If I were to even attempt to non-stop to thank everyone who donates to Atlanta Public Schools through DonorsChoose.org, it would take me – assuming that each heartfelt thank you would take at least 10 seconds – at least one day, 19 hours, eight minutes and 50 seconds to thank them all!
During a spring event with Good Morning America, DonorsChoose.org donated $25,000 to Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy
Even then, I could not express enough gratitude for the many ways we have seen educator support through DonorsChoose.org, a dynamic crowdfunding platform designed to connect donors with teachers who need help with materials and experiences for their students and classrooms.
Since 2014, this partnership has generated $5.4 million for nearly 7,000 projects across our school district. This effort has touched all of our schools, connecting them with some 15,533 donors at last count! (An interesting fact: 63% of the donors come from outside of Georgia! Thank you, America!)
Today … it all goes another level!
As one of 10 inaugural members of the DonorsChoose.org District Partnership Program, our teachers and principals can tap deeper into the organization’s network of 3.5 million donors. Additionally, APS gets a more streamlined process to align the donations with the APS strategy and operations.
DonorsChoose.org has helped fund more than 7,000 projects in APS.
That comes mostly through a dedicated page for our fundraising efforts. Potential donors can swiftly navigate through APS-specific projects to find the best match for their generosity and money.
For us, the new landing page enables our educators to easily monitor all projects and donated materials. Principals will be notified each time a project is funded and receive early notification when there are new “match” funding opportunities.
And if all of this wasn’t enough, DonorsChoose.org, as part of today’s announcement, plans to provide $250,000 in matching donations for their inaugural partners.
Discussing the spirit of giving with beautiful students at Deerwood Academy.
We celebrated this new venture at Deerwood Academy in the Therrell Cluster, where 12 teachers currently have projects in need of funding. With Principal Camisha Perry, teachers and first and fourth grade students from Ms. King and Ms. Jones-Harris classrooms, we all discussed the spirit of giving and how to be a good person by helping people or a cause.
Before reading Winning by Giving by Nancy Kelly Allen, we talked about the feelings donors get when they give. The students said they feel thankful and happy, and as one our students said, “Donors might get a blessing!”
So get in the spirit of giving, click on www.donorschoose.org/APS and help our teachers! You will get an APS blessing along with a Deerwood Academy “choo choo” thank you!
Here are some of the students and teachers at Deerwood Academy who need your donations!
District reports highest number of graduates to date – 2,506 students! APS decreased by 2.0 percentage point from all-time high last year.
Whenever the day arrives when the Georgia Department of Education releases official graduation rates, I can always expect a mix of news. And as it happens every year, the news for Atlanta Public Schools comes with a mix of great news for some of our high schools and room for improvement on our overall district rate.
Coretta Scott King reported a 100% graduation rate!
First, the news: Atlanta Public Schools (APS) reported a 77.9 percent graduation rate for the 2019 cohort, according to graduation data released today by the Georgia Department of Education. The rate represents an 18.8 percentage point increase over 2014, although 2.0 percentage points less than the district’s all-time high graduation rate of 79.9 percent posted in 2018.
And now the great news: More students – 2,506 of them – graduated on-time from APS in 2019 than any other year since 2012, when the state adopted the cohort graduation rate as required by federal law. This is an increase of 68 students from 2018. The 2019 cohort included 3,215 students, an increase of 165 compared to 2018 and the largest cohort since 2014.
More news: The 2019 results also show that the APS rate lags behind the state graduation rate of 82.0% by 4.1 percentage points.
Healthy growth comes with both gains and declines and ebbs and flows, but as long as progress moves overall in the right direction strongly and consistently, the work remains on target to reach the district’s graduation goals. That has been the case for Atlanta Public Schools. As Figure 1 shows, the district’s graduation rate remains 18.8 percentage points higher than the 59.1 percent rate for cohort 2014.
While our rate declined slightly from our all-time high in 2018, we are encouraged that our efforts are continuing to yield results for kids and producing much stronger outcomes than just five years ago. There is no question, however, that there is much more work to be done to ensure that all students are on the path to graduation.
But we have some great news to share about our graduation rates!
Five of our schools posted graduation rates greater than 90 percent. In fact, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, led by Principal Eulonda Washington, had a 100% graduation rate for cohort 2019. The other schools include: Drew Secondary (96.6%) – Principal Kendrick Myers; Carver Early College (92.6%) – Principal Marcene Thornton; North Atlanta High School (91.1%) – Principal Curtis Douglass; and Grady High School (90.4%) – Principal Betsy Bockman.
Eight schools achieved percentage point gains compared to 2018: Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (+6.5) – Principal Eulonda Washington; Forrest Hill (+4.7) – Principal Zawadaski Robinson; Carver STEAM (+3.1) – Principal Yusuf Muhammad; South Atlanta High (+3.0) – Principal Patricia Ford; B.E.S.T. Academy (+2.4) – Tim Jones; Crim High (+2.3), Carver Early College (+0.9) – Principal Marcene Thornton; and Therrell High (+0.6) – Principal Shelly Powell. See Figure 2.
Figure 2: 2019 APS Graduation Rates and Changes from 2018
I want to give a huge shout out and a congratulations to all teachers and staff at these schools and a big shout out to all of our principals. I also want to thank Evelyn Mobley, principal of Crim and Phoenix Academy, for addressing the needs of our at-risk and credit-deficient 11th and 12th grade students and helping them get back on the path to graduation.
Across the district, I want to thank our teachers, school leaders, graduation coaches, counselors, administration teams, and support staff for everything they’ve done to help our students succeed. When you visit our schools, please be sure to thank them as well, as they are at the front lines of our mission. These graduation rates reflect not only student achievement but their unrelenting efforts to prepare them for choice-filled lives!
I also want to recognize Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan and Associate Superintendent Dan Sims, and his team in our Office of High Schools, Chief Accountability and Information Officer Bill Caritj, Executive Director Michael LaMont and his Data and Information Group, especially Elise Lenthe, for creating the dashboards and tracking tools we needed.
I’ll provide a full report on graduation rates and other performance indicators for the district at the 2019 State of the District on Thursday, November 7, at the newly renovated Harper-Archer Elementary at 3399 Collier Dr. NW, Atlanta 30331. Heroic students, educators and APS staff will join me to narrate “The Epic of APS,” which highlights the victories, struggles and stalemates from the APS Journey of Transformation and our quest for excellence to ensure all students graduate ready for college and career. I’d love to see you there! RSVP here.
Until then, my APS colleagues and I are working to increase graduation rates once again. Thanks to all in Atlanta for the ongoing support of our educators and students!
The part of my job as superintendent that I love more than anything is when I get to visit our schools and classrooms and see our educators and students in action. And as superintendent, I fully understand that my work is wholly dependent on our team leading where they work in our district. There are few people that I rely more upon than our school administrators.
I am so proud of our school leadership. I truly think we have the best team of principals and assistant principals in the state! I was thrilled to go out to our schools last week to surprise several of them as finalists for Principal of the Year and Assistant Principal of the Year.
We will name the winners at the APyeS awards program on Tuesday, October 29, at the Delta Flight Museum.
Before I reveal the finalists, I want our community to understand how much responsibility we have directed to our school-based leadership in recent years. I really depend on this amazing educators for their work on the frontlines of education as we prepare our children for college and career.
And so as part of our operating model and agreement with the state, we have directed more decisions to be made at the school level by these principals and their teachers, 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.
We also have designed an Aspiring Leaders program for internal leaders who wish to pursue a position as assistant principal or principal in our district within the next 1-2 years. We created the program as it was essential that we provide leadership development for team members already committed to the APS mission and vision.
These changes are paying off! We are seeing evidence of more engagement, better outcomes and higher achievement. Additionally, we are also seeing more stability at the school. 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!
I’m so proud of all of them … drum roll, please. The finalists for APS Principal of the Year are:
Robin Christian of Barack and Michelle Obama Academy
Audrey Sofianos of Morningside Elementary School
Eulonda Washington of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy
The finalists for APS Assistant Principal of the Year are:
Joy Antone of Inman Middle School
Sharonda Murrell of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy
Robert Stewart of Miles Elementary School
Congratulations to all of you! And good luck at the APyeS Awards!
At least four times each year, I engage with local reporters from print, broadcast and even our high schools journalists to talk about what’s happening in Atlanta Public Schools. I convened the latest Superintendent Quarterly Media Roundtable on Wednesday afternoon at the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Learning and Leadership.
As part of the formal agenda, we talked about our work on the next five-year Strategic Plan; the district’s work on a Facilities Master Plan; the inaugural Great Atlanta Bash football extravaganza at Georgia State’s football stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21; the APyeS awards, which will be presented on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at the Delta Flight Museum; and the upcoming “Epic of APS” State of the District, on Thursday, Nov. 7, at a newly renovated Harper-Archer Elementary School.
I am proud, honored and humbled to be your
superintendent, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. Over the past
five years, I have used this blog to inform you – the APS community – in a
direct and transparent way about our work on behalf of Atlanta’s children.
This morning, the Atlanta Board of Education decided
to launch a search for a new superintendent. Serving the children of Atlanta
Public Schools in this role – and working alongside our educators, caregivers
and partners – has been the greatest honor of my professional life.
As I have expressed throughout the community for the
past few months, I had a sincere desire for a contract extension so that our
team and I could complete the vision and charge I was hired to achieve for the
benefit of Atlanta’s children: Rebuild trust and restore pride in Atlanta
Public Schools and position it for the future, especially after the largest
cheating scandal in the history of public education.
I’ve always been committed to working diligently and
collaboratively to achieve the District’s goals and our mission to prepare
every student for college and career. I feel we are well on that path. In fact,
APS has made great progress from rising graduation rates to higher test scores
to increased autonomy and resources for our schools.
I love hard. I work passionately. And when necessary,
I fight for APS and Atlanta’s children. I have always done what I believed to
be right. I’ve always worked conscientiously to execute our mission and vision.
And I have always had the belief that, despite challenges we have faced, we
have always been able to come together and take actions in the best interests
of children. For that, I am really proud of everyone in APS.
The disparity in educational outcomes for Atlanta’s
children has been intergenerational and systemic. The solutions are not easy,
which is why I so passionately wanted to stay and finish the job I was hired to
The Atlanta community entrusts its children and its
hard-earned tax dollars to us. We in APS owe it to our community to continue to
get up each day and show up for our children. I am incredibly humbled by the
support and grateful for our community of students, caregivers, principals,
teachers, staff, alumni and partners who have been so supportive of the work we
I’ve said many times: I love Atlanta … I believe in
Atlanta. I believe in everyone in APS, and I believe everyone on our team will
continue to get the job done for children. Despite progress and gains, this
work is not done.
As hard as it is sometimes, given the challenges
inside and outside of the system, I do love my job and want to work to ensure
that Atlanta has a homegrown educated workforce. I’ve made Atlanta my home, and
there is still so much more work to be done. We have come a long way since the
dark days of scandal, and I hope we can continue the progress.
Our children need all of us — the Board and
Superintendent, along with the entire APS community — to fight for them and to
be their voice to have the best chance at choice-filled lives.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also, APS’ college-going rate
has increased to 62%, climbing 11 percentage points.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.
– 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.
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
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
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
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!
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.
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!
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
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!
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
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!
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.
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:
who ride the bus have fewer absences.
are 50 times more likely to arrive at school safely on a school bus than if
they drive themselves or ride with friends.
who ride the bus are more confident and have higher self-esteem and social
who take the bus are contributing to cleaner air by doing their part to reduce
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!
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!”