Friday night was a long night for me and many others in the APS family, and in so many ways it was a vivid reminder of the challenges that face our school system and the Atlanta community more broadly. Friday night football is supposed to be about friendly competition, a showcase of our students’ athletic abilities, and an opportunity to have fun with our friends and family. But tragically, a spirited Grady vs. Carver game was cut short Friday night by a senseless shooting that took place outside of Grady Stadium.
One of our very own APS students was shot as he walked from the football game, and a citizen who was driving down the street also found herself in the crossfire, sending both of them to the hospital with serious injuries. Board Member Matt Westmoreland was there that night, and shared his reflections on Facebook earlier this afternoon (see here).
I agree with everything Matt said regarding the events of Friday night and the experiences that families and children had in that moment. He and I were in constant contact and working in real time to support and get help for our children and families in that moment. I, along with many other support staff, have been in contact with staff members, students and community members who had nothing but compliments for my colleagues at Grady and Carver who worked diligently to ensure all were safe and cared for. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for loving and caring for other people’s children. It is traumatic and scary and not the experience children should have in our community and around their homes and schools.
Friday night is an experience that I would never want any child, any staff member, any board member or any community member to ever have. The truth is many other APS clusters have endured decades of violence and disenfranchisement. Many of our kids experience this type of violence every single day and have become desensitized to it. We as a community need to take this conversation to the next level if we really want to transform Atlanta Public Schools and our city.
Tragedies like this serve as a solemn reminder that our communities across this city need help. I am starting my second year as superintendent, and I can speak from experience that this is not the first time that our children and families have experienced violence like this in and around our schools. My thoughts and prayers are with every child and every family who has experienced this kind of trauma, including the student from Crim who is still recovering in the hospital.
The events of Friday night underscore the need for dramatic and immediate change. More specifically, these are symptoms of deep-rooted problems that require real cures and solutions if we are ever to move forward. The problems before us will unearth ugly truths that require commitment to our future so that our children have the hearts and smarts to be better people than we ever were.
We as adults must be unapologetic in making the investment, embracing the bold direction that may indeed leave some people uncomfortable. To correct the wrongs of past and transform APS – and thereby our city – our children must have a quality education that provides real choice and opportunity in their lives. This is why we are making significant investments in social emotional learning, positive behavior supports, talent, early childhood education and college and career readiness. But none of these strategies can succeed if we don’t transform the culture inside and outside the district to be child centered where EVERY adult works with our students’ best interest at heart.
I cannot, a board member cannot, APS cannot do this work alone. The issues are simply too big, too deep, and span too many generations to think otherwise.
It is about kindness, love and caring – and doing what is right for children. We have to have the courage to take effective action to change outcomes for our children that break the cycle of poverty, the cycle of bigotry, the cycle of ignorance and the cycle of violence forever in Atlanta.
I am down for that cause. No politics. No adult agendas. I don’t want our students or families to feel like they have to leave their neighborhoods to feel safe, respected, and educated.
Now more than ever, we need our community behind us. We need our community to wrap their arms around our children and show them that they matter. We need our community to support us as we push aside agendas that have nothing to do with children.
While shaken, I’m not discouraged by this tragedy. If anything, I’m emboldened to take a firmer stand for the children I came to Atlanta to serve.