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 narrating 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!

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