Five Years of Progress in Atlanta Public Schools and Counting

On Monday, August 12, more than 50,000 students and 7,000 educators and staff will return to school, marking our sixth Day One together! I am still as proud, honored, excited and committed to serve our children and families of the City of Atlanta as I was on my first Day One!

I have given my heart and soul to Atlanta Public Schools, and I am truly proud of everything our district is starting to become. As superintendents, we do our jobs in dog years, so I’ve been here for about 35 years (hahaha!), but the strain and the stress – and the joys – have been worth it!

Thanks to the hard work of a lot of people inside and outside of APS, over the past five years, APS is, indeed, making gains and progress. I could not be more grateful to the Board of Education, my team, our teachers and staff, our students and families, and the Atlanta community for the progress so far. We have more work ahead, but let’s review some highlights of the past five years.

Over that time, we have fixed a few things, stabilized others and refocused on our core purpose – to prepare kids for college and career. We have a clear mission and vision for APS, a five-year strategic plan with the four pillars of Academic Programs, Talent Management, Systems and Resources and Culture and have embarked on the next evolution of our work together.

We have a new contract with the state allowing more decisions to be made at the school level by principals, educators, parents and community members, all of whom are closer to students and their school needs. This freedom and flexibility comes with increased accountability for student achievement, but the change is paying off! We are seeing evidence of more engagement, better outcomes and higher achievement.

Aligned with this operating model, APS created and funded signature theme plans for each cluster around programs such as International Baccalaureate, STEM and College and Career Prep. Also, that led to school governance bodies – we call them GO Teams – comprised of parents, educators and community members to assist with school-based decision-making.

I truly believe I put in place one of the strongest teams in education today. We started with establishing a strong senior leadership team and supporting and stabilizing our school-based teams.

Principal turnover has decreased significantly from 30%, when I had to hire 24 new principals in 2014, to 5% for this year, when I only had to hire four. Our Day One teacher vacancies dropped from 243 in 2013 to ONLY SEVEN this year. This is the sixth year in a row where we had fewer than 10 teacher vacancies when schools opened at the start of the year.

Last year, we made the last payment on a $30 million pay parity correction plan that began in 2015 to create a more equitable pay schedule for our employees. For this fiscal year, we secured enough revenue to fully fund pay raises at the level recommended by our new Governor. Across our whole workforce, that’s an average raise of about 5% per teacher.

We also have some of the best educators in the nation: Tracey Pendley, 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year, first district winner in 40 years!; Dr. Terrilyn Rivers-Cannon, National School Social Worker of the Year, and Principal Andrew Lovett of Benteen and music teacher Ashleigh Spatz at Burgess-Peterson Academy, 2019 recipients of Atlanta Families’ Awards for Excellence. We haven’t ever seen a year of recognition like this!

And in truth, you continue to have a devoted, energized, committed superintendent, who pledges to you that she is willing to continue to do the hard work and make the necessary changes to see this all the way through to a more stable, higher achieving district for all children so that Atlanta has a home-grown quality workforce. We have to finish this work and cannot become complacent or give in to political agendas.

Stable, quality leadership matters. I’m concerned when I see so many superintendent turnovers around the country in urban centers and in Metro Atlanta. Someone recently told me that in the world of Atlanta politics, it’s not about children. While that may be true for some, it cannot be an acceptable standard in our region. In THIS role, you to have someone who educates the babies, balances the books, blocks the bullies and cuts out the bull so that Atlanta can have a quality workforce and an educated citizenry.

We made a commitment to change the APS Culture so we have made social emotional learning – the ability to set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships – a district priority. We’ve seen lower suspension and arrest rates partly because of this and also because we have a new police force under the leadership of Chief Ron Applin focused on SEL and restorative practices. For the past four years, APS and all of its schools have earned the No Place for Hate designation from the Anti-Defamation League.

We have also seen a positive increase in employee engagement, which has improved over five years from the 5th national percentile to the 57th according to Gallup, putting us above the national average among other organizations taking the survey.

Other signs of progress can be seen in Systems & Resources.

Thanks to Atlanta taxpayers, we have the benefit of another five-year SPLOST, a one-penny sales tax that pays for buildings, buses and bonds. Without raising the millage, we have constructed new buildings or completed major renovations or substantial additions to 17 schools, which is about 20% of our infrastructure, with more coming online next year.

With our new Student Success Funding model, APS has worked to make sure larger shares of our expenditures go directly to schools. Over the past five years, the amount of general fund dollars accounted for at specific school sites has increased from 66% of the total budget to 73% in the FY2020 Board-approved General Fund Budget of $854.2 million. 

And APS has either established or re-established more than 350 partners and raised more than $72 million.

We have seen meaningful progress with Academics. Looking at the bookends of a K-12 education from early childhood to graduation, the District offers 1,336 pre-K seats, a 35% increase over the past five years. Our graduation rate increased from 59.1% to 79.9%, which is 20.8 percentage-point growth. I hope to have good news about graduation rates next month for our most recent graduating class.

Atlanta Public Schools graduation rates from 2014 to 2018

Also, APS’ college-going rate has increased to 62%, climbing 11 percentage points.

As we recently reported, APS has achieved its highest gains to date in percentage of students who scored proficient and above across all subjects on the 2019 Georgia Milestones End-of-Grade and End-of-Course Assessments. Specifically, APS posted year-over-year gains in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on 21 of 24 assessments. That’s 88%, up from 52% when we started.

Percentage of APS Milestones Assessments with Year-Over-Year Growth

But while we can celebrate gains, many, many more of our students must be proficient and distinguished learners before we can say we are preparing them for college and career. On all 24 assessments of the Milestones tests, about a third of our students scored proficient or better. But flip that, and it means that two-thirds of our students are NOT proficient.

Illustrating with our End-of-Course ELA, where 36.9% of our third through eighth graders achieve proficiency and above, a gain of 4.6 percentage points over the past four years.

But flip it, and that means that 63.1% of those our students are not reading on grade level!

When we drill deeper and consider socio-economics, the results are absolutely sobering. Let’s look at ELA results by race.

While our white students show 84.1% proficiency and above on average on ELA, only 25.3% of our black students show similar achievement.

That’s a whopping 58.8 percentage point gap! AAARRRRGGGHHHH!

THIS is why I know our work is not done. This is not the time to take a victory lap.

As we continue the work, we must understand the most unfair truth about Atlanta: It is the most unequal city in the United States when it comes to income disparity. In my work, it sometimes feels that we are light years away from lifting the barriers of intergenerational poverty for our children, especially when Stanford University research found that a child born in poverty in Atlanta has only a 4.5% chance to rise to the top quarter of earners. About 75 percent of our children live in poverty!

That poverty is at the heart of nearly every issue facing our students and schools. Three of the poorest schools in the entire state of Georgia are in our district – Boyd Elementary, Thomasville Heights and Fain Elementary.

According to the most current census data, the median household income within our school district is $167,087 for white students and $23,803 for black students. Closely associated with this inequity gap is the academic achievement gap I’ve already mentioned. As this chart illustrates, white students are nearly 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers within Atlanta Public Schools.

 We are seeing gains – more proficiency, higher graduation rates, more stable and high quality leadership and educators, and even high poverty schools like Hope Hill and West Manor elementary beating the odds. But you cannot be fair to all concerned when too many of our families deal with unstable housing, food deserts, lower economic opportunities and a lack of transportation year after year which amounts to intergenerational poverty.

Atlanta has the money. APS can help, but one of the biggest challenges for the district is the erosion of the tax digest, which is outside of our control. It’s especially hard to do the two things we want to do the most: One, keep pace with rising healthcare costs, pensions and the competitive salary market while attempting to invest deeply in strategies to turnaround our schools with the most needs while supporting and expanding excellence in successful schools. And, two, reduce the burden on our homeowners, while a soft third is supporting economic development in our city.

If a world-class city like Atlanta really wants a world-class school system, it has to fairly allocate tax dollars, balancing the interest of economic development with the District’s educational mission and responsibilities to our 52,000 students, 6,000 employees and 158,000 taxpayers.

We took two specific actions as part of our commitment to help homeowners with tax relief. First, we supported Senate Bill 485’s homestead exemption, and second, we rolled back our millage rate during Fiscal Year 2019. This one mill rollback returned 80% of the increase to homeowners, and when added to the SB 485 homestead exemption, we anticipate that APS will return approximately $200 million over the next four years to homeowners.

We would like to do more, but without having checks and balances on the largest portion of the tax bill, our hands are tied to do much more. We support economic growth in the city but that growth must also serve the students and the families our district serves.

We have many opportunities to take the next steps necessary to address equity. We have to keep that in mind especially as we continue implementing the Transformation Strategy to position more students for choice-filled lives.

We must continue working both sides of the aisles and maintain relationships with our state lawmakers and improve our relationship with the city. We had a good run with Governor Deal; we worked well with legislators. We got off to a good start with Governor Kemp, who chose an Atlanta school to make a recent budget announcement. And I serve on the First Lady’s Grace Commission to combat human trafficking.

We all know that our district and our students face some unbelievable odds. Intergenerational poverty especially has stacked the deck significantly against our city and our families, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on any of OUR kids.

But we are nearing the end of that part of the APS journey.

We must continue the investment. We must finish the work. And I am committed to do that.

I invite the entire APS community to be a part of and step into our mission: With a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career.

At our central office, we step into huge, stunning images of our beautiful students every day. They are on our elevator doors! (See photos of the elevator and more of the Bash and Day One below!) It’s a daily … hourly … almost minute-by-minute reminder that every time you walk into the elevator you are walking into a child’s life.

Join me and enter those doors. Let’s take the elevator all the way to the top for every Atlanta child to have a choice-filled life.

Dispatches across the District! Welcome to Day One 2019-2020 in Atlanta Public Schools!

Our bus driver, Phara Norman!

As part of Day One in Atlanta Public Schools, my team and I board a school bus (shout out to our own bus operator, Ms. Norman!) just like thousands of APS students. We are full of excitement and anticipation and prepared for a long but wonderful day in the District!

As part of our DAY ONE tradition, we will visit students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on Back-to-School happenings across the District. Throughout Day One, we will share our journey in real time on this blog and on twitter (@CarstarphenMJ and @APSUpdate). Follow along with the #APSFIRSTDAY hashtag.

3:45 p.m. – Therrell High (Therrell Cluster)

We close Day One at Therrell High – our most recent IB World School and home of state champion athletes. Today, I join our football players participating in after-school tutoring and academics before they begin training today.

Matthew Hazel, video production teacher and Play It Smart coaches, explains the vital need for each student to maintain their grades and to take advantage of all academic opportunities. Principal Shelly Powell steps in and simply states: “School first … grades first … or helmet is in my office.” (Yikes!!! Even I’m terrified!)

As anyone who follows APS knows, I love my APS football, but PREACH, sister!

Great athletics requires great academics.

Following the session, we head to the practice gym and the weight room where I start to do warm ups with our volleyball team. Those warm ups were too hard, so I joined the football players for their routines and then hit the weight room before Gregory Sullivan, athletic director, ran us through some intense cardio exercises.

What a great workout to close out Day One and set the tone for the rest of the school year.

#PowertothePanthers #APSFIRSTDAY

2:50 p.m. – King Middle (Jackson Cluster)

For our penultimate stop on our Day One visits, we visited a school that has a special place in my heart for many reasons. First, it’s named after civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Next, we fashioned the APS State of the District event in 2016 after my favorite musical Hamilton and performed it here. Finally, the school after extensive renovation, almost resembles a museum with inspirational quotes and graphic portraits throughout the building.

Principal Paul Brown led the artistic redesign of the school. I cannot help but walk through the halls, especially Freedom Hall, and get inspired and get my batteries recharged. It really is a beautiful school building, which even has its own swimming pool where we offer our students lessons!

During my visits on Day One, I not only want to see our educators in action, but the work of our hard-working operations and facilities teams.

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time and money on various upgrades to HVAC, plumbing, flooring and other major maintenance work so ALL of our buildings last longer and longer. With the previous SPLOST, we spent $38.9 million on HVAC upgrades and repairs. To date, we have spent $12.5 million of the $28 million budgeted for the current five-year round of SPLOST, a portion of it at King.

We completed a renovation at King more than three years ago, but we needed to do more to keep kids cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. I know I felt much better being inside King than out in the afternoon heat!

#KeepingItCoolLikeKing #APSFIRSTDAY

2 p.m. – Cleveland Avenue Elementary (South Atlanta Cluster)

Time to go home for more of our elementary school babies! This time, it’s Cleveland Avenue Elementary, where it was just about the end of Day One!

But before dismissal we were able to see just how immersed in STEM education – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – they are at Cleveland Avenue, part of the South Atlanta Cluster, which has adopted this signature theme for all of its schools. STEM focuses on problem-solving, discovery and exploratory project/problem learning. Under the leadership of Principal Anyee Payne, Cleveland Avenue is the only elementary school in APS to have an international STEM certification from AdvancED. We visited STEM labs and saw teachers teaching and students learning, right up to the bell for dismissal! (LOVE that!)

Reading and writing is also a focus at Cleveland Avenue, as illustrated by the StarBooks Room (no, not Starbucks … StarBooks! Get it? That’s sooo 3-cute!) which is the school’s reading and writing lab for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade. The media center, with its comfy couches and neat gazebo, is the sort of place where you can sit and get lost in a good book!

It was another great visit on our Day One tour! And like their t-shirt says, Cleveland Avenue is ready to “STEM Up and Deliver” in 2019-2020!

#STEMupandDeliver #APSFIRSTDAY

1 p.m. – Gideons Elementary (Carver Cluster)

When we get back on the road, we set a course for another renovated school – Gideons Elementary – which had been residing in the former Parks Middle School building as they awaited renovations. When I visited the school on Day Two in 2016, the building was among our schools most in need of repair – both structurally and educationally.

What a renovation and building transformation! The old front (where we had pulled up three years ago) is the now new back with a playground and bus drop-off zone. The school inside looks polished and brand spanking new, signs of a school of the 21st-century and not one from years and years ago. And the new front is a stunning invitation for learning.

I could see why Principal Danielle Washington and Matt Underwood, our executive director of innovation, were so eager to show off this beautiful school.

Today, the Kindezi Schools operates the school in partnership with the District, and they will now enjoy a more conducive school environment, geared more to the smaller class sizes that is a hallmark of Kindezi.

I saw evidence of their style of team teaching as teachers Ms. Lambert, Ms. Tingle and Ms. Ishman worked with fifth graders on a classroom assignment to set a proper tone of respect and etiquette for the rest of the school year.

Visitors to the school will see that our school building is an oasis in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Atlanta, and I was both saddened and angry to drive along Hobson Drive the back of the school (where kids get dropped off and picked up and where they play on the playground) and see the city’s and property owners’ lack of attention to keeping the immediate area around the school clean. Old tires and dead branches piled up on one side and mattresses stacked on the right and garbage of beer cans, kitchen waste and everything else was all over the place.

It’s distressing to think that our beautiful kids see this whenever they go to school or leave for the day or when they are playing on the playground!

I think all the immediate areas around our City’s schools should be kept clean and safe by our property owners, and our City should hold them accountable. We will send our Operations department to clean up so that kids don’t see all that when they leave school today but this shouldn’t be the norm in our high need communities. All schools deserve to be in a clean and safe neighborhood environment, and we need help making that possible for our all our children and staff.

#CleanAndSafe #APSFIRSTDAY

Noon – Inman Middle (Grady Cluster)

When we pull up to Inman Middle, I immediately became inspired by a sense of legacy because we are preparing to transition the school into the new Howard Middle School for Fall 2020. Principal Kevin Maxwell is already branding the move #Inman2Howard.

We have invested significant money – about $52 million – into Howard because it once educated a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. among other Atlanta dignitaries. The building has been left vacant for more than a decade, and we felt it was our responsibility to Atlanta’s legacy to get this school back online especially in a cluster that needs more space!

I told sixth graders at the school, who will enter Howard as seventh graders that Atlanta voters approved the SPLOST money that funded the new school because the too love Inman’s kids and they love our Atlanta civil rights legacy.

But we are still in the 2019-2020 school year, and Inman is taking steps to making it a great one. I was impressed with one idea from Shanda Beadles, the school’s business manager, to complete locker assignments online so it would take a burden off teachers on the first day.

I also wanted to review some of our latest safety initiatives. We took our first giant step toward safety three years ago when we created the APS Police Department. Led by Chief Ron Applin, this department was designed in alignment with a national “triad” model where our school resource officers counsel, police and teach.

But they need good equipment, so they now wear cameras on their uniforms to enhance school safety, promote accountability, create more transparency, increase public trust and boost the efficiency and technical capability of our investigations. School Resource Officer Meredith Littles showed me some of the details of the camera, noting that its battery can get the uniform a bit hot over the course of the day. A note to improve.

We have also adopted the Sandy Hook Say Something Anonymous Reporting System and other efforts. Tucked among some of our most walkable neighborhoods, we worked with the City of Atlanta to significantly improve the safety of walkable routes to schools with crosswalk lighting.

Finally, I was pleased to see my running buddy – Sarrita Allen – who is now an assistant principal at Inman. We place a high priority on professional and leadership development, so I am always heartened when I see our own educators finding challenges and greater opportunities within the APS.

#Inman2Howard #APSFIRSTDAY

10:40 a.m. – Sarah Smith Intermediate (North Atlanta Cluster)

And now we move from one arts-rich school (Harper-Archer) to another (Sarah Smith), sort of symbolic of our path to become an arts-centered district with arts-rich schools. As part of a five-year plan, we are developing cross-curricular tools to support arts integration. Some of the key performance indicators include ensuring that all teachers are using arts integration regularly and that we have facilities that have quality equipment in sufficient numbers as recommended by national arts education organizations.

I was pleased when Principal Emily Boatright told me that she worked with her GO Team so she could fund with her school budget two full-time arts teacher to work between the two Sarah Smith campuses.

Lunch time! Time to eat and sample foods from our new vendor.

As anyone who follows Atlanta Public Schools and me know, I place a high priority on hot, nutritious meals for our students. Although more than three of every four APS student qualify for free and reduced lunch, the District recently qualified for a national program that enabled us to provide free meals to all students, so it’s imperative that our food contracts include healthier options, more locally sourced foods and tastier selections.

I usually survey students about our food all year long, but I am especially curious today about their thoughts now that we have entered into a new contract with Southwest Foodservice Excellence, also known as SFE.

On the elementary lunch menu today: Loaded potato with BBQ Chicken or turkey burger, baked beans, cole slaw, fries, corn on the cob, biscuits and salad.

My review (not to throw shade): The turkey burger – dry and unappetizing; didn’t even look like a burger. What’s with bubbles in public school meat patties? The fries were soft and needed more seasoning. The vegetables were fresh, not soggy, so I salvaged my turkey burger by making it into a tomato sandwich. The beans, biscuits and corn were very good, and the cole slaw, with a hint of cilantro, was fabulous!

Surveying five students, I found that one loved the turkey burger lunch, three liked it and one did not like…I agree with that last vote.

In talking with Chef Harod of SFE, I learned that the turkey burger is a federal government commodity product, so it’s not their fault. But, I think the federal government should provide schools with better quality food to work with. Just sayin’! On to the most important side serving…the French fries. While our middle and high schools have advance air fryers that get our fries more crisp, our elementary schools cook with old fryers. These fries were a little too soggy for my taste. I will speak to the Food and Nutrition department to find out if we can get some air fryers for the elementary schools. As for taste, I was dying for some salt but it’s not allowed under the new federal regulations! UGH! But, Chef Harod said they have a crab fry-type seasoning option that is delicious with less sodium that they will try to use soon on a few days a week. So, I’m coming back to taste that!

I was amazed to learn that the beans were vegetarian – say what?!?! – and the corn was roasted, not boiled! Natural sweet tastes to both that I loved! Yum!

Overall, the lunch made the grade. I’ll keep sampling the food until we get it right!

#LunchAndLearn #APSFIRSTDAY

9:35 a.m. – Harper-Archer Elementary (Douglass Cluster)

Since 2014, Atlanta Public Schools has completed major projects at 17 of our schools, totaling $307 million. We essentially built four new school buildings at E. Rivers Elementary, Bunche and Sylvan Hills middle schools and Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy. Four schools – Boyd, Kimberly and Harper-Archer elementary schools and Hollis Innovation Academy – saw major renovations. Nine more – Brandon Primary, Beecher Hills, Gideons, Mary Lin, Springdale Park, Brown Middle, King Middle and Young Middle – had renovations and additions.

For athletics, the district built the Walden Athletic Complex; installed synthetic turf at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Carver, Douglass and South Atlanta high schools;  and replaced turf at Grady High and Sutton Middle schools. Those projects totaled $14 million.

Presently, the district is constructing and renovating schools for Hutchinson and Humphries elementary school, Howard Middle and the Atlanta College and Career Academy at an additional investment of $83 million.

We stop at one of those projects – Harper-Archer Elementary. But with this renovation of the new home of the Trailblazers, we merged two elementary schools – Fain and Towns – and placed a former Principal of the Year – Dione Taylor – as its dynamic leader.

It’s fascinating to see how the former Harper High and then Harper-Archer Middle has now become an elementary school. Our youngest students have their specific needs in elementary school, so it’s important that a school is designed specifically for them with stackable chairs, desks, tables, digital bulletin boards, restrooms and more. What was once an open classroom design of the past is now designed for 21st-century learning!

Along with the essential classroom aspects, this school – adopting an arts-rich curriculum – also has amazing studios for music and dance. The gymnasium converts into an auditorium as a stage – like a Murphy bed – lowers out of the wall and sets on the floor! As part of the Douglass Cluster, Harper-Archer has adopted the STEAM curriculum, and we were already seeing students working on lessons in science, technology, engineering and math … along with the arts!

But just like other aspects of APS, we cannot take a victory lap yet. Work remains. The eastern part of the building includes an auditorium, a former planetarium and some old tennis courts that were not part of the renovations. We need help in finishing the work!

#Ready2Blaze! #APSFIRSTDAY

8:30 a.m. – Beecher Hills Elementary (Mays Cluster)

As we leave TAG and roll on over to Beecher Hills Elementary, I cannot help but feel gratitude toward Atlanta taxpayers and homeowners. You see, we benefit greatly from SPLOST, a one-penny sales tax that pays for buildings, buses and bonds. Without raising the millage, we have constructed new buildings or completed major renovations or substantial additions to 17 schools, which is about 20% of our infrastructure, with more coming online next year.

Our Beecher Hills bees just moved into a totally renovated building after spending months at the former Bethune Elementary school near the Georgia World Congress Center.

I walked into the building with a WOW! The new cafeteria with large windows and an additional restroom up front, the gorgeous new gymnasium, the honey comb accents throughout the building while keeping the traditional stone and brick of the original building. And the teachers are so excited about the kidney-shaped classroom tables – golden honey for an elementary classroom! It feels so good to be back home again!

We have a lot going on both inside and outside of Beecher Hills, which really paints a picture of all of the elements that must go into a great school. First, they have a state-of-the-art school house, of course.

Second, they have built a strong program. Beecher Hills, as part of the Mays Cluster, adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) program which aims to develop inquisitive, knowledgeable and compassionate young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

In classrooms, I heard students reach Day One agreements to listen, to avoid distractions and to show good classroom etiquette on their path to learning – lessons even adults need to learn. In the halls, I was already seeing students in lab coats ready to learn science lessons!

Most importantly, Beecher Hills has a dedicated team of educators and support staff, led by Principal Crystal Jones. It’s no coincidence that Beecher Queen Bee Jones, a former Beecher Hills student and teacher herself and a daughter of a former APS principal, is also the reigning Principal of the Year for our district.

No wonder the Beecher Hills community is buzzing!

#BuzzingBeecherBees #APSFIRSTDAY

7:30 a.m. – Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy (Washington Cluster)

For the first leg of today’s journey, we land on the runway of the new state-of-the-art Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, affectionately known simply as TAG. 

An aviation theme permeates the TAG campus from the striped runway (constructed to scale based on images from World War II-era airfields) at the front of the school to the U.S. Air Force emblem in the courtyard to the hangar look of classroom bays designed for music, arts and the sciences.

To further the look of the school, we are working very hard with partners to acquire scale models of the very aircraft flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. My own personal dream for this school is to have an interactive model of a plane that our students can actually climb over and get into to have tangible experience of being a Tuskegee Airman and a squadron of planes flying in the Airmen’s distinctive Red Tail formation.

In addition to me being thrilled about the new campus, Principal Yolanda Weems, our beautiful students, teachers and staff at TAG are simply ecstatic. Coming into a new building on the first day of school is exhilarating enough but to come into one specifically designed in tribute to brave WWII jet fighters and to stoke a new generation of dreamers … well, that is another level of excitement!

To fuel up, I ate a quick breakfast (Cheerios, my favorite cereal!) with Juvetta Lindsay’s fourth graders, who gave breakfast and the building, the A-OK!

Time for take-off, TAG!

#SOARRedTails! #APSFIRSTDAY

5:30 a.m. – APS Metropolitan Bus Depot

One, two… ten, a dozen. At first a trickle and then a flood as hundreds of Atlanta Public Schools bus operators and monitors pour into the Metropolitan Bus Depot for Day One – the start of the 2019-2020 school year. I’m there with John Franklin, executive director of transportation, to greet every single one of them and their children as they prepare to board nearly 400 buses that will transport more than 30,000 students over 21,000 miles to school.

John Franklin, Executive Director of Transportation

They will be the first to tell most of our students: Welcome back to Atlanta Public Schools!

Every school year for the past six years, I have started my day at our main bus depot. Just as these wonderful people are often the first adults to greet students as they begin each school day, I wanted to be among the first to greet them on the first day of a new school year … to tell them personally how much I support their work.

I consider them all educators – teachers on wheels, if you will – because they play such a critical role in our mission to prepare every child for college, career and choice-filled lives.

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!

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. This morning, we gave them a fond Bon Voyage!, sending them off with good wishes, healthy snacks and Chick-Fil-A biscuits and coffee.

What a way to start the first school of the day! Time for me to hit the road!

#YellowTogether #APSFIRSTDAY

Two days ago – Atlanta Public Schools Back-to-School Bash, Georgia World Congress Center

This past weekend, we helped APS families get prepared for the first day of school – Day One – which is today! Our exciting Back-to-School Bash at the Georgia World Congress Center about 48 hours ago provided final support in making sure our students are Day One-ready! It showed that no one opens schools like APS as we held this bash for the fifth year in a row!

About 10,000 APS students and family members came to the free event to learn about everything and anything they needed in preparation for Day One. We provided educational and afterschool resources, live entertainment, fun activities for children, free backpacks stuffed with school supplies, and a raffle featuring several new bicycles as prizes!

Once again, it came together because of outstanding support from our sponsors like WVEE-FM/V-103, WAGA-TV/FOX5, Mercedes-Benz, Newell Brands, Delta AirLines and CareSource. More than 100 vendors participated this year. So many thanks to them! Thank you to our elected officials, including our supportive Atlanta Board of Education members, who attended and met with our students and families! And also thanks to my APS colleagues – especially Rachel Sprecher, executive director of partnerships and development, and our resident logistics expert James Carter – who did all of the heavy lifting!

But nothing says welcome back to school like hugs and love from civil rights giant and Congressman John Lewis! My colleagues, students and I all gushed as Rep. Lewis made the rounds at Back to School BASH to wish us a happy new school year! He told our beautiful kids: “Never, never, never, never give up!”

What a way to start the year!

DON’T MISS YOUR SHOT! Immunization plan enforcement for SY2019-20

Atlanta Public Schools has implemented a comprehensive immunization plan for Day One in response to the increased number of measles cases and the risk of other communicable, yet preventable diseases. We will strictly enforce these immunization requirements as a condition for enrollment. As a reminder, students who are not in compliance will be withdrawn Friday, August 9. 

Don’t Miss Your Shot!

Our proactive immunization plan this school year has been designed to ensure that we are in compliance with state law and to prevent mid-semester withdrawals that typically happen for students who have not updated their immunizations. Several months ago, we started a communication campaign for rising 7th graders which included competitions across schools and various resources for parents to easily access immunization services. 

We are still closely monitoring our immunization compliance, but we still have too many students who are not in compliance for the first day of school.  In addition to personal outreach to these families, we have arranged for AM/PM pickups at each of our middle schools for those families who may be in need of transportation to a local health center.  These pickups will run twice a day (8:00 AM and 12:30 PM) starting today and throughout tomorrow. We have also coordinated with our community health partners to provide vaccinations at our school-based health clinics at the following locations: Whitefoord Clinic at King Middle School on Friday, August 9 and The Healing Community Centers at Hollis Academy and Miles Elementary beginning on Monday, August 12. In addition to these efforts, we have continued our robo-calls and have implemented an APS Immunizations Hotline staffed by student services to address any inquiries from parents.

For your information, the Official Code of Georgia provides for only two types of exemptions from immunization requirements:

  1. Medical: Medical exemption for a vaccine should be submitted on the advice of a child’s physician. Medical exemptions must be submitted each year.
  2. Religious: For a child to be exempt from immunizations on religious grounds, the parent or guardian must provide the school with a notarized Affidavit of Religious Objection to Immunization (DPH Form 2208). The affidavit does not expire and can be found online HERE

Through these efforts and continued outreach from our schools, we remain confident that we have communicated expectations regarding immunizations to our parents. To ensure the continued health and safety of our students, and in compliance with State of Georgia Law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-771), we will proceed with plans to withdraw impacted students.  Of course, we expect that some students will still show up on the first day of school, and we will allow them to report to class.  However, parents will be contacted by phone and a notice of withdrawal letter will be sent home by designated school staff. Students may return to school when one of the following actions takes place:

  1. Students are immunized and an up-to-date Certificate of Immunization (DPH Form 3231) has been submitted to his/her school; OR
  2. A completed DPH Affidavit of Religious Objection to Immunization Form has been submitted to the school

We will continue to work with affected families following Day One. It is our hope is that all students will be in compliance and enroll back in their school as soon as possible. If you have any questions, please call or email our immunizations hotline at 404-802-2280 or immunizations@atlanta.k12.ga.us.

Click logo for APS immunization campaign information.

SY2019- 2020 Begins with a Bang: Board Approves Raises!

With less than a week to go until Day One in Atlanta Public Schools, the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, August 5, unanimously approved adjustments for the FY2020 budget, which means the APS General Fund budget now includes additional pay raises for our employees … as promised!


Ringing in a new year with a selfie with nearly 500 new (enthusiastic!) employees of Atlanta Public Schools.

As I wrote in my June 28 blog, this adjustment became possible because revenue growth in the Fulton County Tax Digest for 2019 (FY2020) came in stronger than anticipated over the summer. That enabled the District to adjust revenue assumptions for local tax revenue by about $7.5 million or 1.3%. This increase allowed us to fund a number of unfunded priorities in the FY2020 budget, including additional compensation for our employees.

I’ve written about this before, but I want to recap the following compensation changes from the original budget:

  • Teacher pay raises increase from average 3.3% (about $2,000) to average 4.85% (about $3,000)
  • Instructional support pay raises increase from average 2.3% to average 3.2%
  • One-time payment for eligible teacher and instructional support employees who are off step increases from $1,000 to $3,000
  • Non-Teacher pay grades 125-150 receive a 1% increase in addition to the step raise previously approved (total = 2.2%)
  • No changes to Non-Teacher pay grades 111-124; still receive the same step and 1% pay raise previously approved (total = 2.45%)
  • One-time payment for eligible non-teaching employees who are off step increases from $700 to $1,000
  • Teacher career pathway stipends increase for department chair (MS & HS), grade-level team lead (elementary) and cooperating teacher; new stipend added for lead campus-based mentor
  • Implement remaining pay parity recommendations for JROTC local supplement and stipend adjustments, and converting 42 hourly bus monitors and 38 special education paraprofessionals to full time with benefits

It will, however, take a little more than a month to catch all of our eligible employees up on the compensation changes. Based on our plan to phase in the raises, teachers and other non-annual employees will receive their new FY2020 compensation beginning with their first paycheck of the new school year by August 30th, as normal. Then, eligible annual duty employees will receive the additional compensation, plus retro pay, by the September 30th paycheck.

I’m so grateful that the Board and our hard-working taxpayers were able to make this happen a week before Day One! Although we were able to provide raises, we always strive to compensate and do more for our deserving employees. I hope everyone in the APS community is as excited as I am about this new year and about continuing the work of ensuring that our students have choice-filled lives!

Summer Means Fun in the Sun, Relaxation and Georgia Milestones

APS achieves its highest rates of proficiency on assessments since implementation in 2015; posts year-over-year gains in percentage of students scoring proficient and above on 21 of 24 End-of-Grade and End-of-Course assessments

It’s summer … which means the sun is out, school is out, and for the fifth year running, Georgia Milestones results are out!

So while our beautiful students and their families enjoy much-deserved time away from our schools, a team of our data experts have been gathering and crunching numbers for the past few weeks so we can assess our progress on the APS Journey of Transformation.

Given how hard I know our students, teachers and staff have worked over the past year, it’s a welcome relief from the grind (and from this heat!) to get great news from the results of the 2019 Georgia Milestones, which were released by the Georgia Department of Education today. You see, APS has achieved its highest-ever rates of proficiency on these tests since the state first implemented them in 2015!

Here’s more great news:

Figure 1: Percentage of APS Milestones Assessments with Year-Over-Year Growth
  • APS achieved year-over-year gains in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on 21 of 24 (88%) End-of-Grade and End-of-Course assessments. The district saw gains on 75% of tests in 2018 and 52% in 2017. See Figure 1.
  • 80% of APS schools achieved increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on End-of-Grade assessments.
  • 76% of APS schools achieved increases in the percentage of grade 9-12 students scoring proficient and above on End-of-Course assessments.
  • All 17 APS schools that received targeted or partnership support as part of the initial cohort of the APS Turnaround Strategy have improved their Milestones proficiency rates since 2016.

That is something to celebrate, and I am so proud of all of our students and teachers who worked hard all year to improve student achievement. We are building and improving each year, so I truly believe we are seeing significant, sustainable progress on this key assessment tool.

Let’s delve further into these results.

For the EOG tests, the district-wide percentage of students scoring proficient and above increased in all subjects compared to 2018. The largest year-over-year increases were in Science (+3.9 percentage points) and ELA (+3.3 percentage points). See Figure 2.

Figure 2: APS Milestones EOG Results Grades 3-8, Proficient and Above

By grade, the largest increases were 6th grade ELA (+6.6 percentage points), 3rd grade Math (+6.5 percentage points) and 8th grade ELA (+5.5 percentage points). Fifth grade Social Studies and 6th and 8th grade Math had slight decreases in 2019 proficiency levels compared to 2018 as shown on Table 1.

Table 1: APS 2019 Georgia Milestones End-of-Grade Results by Grade

In 2019, APS also achieved year-on-year gains in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on all eight EOC tests. The largest year-over-year increases were in Physical Science (+9.7 percentage points), Algebra I (+8.6 percentage points), and Ninth Grade Literature & Composition (+7.9 percentage points). See Figure 3.

Figure 3: APS 2019 Georgia Milestones End-of-Course Results, Proficient and Above

Our Turnaround Strategy, launched in 2016 with a focus on the lowest-performing schools, has also seen achievement. Since the Turnaround Strategy was fully implemented, the initial cohort of 17 targeted and partnership schools have all achieved increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on the Georgia Milestones. Three schools have achieved double-digit increases when comparing the 2019 results to spring 2016. See Table 2.

Table 2: Turnaround Schools, Georgia Milestones EOG Results, All Subjects / Grades, Proficient and Above* (*These 17 schools represent the initial cohort of targeted & partnership schools. The strategy has evolved since 2016 to include some additional schools and the phase-out of supports for some schools on this list.)

Here are some other highlights of note:

  • Ten schools had at least 50 percent of students perform at or above proficient when averaged across all subjects in elementary grades. These schools are Morningside (81.0%), W. T. Jackson (80.4%), Springdale Park (80.3%), Mary Lin (78.6%), Morris Brandon (77.2%), Drew Charter (K-5) (71.0%), Atlanta Classical Academy (K-5) (64.5%), Sarah Smith (64.5%), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (K-5) (64.0%) and E. Rivers (54.2%).
  • Five schools had at least 50 percent of students perform at or above proficient when averaged across all subjects in middle school grades. They are Inman (65.7%), Drew Charter JR/SR (57.2%), Sutton (57.0%), Atlanta Classical Academy (6-8) (54.2%) and Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (6-8) (53.7%).
  • Four schools had at least 50 percent of students perform at or above proficient when averaged across all subjects in grades 9-12. They are Atlanta Classical Academy (64.6%), Grady (61.4%), Drew Charter JR/SR (55.9%) and North Atlanta (55.0%).
  • The six schools with the largest increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on the EOG assessments when averaged across all grades and subjects compared to 2018 are KIPP WAYS Primary (K-4) (+13.1), KIPP Vision Academy (5-8) (+12.8), Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (6-8) (+12.0), Hutchinson Elementary (+11.3), Bolton Academy (+8.7) and M. Agnes Jones (+8.7).
  • The five schools with the largest increases in the percentage of 9-12th graders scoring proficient and above on the EOC assessments when averaged across all subjects compared to 2018 are Atlanta Classical Academy (+14.3), Maynard H. Jackson (+7.2), Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership (+6.3), North Atlanta (+5.9) and South Atlanta (+4.7).
  • All 17 APS schools serving students in grades 9-12 achieved increases from 2018 to 2019 in the percentage of students scoring proficient and above on the Ninth Grade Literature & Composition EOC test.

While we have a lot to celebrate, there is still much work to be done. For example, the District reports lower rates of proficiency than the state in all subjects on EOG and EOC tests. APS, however, narrowed the gap on EOG tests for both Science and Social Studies but remained relatively flat in ELA and Math. For EOC tests, the District narrowed the gap for six of eight assessments. See Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3: Milestones EOG Change in State Proficiency Gap, 2018 to 2019
Table 4: Milestones EOC Change in State Proficiency Gap, 2018 to 2019

For more information and analysis on all APS’ Georgia Milestones scores, click here for our EOG brief, here for our EOC brief and here for the APS Insights data blog.To view detailed reports for the state and every public school district in Georgia, visit the GaDOE Georgia Milestones page.

I want to thank all of our principals, teachers and staff for doing the hard work all year long to prepare our students for these tests. I also want to recognize Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan; Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Dr. Olivine Roberts; our Student Services Division, which is now headed by Dr. Katika D. Lovett; our Associate Superintendents, including Dr. Danielle Battle, Yolonda Brown, Dr. Emily Massey, Dr. Dan Sims and Tommy Usher, who work with our principals on a daily basis. I also appreciate 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.

And I want to thank the Atlanta Board of Education, led by Chair Jason Esteves and Vice Chair Eshe’ Collins, for approvals of budgets, turnaround strategies and other initiatives that contribute to the work every day.

While we have seen improvement, all of us in Atlanta Public Schools pledge to stay the course and remain focused on the academic success of every child. It’s going to take that kind of steadfast commitment to put our students first in everything we do and equip them with the skills they need to graduate ready for college and career.

To Ensure Full Transparency and Accuracy to our Students, our Staff, our Taxpayers and Residents, Below are the Two Official Statements APS Released to the Media Regarding the Most Recent Go Bond Lawsuit Filed by the City of Atlanta

Issued Tuesday, July 9, 2019 at 5:00 pm

“The City’s statement that Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”) has refused to come to the table is inaccurate.  APS has tried time and again, over two different mayoral administrations, to resolve issues relating to the GO bonds.  On April 25th, representatives from the Departments of Finance for the City and APS, together with counsel, met to discuss the issue.  At that meeting, APS requested that the City provide APS with documents and information that would enable APS to evaluate  the City’s contention that APS owes certain amounts to the City in connection with the GO bonds.” 

“Most recently, on June 21st, APS renewed its request for this information and served an Open Records Act request on the City.  The City has indicated it will provide the documents to APS by July 12, 2019.  The GO bond issue is unrelated to the TAD intergovernmental agreement negotiations, although the City has attempted to link the two.  The Superintendent reached out directly to the Mayor on June 14th and again on June 19th requesting a meeting to resolve the TAD and any other related issues but received no response from the Mayor’s office.”

About Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 52,000 students across 89 schools. The district is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 61 neighborhood schools, five partner schools, 18 charter schools, two citywide single-gender academies, three alternative schools and four alternative programs.

# # #

Issued Tuesday, July 9, 2019 at 10:00 am

“APS has learned that the City of Atlanta has filed suit demanding payment related to general obligation bonds.  APS has not yet been served with a copy of the City’s filed complaint.  As background, we have previously been in talks with the City about the issue to understand it from their perspective but to date the City has provided us no information that shows that APS owes the City for these bonds. Moving forward, as this is now a litigation matter, APS will not comment any further.”

“Please note, however, that while this new lawsuit regarding the Go Bonds is not related to the Gulch development or the intergovernmental agreement reached between APS and the City in January of 2019, the City still has not made the $10 million payment to APS required under that agreement. APS continues to do what’s best for our 50,000 students, 6,000 employees, and 158,000 taxpayers in support of our city’s future.”

About Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 52,000 students across 89 schools. The district is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 61 neighborhood schools, five partner schools, 18 charter schools, two citywide single-gender academies, three alternative schools and four alternative programs.

# # #




**June 28, 2019 UPDATE: I am so excited to share the great news! **

I want to let you know that we received the Fulton County Tax Digest for 2019 (FY2020), and revenue growth is a bit stronger than anticipated! This means I am comfortable recommending to our Board adjusting the revenue assumptions for local tax revenue up by about $7.5 million or 1.3%, allowing us to fund teacher raises and our other remaining budget priorities!

This adjustment is pending Board approval, but I want to thank you, our taxpayers and this community, for making this possible for our hardworking educators. We couldn’t do this without you, and we are so grateful for this community’s support and commitment to our district and the City.

This adjustment is great news because it means we don’t have to wait on the payment from the City on our tax allocation district settlement agreement to get started on giving the full raises to teachers. This increase would allow us to fund most of the unfunded priorities of the FY20 budget, including the full compensation package that was recommended.

The compensation recommendations, if approved by the Board, are highlighted here:

  • Teacher pay raises increase from average 3.3% (about $2,000) to average 4.85% (about $3,000);
  • Instructional support pay raises increase from average 2.3% to average 3.2%;
  • One-time payment for eligible teacher and instructional support employees who are off step increases from $1,000 to $3,000;
  • Non-Teacher pay grades 125-150 receive a 1% increase in addition the step raise previously approved (total = 2.2%);
  • Non-Teacher pay grades 111-124 still receive the same step and 1% pay raise previously approved (total = $2.45%);
  • One-time payment for eligible non-teaching employees who are off step increases from $700 to $1,000;
  • Teacher career pathway stipends increase for department chair (middle school and high school), grade level team lead (elementary) and cooperating teacher, new stipend for lead campus-based mentor;
  • Implement remaining pay parity recommendations for JROTC local supplement and stipend adjustments and converting 42 hourly bus monitors and 38 special education paraprofessionals to full time with benefits.

Although we are all excited about this, there is still a lot of work to do including holding three public hearings related to the tax digest. APS is required to advertise a tax increase of 1.54% even though the millage rate will STAY THE SAME. That’s right! The millage rate will NOT increase. We hope you will participate in those! Because of this process, catching everyone up to the full compensation proposal will have to come in phases.

First, teachers and other non-annual employees would receive their new FY20 compensation beginning with their first paycheck of the new school year on August 30th, as normal. Then, annual duty employees would receive the additional compensation, plus retro pay, by the September 30th paycheck. Other components, like stipends and conversion to full time with benefits, would come at a later date.

Again, thank you for your support of the work of APS, and I ask for your continued patience and understanding as we work through this process. I will be sure to keep you fully informed about our timeline and public hearing dates as we move through the July and August steps.

I am so excited about the school year to come and look forward to continuing to work with this community to realize our vision of becoming a high performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trust the system! **

 

Training new principals and assistant principals of Atlanta Public Schools this morning for a new school year.

FY2020 Budget Approval and Ongoing Effort to Fully Fund Teacher Raises

After months of hard work and extensive community input, the Atlanta Board of Education last night approved FY2020 budgets for Atlanta Public Schools, which includes an $854 million operating budget. The budget, as approved, provides for equity and transparency, autonomy and flexibility, quality and efficiency, and, most importantly, compensation investments in our teachers and staff and programming for students.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet include the full teacher pay raises at the levels as approved by the General Assembly and the Governor earlier this year because the City of Atlanta has not honored its Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with APS. We continue to urge the City of Atlanta to pay the $10 million IGA settlement payment due to APS back in January 2019 and to honor the rest of the settlement agreement which includes funds for the recurring costs related to salary increases. Because we are also waiting for tax digest information from Fulton County, we assumed a conservative 4% growth rate for budgeting purposes. My May 7 blog provides considerable details about all of this.

Although we maintained a conservative approach, this budget includes:

  • $281 million to continue the District’s commitment to increase equity throughout the system through developing school budgets using the Student Success Funding (SSF) formula, which bases school funding on student attributes such as poverty, English language learners (ELL), Early Intervention Programs (EIP) and Remedial Education Programs (REP).
  • $46.9 million in support of investments in quality early childhood education, leadership development, whole-child development (including the arts, athletics and behavior supports), and investments in pre-K through third grade to ensure all students are reading by the end of third grade.
  • More than $10.2 million to provide targeted academic and wraparound support for targeted-tier schools, as well as schools transitioning from targeted-tier to intensive-tier, due to demonstrated gains on the state accountability metric.
  • $12 million in salary raises for all employees and keeps in alignment our pay scales and initiatives as set forth in the pay parity plan from 2015.
  • Non-teacher pay raises, which include a step and a 1% increase for pay grades 111-124 (total 2.45%), a step only for pay grades 125-140 (total 1.2%), and a $700 one-time payment for eligible employees who are off-step. 
  • Pay parity adjustments that include increasing school resource officer holidays equivalent to other employees, adjusting the JROTC instructor work schedule and supporting some position reclassifications.

The FY2020 budget continues to support site-based autonomy and flexibility by pushing an additional $3.5 million into schools for textbook adoptions, including $23.7 million of EIP/REP in SSF formula, allowing additional flexibility with turnaround funds, pushing $2.7 million of stipends from CLL to school budgets and continuing to invest $12.4 million in signature programs.

Tracey Pendley, Georgia Teacher of the Year

As we move into FY2020, we will do all we can to invest more in our teachers, staff and our schools. For example, as soon as we receive confirmation that the city has honored the IGA, it is our plan to fully fund an average raise of $3,000 per teacher, retroactively if necessary.

We fight hard for money due to APS so that, in part, we can compensate our teachers and staff for their tireless work to provide for our students so that they may have choice-filled lives. Let me shine a spotlight on some of our incredible APS colleagues who have recently received local, state and national recognition:

Kandice Mitchell, Assistant Director of Athletics for APS
  • Our own Tracey Pendley, fourth grade teacher at Burgess-Peterson Academy and most recent winner of the district’s Excellence in Teaching Award, was named the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year by State School Superintendent Richard Woods. That was the first time in almost four decades!
  • We are so proud of Kandice Mitchell, the district’s Assistant Director of Athletics, for being named State of Georgia Athletic Director of the Year by the Georgia Athletic Director’s Association. Kandice’s commitment to our student athletes, their families and this district is commendable. Kandice is a proud graduate of Benjamin E. Mays High School. She makes history as the first African-American woman selected for this prestigious honor. Along with Tracey Pendley, Kandice received a well-earned proclamation from the Atlanta City Council just yesterday.
  • Dr. Terrilyn Rivers-Cannon, who works with students and families at Washington High and Fickett Elementary, was named this year’s National School Social Worker of the Year by the School Social Workers Association of America.
  • The district had two honorees this year for Atlanta Families’ Awards for Excellence in Education. Both Dr. Andrew Lovett, principal of Benteen Elementary School, and Ashleigh Spatz, music teacher at Burgess-Peterson Academy, were surprised last month with $7,500 Teach On Project awards. The award includes $3,500 toward a school project of the winner’s choice, $1,500 for professional development and a $2,500 personal stipend. Dr. Lovett plans to use his award to fund a Building Brilliant Biliterate Readers project at Benteen. Ms. Spatz will use her grant to create the Composing for Community project at Burgess-Peterson.

In addition to these highlights, APS achieved a number of benchmarks and honors in improving human resources over this past school year, which makes our system stronger and working conditions better. Here are just a few:

  • We began the 2018-2019 school year with all principal positions filled and only seven teaching vacancies. This is the fifth consecutive year where APS had fewer than ten teacher vacancies on Day One.
  • APS has expanded training for principals on hiring for teacher quality and increased principal satisfaction with quality of applicants from 52% in the first year of the survey in 2016 to 71% in 2019.
  • APS has reached a record-high ability to provide a substitute when teachers are absent, increasing the substitute fill rate from 88% in 2014 to 98% in 2018.
  • The Georgia Association of School Personnel Administrators (GASPA) presented APS with a Platinum award for recruitment process/materials, a Gold award for strategic partnerships and retention practices and a Best in Class award for employee handbooks.
Last night, the Board and I celebrated Don Doran, one of the longest-serving and respected educators in APS who retired as Head of Schools for Drew Charter.

I want to thank Lisa Bracken, our chief financial officer, and Skye Duckett, chief human resources officer, and their teams for all of their hard work during the past school year. And I appreciate everyone in the APS family – students, families, teachers, support staff and all of our partners and supporters. We couldn’t have achieved our many successes without each and every one of you. I hope everyone has a wonderful summer break and comes back ready for more success and progress for the 2019-2020 school year!