Freedom Hall with walls that are covered with portraits of great individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., along with famous quotations from them.

Katie Janson, a Brand Strategist and Graphic Designer on the Branded Environments Group at Perkins + Will, Inc., said she and her team did a lot of research before moving forward with their plan to transform the school.

“We looked at all aspects of what makes a school successful,” Janson said. “We found that kids need to feel that their school is a warm, safe environment, where they feel comfortable and they feel a sense of pride and take ownership.”

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A beautiful new school like King Middle demands a dynamic principal like Paul Brown and wonderful students, faculty and staff!

Parkins + Will, Inc., is now a partner with King Middle School and will participate in a number of school initiatives this year. I can’t wait to see the results! I had a great time talking to the eighth graders just before they took their class photo. Big things are in store for the Jaguars this year!

Well, Day One 2016 is in the books! Thanks to the great efforts across the district and at schools like King Middle, our hashtag, “APSFIRSTDAY,” was trending No. 2 on Twitter! Make sure to follow me tomorrow for Day Two.

Day One, 2:25 p.m., Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School

At about mid-afternoon, we arrive at Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School, a school named after the first African-American superintendent for APS. Crim has a lot of history, so it was humbling to meet custodian Rodney Jones, an APS veteran who has been assigned to this building for most of his 30-year career. He’s seen this school go through many changes.

He was there when the school became a learning center for students, ages 16 and older, in need of a second chance because of challenges they may have had in their home school. It’s a more flexible environment and requires a personalized approach to ensure that the 97 students who arrived here on Day One make it to graduation ready for college and career.

With our visit to Crim, we happened to visit at the intersection of two of the district’s most vital initiatives – social emotional learning (SEL) and our school resource officers. Officer Edwards and Louis greeted me at the door, where I could thank them for taking on a special role in which a new kind of police officer also strives to help teach and mentor, as well as police students. We have them in all of our middle and high schools.

By happenstance, our visit coincided with an SEL session led by Kori Sanchez-Smith, who leads the effort in APS. I’ve written extensively about the need for students to develop the skills to persevere, set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships. (Check here, here and here.)

Here I got to see some of the lessons in motion. For this lesson, Ms. Sanchez-Smith wanted the students on Day One to develop a message for teachers from a student perspective designed to inform them what learning techniques might help them best.

They split into smaller groups for discussion, where they talked about home environments and the effect on school work, the need for collaboration and cooperation and the necessity for teachers to understand what students bring emotionally to school each day.

Over time, lessons like this will give students a fighting chance and contribute to a transformed district!

We are fortunate to have administrators like Principal Dawn Parker and a teaching and support team like her Crim crew who see the value in the work. (And board members like Matt Westmoreland and Cynthia Briscoe Brown, whose districts represent Crim!)

Thanks for the lesson and support!

Day One, 1:46 p.m., Springdale Park Elementary School (Grady Cluster)

After lunch we rolled into Springdale Park Elementary, and what better way to burn off those calories than to challenge new Principal Terry Harness to a sit up contest in PE! After we made it to 20, we both called it a draw!

We stayed in PE and hit a couple of the other stations that had been set up by Coach Harrison and Coach Pirnstill:  dips, planks, jump rope, burpees and push ups. Whew!

Then it was on to Mindy Mailman’s second grade class, where we participated in an activity designed to help all 22 students in the class get to know each other: “Find A Friend.” Each student was given a sheet with 16 squares, and in each square was a description like “has a pet dog,” “likes to color,” “likes to swim,” and “can play an instrument.” Students then had to go around the room and find a different classmate who fit each description.

We headed out just before dismissal, so I and board members Matt Westmoreland and Cynthia Briscoe Brown stopped to thank some parents already in line to pick-up their children. Springdale Park is a gem! The building is clean and colorful, and there is a buzz of excitement in the air that you can feel. I can tell it’s going to be a great year at SPARK!

Day One, 12:49 a.m., Thomasville Heights Elementary School (South Atlanta Cluster)

While this was Day One for most of our schools, it’s already Day Six at Thomasville Heights, where Purpose Built Schools is helping us transform this school and the community as part of our Turnaround Strategy.

On the way in, I bumped into a parent who was extremely frustrated when we began our community meetings to explain Turnaround. But we shared a big laugh today and she told me “I’m on the team now!”

Change is hard. But it is necessary in many of our school communities, and Thomasville Heights is embracing change. You can already see it and feel it. The curriculum is changing and now features eight enrichment classes:  Dance, Robotics, Band/Orchestra, Choral Music, Spanish, Art, PE and Technology. Blake Zimmerman’s robotics class was outstanding and Jelani Jones’ dance class wore me out … and that was just the warm up!

But you can really feel the change in choral music class, where Letricia Henson and Calvin Brown are teaching all the little Cougars a new school song they co-wrote. The lyrics say it all (Huge shout out to Board Chair Courtney D. English and Board Members Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Eshe Collins, Jason Esteves and Matt Westmoreland for joining me in signing the school song):

Thomasville is our school, where we learn each day;

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The wonderful singers of Thomasville Heights!

Thomasville is a school, where everyone is loved each day;

We come to school to learn each day;

Dreams are possible in every way;

We are taught, we’re kings and queens;

Thomasville is our school!

Day One, 11:45 a.m., Dobbs Elementary School (South Atlanta Cluster)

As an urban superintendent, I truly believe that our neighborhood schools have a responsibility beyond simply educating children, especially when we have so many challenges with poverty, violence and other intergenerational issues. Schools serve as the center of the community, and as community centers, they must be a resource to everyone.

That’s what we are doing at John Wesley Dobbs Elementary School, where we arrived this morning. Just like this school’s namesake, who fought to overcoming segregation with education and empowerment, we are doing things at this school to empower the community.

I came in part today, along with board members like Chair Courtney English, to see progress on the new school-based health center here at Dobbs – one of three in the district that will open Aug. 15. We also opened one at Miles Elementary for the Mays Cluster and modeled both after the district’s highly successful clinic at Whitefoord Elementary School. These centers are federally qualified community health centers and accept Georgia Better Health Care, Medicaid, Peach Care and private insurance. Fees are determined on a sliding scale based on income.

These centers are staffed by highly trained and qualified physicians, nurses, dentists and staff who provide a wide range of medical and preventative care and diagnostic testing.

At Dobbs, I also gave away some backpacks, posed with an all-girl selfie with young ladies from Dr. Corlis Robertson’s second grade class and had fajitas for lunch. Liked them; loved the jalapenos (hot, spicy and kid-approved)!

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My favorite reporter on the APS Day One beat, Jamarion Thornton of JWD News

The news media has caught up with us on various stages of our tour today, and my favorite reporter by far has been JWD News anchor Jamarion Thornton. (He also happens to be a fifth grader at the school!) He asked me what it takes to be an awesome student, and I told him a successful student stays in school, focuses on school work and strives to be a responsible community member. And they should have fun, too, right?

Day One, 11:03 a.m., Humphries Elementary (South Atlanta Cluster)

Every day, I stress over whether our students are learning in safe, secure and COMFORTABLE environments. Our students have a right to learn, and our teachers have a right to teach in buildings conducive to their education and development. So I made it a point to stop by Humphries on Day One with my team and Board Member Eshe’ Collins to ensure that the major HVAC overhaul that happened over the summer was successful.

My assessment: Air … Super Cool! The old portables … not cool!

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Do you see anything? Me, neither! Portables are gone. Good riddance!

I am so pleased – and I know that principal Melanie Mitchell and her kids and staff – are definitely pleased that the horrible portables are history! These four double-classroom portables and restroom trailer served as the school for the past year, and I remember how my heart dropped when I saw them for the first time. Today, I walked through the parking lot where they once stood, and my heart lifted.

We spent this spring educating our community and stakeholders about the necessity of strong school infrastructure and the support of the E-SPLOST. This HVAC project was more evidence of good stewardship and smart use of taxpayer dollars in APS. Thanks, Atlanta, for getting these kids back in a comfortable, cool school!

At the school’s new playground, recess was over for the first grade, but teachers Angela Askew-Davis, Carla Humphreys and Tamelia Johnson, allowed me to have a few extra minutes with their wonderful kids. And we all cheered and played for a moment!

And get this: Humphries will celebrate its 100th anniversary this September with some cool recognition events! This school of Roadrunners remains visionary. Principal Mitchell and her team have plans to build the first greenhouse at an APS elementary school in the near future.

Hard to keep up with these Roadrunners!

#APSFIRSTDAY  #BeepBeep

Day One, 9:45 a.m., Brown Middle School (Washington Cluster)

We walked into the newly renovated Brown Middle School, which now holds 900 Dolphins instead of 600. One of the first faces I saw was Jamaree White, an eighth grader who transferred in from Phoenix. He looks like he could have been school board member Byron Amos 30 years ago! What a big, cute kid. Can’t wait to see him out on the new football field!

Principal Tianna Crooms led us to the new courtyard, which features park benches, trees and shrubs, and a cool mural of trees. It’s gorgeous! It also doubles as another entrance into the school in the morning. What a great way to start the school day!

Then we popped into the new media center to help Media Specialist Nikki Bivins file non-fiction books. Can you believe we still use the Dewey Decimal System, even with all the advances in technology?

On our way out we stopped by the refurbished auditorium, where registration was taking place. The new Brown is a fantastic learning facility. Isn’t the E-SPLOST great?!

Day One, 8:50 a.m., Morris Brandon Primary Elementary School (North Atlanta Cluster)

The Day One Tour moved on to Morris Brandon Primary, an International Baccalaureate World School that is traditionally one of the highest performing elementary schools in our district. And the building was “buzzing” on Day One as all the Brandon Bees – students, teachers and staff – moved into their brand new gorgeous learning facility. Once again, your SPLOST dollars are hard at work!

As Principal Kara Stimpson led our tour of the new Bee Hive, I had to take a quick detour and say “Hi” to Dr. Opal Knowlton’s first grade class. Those kids were just too cute to resist and they were already hard at work!

And, ahhhh, the new gym, and what better way to christen a new gym floor than to lie down on it a take a group selfie! Coach Cathy Brock and her second grade PE class indulged me, and then went back to their “Locomotor” lesson for the day – which is a fancy way of describing running, jumping and skipping!

The new Brandon Primary facility features a mini-soccer field with a new playground on one end – thanks to the hard work and generosity of Brandon parents – and a new music room, where Jennifer McCarren showed me and school board members Cynthia Briscoe-Brown and Matt Westmoreland, a fantastic second grade lesson. I just love her spirit!

Then we popped in on the gifted team before ending our visit in the kindergarten dual-language emersion Spanish class, co-taught by Lourdes Santiago and Betania Lopez. I never pass up a chance to brush up on my Spanish!

” Que tengan un buen día, Brandon!”

#APSFIRSTDAY

Day One, 7:15 a.m., Garden Hills Elementary School (North Atlanta Cluster)

For our first school visit, we arrive at Garden Hills, a school on the National Register of Historic Places that is nestled in the bustling suburbs of North Atlanta. With its diverse student body, Garden Hills truly represents the world, the impressive mix of student heritage symbolized by the dozens of international flags draped outside of the school’s auditorium.

Garden Hills lives up to its name in nurturing not only students but leaders. One of our new associate superintendents, Tommy Usher, was most recently principal of this beautiful school and joined us on the visit. We were welcomed by the school’s new dynamic leader, Stacey Abbott, a bilingual educator who truly understands the unique nature and needs of this neighborhood school.

As a dual-immersion school, Garden Hills kids are engaged in both English and Spanish. As I visited Isabel Marsh and Emma Meraz’s classroom, I had a fun talking with the kids in Spanish as they are only supposed to speak in that language for the first few weeks when in class.

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Posing with future Garden Hill student Pierce Walls, 11 months, whose sister Eloise started pre-K today

Also, as a World International Baccalaureate School, Garden Hills has for several years been using the curriculum that is part of the IB signature theme of the North Atlanta cluster. These programs aim to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help create a better and more peaceful world, so Garden Hills has a head start on the work!

 

We hadn’t had breakfast yet, so we enjoyed a nutritious meal of fish nuggets and grits … how unique and yummy. Glad I got my grits on, but needed my HOT sauce! Our nutrition department, led by Dr. Marilyn Hughes, strives to include more organic and farm-to-table offerings in our student meals to ensure that we are not only developing healthy minds in APS, but healthy bodies.

We finished the visit in the media center where the school’s PTA sponsors its traditional “Tears and Cheers,” where new kindergartners cope and bond as they drop their babies off for the first time. I thanked them for sticking with APS by supporting their neighborhood school and helping with the transformation that is going on across the district.

Thanks for the inspiring visit, Ms. Abbott and Garden Hills!

#Tears&Cheers #APSFIRSTDAY

Day One, 6:15 a.m., APS Metropolitan Bus Depot

Welcome back to school!

We start Day One in Atlanta Public Schools (as is appropriate for thousands of Atlanta’s children) at a bus, or rather by hundreds of buses. We are at the district’s Metropolitan Bus Depot. In only a few moments, nearly 300 buses will leave this site and from our other bus depot at Lakewood Stadium to traverse about 25,000 miles so that more than 26,000 of our beautiful students can get to school safely.

We came here to personally thank our bus drivers this morning for their critical role in providing safe to transport for our kids every school day. But they are more than drivers. After a student’s parent or caregiver, a bus driver is often the very first adult that greets students as they start their school day … and sometimes the last as they take them home from school.

They really are transportation educators, so we have begun providing them sessions in social emotional learning, so they can use the same skills as our teachers to build relationships with students, defuse tense moments and to enrich the experience for all of them.

Our bus drivers, mechanics, call center team members and transportation support staff are parents, too! And so several dozen of their children start their day at the depot and ride the full route to and from school.

We are here, too, because we are relying on APS transportation to get us to nearly three dozen APS learning sites over the next three days. Many thanks to John Franklin, director of APS Transportation, and his team for getting us through the next few days safely!

#YellowTogether  #APSFIRSTDAY

 

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Are You Day One Ready? APS Is.

Long before the last student exited from school for the 2015-2016 school year, Atlanta Public Schools began preparing for that first student walking into one of our schools for the next school year. Are you Day One ready? APS is.

Here’s how we got ready:

Our Operations Department went into high gear to ensure capital projects were completed on time, HVAC work was finished and schools were clean so that every APS learning environment would be safe and secure on Day One.

Our Human Resources team accelerated the process to fill every principal, assistant principal and teaching position so all of our schools would be fully staffed come Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Our Professional Development folks provided numerous opportunities for our educators and staff so they could come into school armed not only with the latest ideas and techniques in education but also with a renewed enthusiasm and vigor as they do their part of the APS mission to graduate every student prepared for college and career

It’s been an intense, summer-long process … and APS is ready to go. #APSFirstDay

41 Days until Day One

It’s June 23, and 68 police officers in dress blues stand ramrod straight in the auditorium of the Center for Learning and Leadership. They take the state Oath of Office every police officer in Georgia must swear to and the inaugural APS police force is officially on the job.

These officers come into our schools not only equipped with the standard equipment of a police officer, they are armed with social emotional learning skills, the reliance on positive behavior supports and a mind toward restorative justice. As part of a burgeoning national triad model, they are not only police officers, they will serve by teaching, counseling and policing our beautiful students in a way that will create a different type of learning environment that is not only safe and secure but nurturing and supportive.

During this beautiful ceremony that included Dr. Marquenta Sands Hall, our executive director for Safety and Security, and our new Police Chief Ron Applin, it was clear that we had taken the right step – and a bold step – toward transforming APS. #APSChiefofPoliceApplinRocks

15 Days until Day One

For the third year in a row, we had all of our principals in place in advance of the first day of school. I met with the principals on July 19 for a summer orientation, where I get a chance to tell them how much I appreciate them for taking on these critical jobs.

They are hand-picked to do the job. They are part of the APS team that will lead the transformation. They have been empowered with the flexibility, the autonomy and the support to do the school-based work.

I am confident in their leadership to help lead and drive this transformation. #Leadership

13 Days until Day One

Next to spending quality time with students, my favorite part of my job is when I get to interact with dynamic employees who truly put our students and schools first. The New Employee Orientation has become an APS expectation, along with the massive group selfie that I insist on taking at every single event.Cn7-TYwW8AQPFtq

Our new employee orientation – held multiple times during the school year – gives me the opportunity to tell them directly the importance of a child-centered agenda in APS. I want them to hear it from the person leading the district this one main point: Children must come first! #JoinTeamAPS

 Seven Days until Day One

Everyone in APS gets professional development. Such programs not only benefit the school district by ensuring we have the most qualified and trained employees with up-to-date skills and knowledge, but they also  contribute to their personal development and well-being. I am pleased that we provide such services to our wonderful bus drivers, who are often the first and last adults in Atlanta Public Schools to interact with our beautiful children each school day.

We put 426 buses on the road every day, transporting some 26,000 students. So I want their experience to be safe and secure. We have not only been ensuring our drivers are safe and smart, but caring as well, providing them with the same kind of social and emotional learning (SEL) development provided to our teachers and other adults in the district.

I was privileged to join our bus drivers on July 27 for some of their training, and I look forward to visiting with them tomorrow morning at the Metropolitan Bus Depot as they embark on their first bus runs of the new school year. #YellowTogether

Six Days until Day One

As superintendent and a high school sports fan, it has been a great thrill for me over the past year to meet with the student athletes, their coaches, managers and trainers and actually get to train and play with them. Over the past year, I have worked with the football players, played with high school bands, and practiced routines with cheerleaders.

Here’s a breakdown of my workouts so far this year:

  • Cheerleading and football at Carver
  • Softball at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy
  • Weight training at Douglass
  • Football at North Atlanta (where I took my selfie on July 27 of me holding the football for kicker and soccer superstar Alejandro Marin)

I have more football at Jackson after Day One, water polo with North Atlanta and Grady on Thursday and more football at B.E.S.T. Academy on Friday. So stay tuned, sports fans! #APSUnitedWePlay

Four Days until Day One

As anyone following APS in recent weeks knows, we have been all about School Readiness and having our students ready for the first day of school. To that end, we started the BASH! to ensure everyone has the supplies and information they need to be set for Day One.

Our second annual, district-wide APS Back-to-School Bash held on July 30 at the Georgia World Congress Center was an unaBASHed (sorry!) success with thousands of attendees. This free event for APS students and families featured education and afterschool resources, activities for children, door prizes and more! Our staff and volunteers (more than 200 of them!) spent weeks preparing for this event, where we gave away many prizes and backpacks.

We designed the Bash to be a one-stop shop to get all of our students and families ready for school and eliminate the traditional hiccups associated with the first day of school. We offered information about school registration and enrollment, details about immunizations, class schedules and supply lists, afterschool enrichment programs, backpacks, bicycles, car seats and just about everything our students need to arrive at school on Day One, ready for instruction.

But it wasn’t all school business! We had our new police officers, the Fox5 Storm Chaser, V-103, our food trucks, and other fun activities for event. Many thanks to our presenting sponsor Newell Brands and to our other sponsors including media sponsors Fox5 Helping Hands, WAOK 1380 AM and V-103 and gold sponsors Gas South, Georgia Natural Gas, Georgia Pacific Foundation, Pinnacle Credit Union, Google fiber, Graphic Packaging and Waffle House for getting our students Day One ready!

Two Days until Day One

Ever since our students and my colleagues left for the summer, I have been missing them. So whenever there is a school event or an athletic or extracurricular activity over the summer, I wanted to be there. On Monday, many of our schools opened their doors to the community early as part of their Day One preparations.

I was happy to see what was happening all over the district. I especially enjoyed seeing our newly consolidated schools – Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy and Woodson Park Academy.

Check out my Twitter feed @ATLsuper to see tweets and photos of the many schools that opened their doors early.

I wish I could have visited all of the schools, but I only have so many hours in the day. As I did last year, my team and I will be taking one of our own buses around the district on Day One (and Days Two and Three as well) to visit as many schools, students, families, teachers and staff as possible to review our preparedness and excitement.

Be sure to follow our reports about Day One in APS both here and on Twitter!

One Day … and Counting

And now we are within a day of Day One in Atlanta Public Schools.

3,111 teachers are ready for Day One.

212 school administrators are ready for Day One.

364 bus drivers are ready for Day One.

95 cafeteria workers are ready for Day One.

469 paraprofessionals are ready for Day One.

894 school support staff, including counselors, social workers, media specialists and administrative assistants, are ready for Day One.

158 custodians are ready for Day One.

68 School Resource Officers are ready for Day One.

530 district-wide support staff, including staff in the Center for Learning and Leadership and in facilities services buildings across the district, are ready for Day One.

More than 600 parents and community members of our GO Teams are ready for Day One.

Nine members of the Atlanta Board of Education are ready for Day One.

And, finally, one superintendent is ready for Day One!

Atlanta Public Schools is ready for Day One! Are you?

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