Congratulations, Grad Nation APS Class of 2019!

It’s late on Friday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, and for the first time in five days, there’s almost complete silence.

Starting with graduation rehearsals about 108 hours ago, cheers, congratulatory shouts and celebratory music and songs began filling the arena and never let up until literally just moments ago. But now all of the members of Atlanta Public Schools’ Class of 2019 — nearly 2,500 of them cheered on by happy, teary-eyed parents, caregivers and other family members, as well as teachers, principals and friends — have left the building to begin their lives as graduates of Atlanta Public Schools.

Soon-to-be KIPP graduates demonstrating their “Work Hard. Be Nice!” motto as they prepare to walk.

This class amassed more than $154 million and counting in scholarship dollars, which includes the more than $17 million earned by more than 1,000 Achieve Atlanta Scholars to qualify each of them for up to $20,000 for four years of college. They are on track to complete more than 10,222 AP/IB/Dual Enrollment credits, which is 1,300 more than the Class of 2018 and nearly twice as many as the Class of 2015! And they scored in athletics with 18 region championships, 65 teams advancing to the state playoffs and six individuals and teams coming back with state championship trophies!

I am already starting to miss them, but I am so proud of each and every one of them. And I am bursting with pride because Operation Grad Nation, once again, was a huge success! #APSGrad19

The “dreamy” Nathaniel Ward of Grady High who raised us up with his beautiful singing voice

During Graduation Week, we truly live the mission of Atlanta Public Schools: Graduating students ready for college and career. And as those who have ever attended or viewed one of our ceremonies … NO ONE puts on graduation like APS! All 14 ceremonies were filled with so many beautiful moments when we saw our students – our community’s sons and daughters, grandchildren and godchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends – walk across the stage in their splendid school colors.

As we all came together as family to cheer our children – our newly minted graduates – into the future, it is rewarding to know that so many of these students worked so hard with some persevering against incredible challenges. No matter the circumstances or individual stories – and yes, there are more than 2,500 of them – they made it to the stage for graduation this week.

They represented everything we want to stand for at APS, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

But their work and their lives, have only begun. Indeed, the word “commencement” is a beginning, a start. Most members of the Class of 2019 have decided to continue their education in college or technical schools. I have no doubt they will excel there as they did in high school. Some students, with their high school diplomas in hand, are off to the workforce prepared to start their careers. Others have stepped up to the challenge of protecting our nation by joining the armed services, and we are so proud of their commitment to our country.  This is truly a beginning of the next chapter of the rest of their lives.

Whatever paths these graduates choose, I can only hope that they will take all of their lessons, experiences and friendships with them. But for now, I want them to take a moment to celebrate in the works and honors they have achieved.

We salute the Class of 2019 for a job well done! And thanks to our graduation team including Dr. Isaac Sparks, our graduation coaches, the high school principals, our student resource officers, the communications team and all of the volunteers for putting on another great program. And thank you to the members of the Atlanta Board of Education for their support.

For all of us, APS has provided many ways to relive the spirit of graduation. Of course, the first stop is to visit our main page at for archived video and media galleries of every ceremony. My APS colleagues and I have posted hundreds of images and videos on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. My handle is @carstarphenmj; the district’s is @apsupdate.

Also, I’ve collected a sampling of my favorite new memories and have shared them in the galleries below. Enjoy!

Again, congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2019.

Atlanta Classical Academy, Saturday, May 18, 2019, Trinity Presbyterian Church

Charles R. Drew Charter, Saturday, May 18, Drew School Gymnasium

Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy/BEST Academy, Tuesday, May 21

KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, Tuesday, May 21

Schools of Carver, Wednesday, May 22

South Atlanta High School, Wednesday, May 22

Frederick Douglass High School, Wednesday, May 22

Grady High School, Thursday, May 23

Therrell High School, Thursday, May 23

Booker T. Washington High School, Friday, May 24

Alonzo A. Crim High School, Friday, May 24

Benjamin E. Mays High School, Friday, May 24

Maynard H. Jackson High School, May 24

North Atlanta High School, May 24

Commencement Week for APS Is Here!

Operation Grad Nation 2019 officially kicks off tomorrow at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, 965 Fowler St. NW, Atlanta 30318

We are nearly there! Only a day away from kicking off the official Operation Grad Nation 2019 ceremonies! I am overwhelmed in anticipation as I cannot wait to celebrate with our families, teachers and staff as Atlanta Public Schools hands out diplomas to graduating seniors.

Our ceremonies kick off at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21, with soon-to-be graduates from Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy and B.E.S.T. Academy gathering at the McCamish Pavilion. We will host ceremonies though Friday, May 24. All details are available at

The move to Georgia Tech from the Georgia World Congress Center stands as the most obvious change from graduation ceremonies of the past. We had to move the venue because the Georgia World Congress Center was already booked for years in advance during our usual graduation times. We are so grateful to Georgia Tech to have such a beautiful arena available for our graduations this year.

As this is a new venue for us, we have a number arrival details to share with you. Here are four things everyone must know upon arriving at graduation.

No. 1 – Clear Bag Policy

Guests of the McCamish Pavilion must adhere to Georgia Tech’s Clear Bag Policy. Please bring a small bag (no larger than 4.5 X 6.5) or clear bag to the facility. A complimentary clear bag valet will be available for guests. Note: medical bags will be permitted.

No. 2 – Parking Map

A detailed parking map is available for guests. You’ll find it on our GradNation webpage. The map includes an area layout, deck pricing, and shuttle service locations for Georgia Tech campus parking decks.

No. 3 – MARTA and Parking Deck Shuttle Bus

A shuttle bus for MARTA riders will be located at the Midtown MARTA station. A route will be released at a later date.

No. 4 – Security Check Points

Upon arrival, guests are required to enter through security check points. Outside food and beverage and weapons, including those carried with a permit are not permitted.

In anticipation of heavy traffic, we strongly encourage guests to arrive one hour in advance of their respective ceremonies. For your convenience, the Ken Byers Tennis Complex has been identified as an inside holding area for early arrivals.

Again, you may view and download the APS commencement schedule, rehearsal dates, clear bag policy and parking map at our official commencement website: Be sure to reference the website for updated information as we approach commencement week.

Should you have any questions concerning this year’s commencement week, please email We look forward to seeing everyone at Operation GradNation 2019! Congratulations to all our seniors!

Our Very Own Tracey Pendley is the State TOTY! First Time for APS in Nearly Four Decades!

I’m just beside myself right now and am beyond thrilled to share the news that our very own Tracey Pendley, fourth grade teacher at Burgess-Peterson Academy who is also our reigning winner of the district’s Excellence in Teaching Award, was just named the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year by State School Superintendent Richard Woods!

Woohoo! Congratulations, Tracey, on achieving this amazing honor! It is so well deserved.

The state of Georgia sees in you what we’ve seen in you from the very first time you stepped into an APS classroom, and that is how much love and passion you have for our students and for teaching, and the tremendous impact you’re having on our students’ lives and on their future.

Tracey once said, “I believe all students should have some magic in the classroom.” I just love that statement because it speaks so clearly to Tracey’s approach to teaching her students.

Tracey truly is an all-around winner because she is also the recipient of the 2018 Atlanta Families Award for Excellence in Education. Anyone who knows Tracey knows that she believes in the power of education and is deeply committed to social justice and educational equity.

Ms. Pendley’s personal commitment to and belief in our students is palpable, and it really shines through every day in the way she teaches.  We’re so proud of you, Tracey, and can’t thank you enough for being a part of our APS family!

Here’s a little known fact that speaks to how huge this honor is….APS has had only one state TOTY winner and that was in 1981. So, Tracey’s award tonight literally represents the first time in decades (38 years by my count!) that an APS teacher has nabbed this award. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so elated and so excited for Tracey.

As I mentioned, in addition to this state recognition, Tracey is APS’ reigning winner of our Excellence in Teaching Award. She received this recognition in October 2018, which highlights the District’s best, brightest and most accomplished classroom educators. Winning this recognition is no easy feat! Tracey was selected from the best of the best after a very rigorous process.

First, she won the excellence in teaching award at her school and then applied to be nominated for the District award. A nominating panel reviewed the nominees and narrowed the list down to nine semi-finalists and then selected a winner for each grade band:  elementary school, middle school and high school. Tracey won the elementary grade level and then she took home the big prize, winning the Excellence in Teaching award for the whole District!

Ms. Pendley began her teaching career with APS seven years ago as a 4th grade teacher and interventionist at Toomer Elementary. In 2013 she became a 4th grade teacher and mentor teacher for the CREATE teacher residency program where she has the opportunity to prepare future teachers and magnify the power of education at Burgess Peterson Academy.

Prior to coming to APS, Tracey was a 3rd grade teacher at Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago Public Schools from 2009 to 2012, and she was also the Director/Tutor of a ministry-based afterschool program in Greenville, South Carolina from 2002 to 2006. She earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Chicago, Urban Teacher Education Program and her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Religion from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.

In applying to teach at APS, Tracey said, “Every child is deserving of an education that challenges, fosters responsibility, and teaches about the world and the many possibilities for their own lives. In my classroom these beliefs translate into a literacy and numeracy rich environment in which daily differentiated instruction, relationship building, and critical thinking are key. I challenge students to think critically about important historical events and to draw connections between themselves and people of different races, cultures, and beliefs.”

Tracey, we love you and celebrate you for being a shining example of what teaching excellence is and should be not just in APS, but in the state of Georgia!


**UPDATE: For every Regional Budget Meeting, including tonight’s (May 9) meeting at Inman Middle School at 6 p.m., Atlanta Public Schools will have the district’s Finance Team and a Human Resources representative available to address all questions and concerns regarding the tentative FY20 budget and compensation.**Creating a FY2020 Budget that Puts Students First, Rewards Hard-working Employees

As recently as my last blog about National Teacher Appreciation Week, I mentioned how much I enjoy this time of year as we celebrate our beloved educators and our beautiful students – soon-to-be Class of 2019 graduates in particular. And I do, but this also proves to be among the most challenging parts of the year because it is also Budget Season!

Every budget cycle offers its share of puzzles and headaches, but this one has been somewhat daunting. Money expected from an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Atlanta has not been paid, while tax forecasts from the county have been delayed. Such obstacles and delays make it difficult for our financial team and the Atlanta Board of Education to develop a sound and responsible budget for the fiscal year ahead.

But we are getting there.

The Board approved a tentative FY2020 budget for the district with a 7-1 vote on Monday, May 6. It represents months of work, although there is still another month of work until the Board’s final approval on June 3. And it includes teacher and staff pay raises but not at the level approved by the General Assembly and the Governor earlier this year.

Let me explain.

Although the Board tentatively approved a $851 million General Fund Budget, it came short in funding all of the raises because we continue to wait on the $10 million IGA settlement payment from the City of Atlanta due back in January 2019. We are hopeful that this agreement will be honored by the City so that we can have confidence that we will receive the recurring $12 million from the Eastside TAD in next year’s budget and future budgets.

We also continue to wait for digest information from the Fulton County Tax Assessors, so the budget is based on a conservative growth estimate of 4%.

For further background, the state-suggested pay raises are not fully funded. While we appreciate the attention paid to low teacher pay in public education, the FY2020 state budget did not provide funding to school districts equivalent to the $3,000 per teacher pay raises.

First of all, we employ more teachers (and other crucial wrap-around staff) than is funded through the state QBE funding formula, and raises for all these employees must be 100% paid for from local funds. Also, the state funding formula is reduced for all districts by something called the “local fair share” or “local five-mill share.” Because of large increases in this state hold-back, we only expect about $8.9 million of new funding from the state. The compensation package we would need in order to meet the state’s recommendation would be $18.5 million.

Since January, we had planned on offsetting the lack of state funding for these raises through recurring funds promised in our TAD intergovernmental agreement or IGA as negotiated with the City of Atlanta. However, because another $10 million one-time payment that was also negotiated with the city and due in January was never paid, we are hesitant to pass on the full amount of the raises until this revenue funding source is more secure.

That gives a picture of how the revenues stack up, but we’ve still been able to do quite a bit in this budget even with restricted new revenue. 

This budget includes:

  • $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.
  • Raises for employees on the teacher pay scale equal an average of $2,000 (3.3%) per teacher and include a $1,000 one-time payment for eligible employees who are off-step. The district is receiving $8.9 million in state funding for teacher pay raises, and the proposed teacher raises cost $9 million, therefore passing on the entire amount received from the state.
  • 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.

While this is not everything we wanted to do, we intend to provide the full package of pay raises if we are able to secure the additional revenue in the coming months and would pay that retroactively to the start of the school year if we need to.

In this budget, we continue to meet our obligations for pension and rising TRS costs. More money than ever has been pushed directly to schools, through Student Success Funding (SSF), including an additional $2.5 million for textbooks. This year, $420 million of the budget goes directly into traditional school budgets. On top of that, $135 million is dedicated to charter schools and $44 million to partner schools.

This shows a concerted effort of this Board and the District in making sure that schools, GO teams, and principals are the ones with more control over their school allocations making decisions in the best interest of students. 

Once flowthrough dollars – funding spent centrally directly on school efforts – is taken into account, the central departments account for less than 10% of this tentative budget, meaning more funding spent directly on students.

Between now and the final adoption, we will hopefully have final revenue projections with the sending of property notices, and we will have more accurate forecasts for the charter and partner budget once the FY2020 QBE sheets have been released by the state. 

We will address any of these adjustments that we can at the May 16 budget commission meeting.

The public has more opportunities ahead to learn and speak about the budget. The Board has scheduled another public hearing for the FY2020 budget at 6 p.m. Monday, June 3, here at the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Learning and Leadership. The District will also host four community meetings (all at 6 p.m.):

  • Thursday, May 9 at Inman Middle School
  • Monday, May 13 at Benteen Elementary School
  • Thursday, May 16 at E. Rivers Elementary School
  • Monday, May 20 at B.E.S.T. Academy

All of the budget work helps us keep focused on our mission and our No. 1 core value of putting students and schools first. I am encouraged by the work so far and look forward to the weeks ahead as we finish building the strongest budget possible for our students and schools.


Shine, Shine, Shine … to Amazing Teachers all over APS

For many students and teachers in Atlanta Public Schools, May marks one of the most favorite times of the school year as anticipation rises about the end of school and, for our seniors, graduation. This, too, is a favorite moment for me … and one reason involves this week: National Teacher Appreciation Week. For it is now, when we can really celebrate the selfless and tireless work of amazing, dynamic and fabulous teachers all over the district.

Tracey Pendley of Burgess-Peterson Academy, APS Teacher of the Year

I can never stress enough about the importance of our teachers as they truly serve on the front line on our mission to graduate every child ready for college and career. Research shows that the most important factor in student achievement is high-quality educators. Every day inside and outside of our classrooms, they provide our students with guidance, motivation and inspiration so they can succeed far beyond the boundaries of their school building. After a child’s parents, no one is more instrumental in their development than a teacher.

This year, we literally got off to an early start of celebrating this week. On Saturday, May 4, at Brown Middle School and on the Westside Beltline Trail, more than 940 teachers, students, community members and others who support Atlanta Public Schools signed up for the race, and close to 650 of them turned out and ran the Inaugural APS Rocks and Runs 5K and Fun Run in celebration of APS educators. See our photo gallery here!

Dan Adam Lloyd of Sutton Middle, Finalist, APS Teacher of the Year.

The proceeds of that race helped pay for gifts for all of our teachers. Special delivery teams and I started today to personally deliver the gifts and surprises, which includes free admission to the Fernbank Museum of National History! (Keep checking @CarstarphenMJ and @apsupdate on Twitter for new photos of incredible teachers in action!)

Stephen Lawrence of North Atlanta, Finalist, APS Teacher of the Year

I am not sure that I or anyone can thank our teachers enough for all that they do for our students and our city, state and nation. But please take a moment in person and on social media to #ThankATeacher. Let us know about special teachers @CarstarphenMJ and @apsupdate!

Much love and big hugs to teachers everywhere!!!!!

Below are our 2019 STAR teachers and students.

A Beautiful APS Day at the Races!

As a runner, there are few experiences as satisfying as a race well run. But as we concluded the Inaugural APS Rocks and Runs after running a 5K path alongside the Westside Beltline Trail and holding a Fun Run at Brown Middle School, I was on a runner’s high like no other.

Over 940 teachers, students, community members and others who support Atlanta Public Schools signed up for the race and close to 650 of them turned out and enjoyed a lovely Saturday morning, celebrating our schools and especially our teachers as we near National Teacher Appreciation Week (which will get its own blog on Monday!).

I’ve written before about the long, winding road it took to get here. But I must thank again our race coordinator, GO RACE Productions and all of the partners who made this event possible. Our sponsors include:

  • Pinnacle Credit Union
  • Girls on the Run
  • Atlanta Track Club
  • Family First Credit Union
  • Georgia’s Own Credit Union
  • Team Rehabilitation
  • Lasso
  • King of Pops
  • Monday Night Brewery
  • Morningstar Storage
  • V103
  • PAGE Inc.
  • The Tax People USA
  • Georgia Federation of Public Service Employees
  • STREAM Realty
  • Educators First
  • Georgia Work Force

I also must thank our safety and security team for making this a safe race. Thank you to all of our volunteers for making this a fun race! Thanks to Olympic hurdler, Mikel Thomas, for warming us up! Also, thank you to Principal Tiauna Crooms of Brown Middle and my BFFs Michael Wilburn and Rachel Sprecher for helping bring this event to life.

Thanks to everyone who ran! Enjoy the photos!       #APSRocksandRuns

Celebrating our 2019 Valedictorians, Salutatorians, and STAR Students, and Knowing When to Pick Your Right Moment!

It’s that time of year! It’s time to celebrate!

I wish everyone could have seen our shining stars this morning at our annual Val/Sal/STAR Awards ceremony at the Georgia Power corporate headquarters building. Our students’ accomplishments, academic achievements and positive outlook shone brightly across the room.

Click here to watch an exciting video of each of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students introducing themselves and explaining the work they put in to achieve their goals.

This is my fifth year presenting the challenge to our outstanding student scholars, and every year I am impressed by these academic superstars who overcome all obstacles in order to succeed. That commitment takes grit, it takes perseverance, and it takes self confidence. But, it also means not bowing at the feet of failure, as our eloquent mistress of ceremony, Kireon Bunkley-Hill, stated.  

I shared with our students that even in the face of adversity, we must not only have the courage to act, we must know when to act in order to have long-lasting impact.

Let’s look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the example he set for us. Dr. King showed us how to make the right choices in leadership and when to pick the right moment to act – even amid adversity and discomfort – to make a greater gain later.

If we were to travel back to this very week in 1944, we would find that a young Dr. King – a junior at our own Booker T. Washington High School – has won a Black Elks oratorical contest that earns him a trip to the state contest in Dublin, Georgia. Anticipation and excitement for the young King is high. But on the long bus trip, the driver keeps telling King and his teacher that they must surrender their seats to white passengers.

At first, King refuses. But, his teacher convinces him they should give up their seats. They would not win that fight on that day. That wasn’t the right time. Fast forward a decade to 1955, and King leads the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest black passengers giving up seats to white ones.

Fast Forward again, another 10 years, to Selma, Alabama in 1965.

King leads the Selma to Montgomery march that spurred passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But what few people know is that there was actually a third march between the two historical marches (Bloody Sunday and Selma to Montgomery), the one that took a couple hundred people to the bridge and stopped and then turned around.

Dr. King — and this was on a Tuesday just two days after the infamous Bloody Sunday — led some 2,500 marchers on that day. He took them right up to the edge of the Edmond Pettus Bridge. But he wouldn’t let them cross the bridge, not AT THAT TIME.

There was a federal restraining order that would not protect the march, and would not ensure safe passage across the bridge, protecting the marchers from the police, their dogs, their billy clubs, and their guns. Dr. King took the marchers to the bridge, right up to the edge. They prayed. And they turned around.

Dr. King could have taken the marchers across the bridge and faced what very likely would have become a very, very Bloody Tuesday. But he thought ahead and never lost sight of the overall goal. A second bloody march would not have likely advanced the cause, perhaps some may have seen it as a careless waste of lives if some were killed.

For me, that decision to wait demonstrated amazing courage, a certain valor of waiting and turning around. He knew greater outcomes would come to the marchers if he picked the RIGHT moment to push ahead.

And when forced into reflection, often sitting in jail for his beliefs, he used those moments to map out a framework aimed at creating a lasting impact.

Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”  provides King’s perspective on a Beloved Community and has become a blueprint for lasting change. Through his teachings of love in action, Dr. King has given us six steps to social and interpersonal change as articulated by the King Center here in Atlanta: information gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion/negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. Read my previous blog to learn more about these steps.

In reviewing the hard work of our 2019 Vals, Sals, and STAR students, many of their steps mirror those of the action steps to social and interpersonal change.

I can see evidence of the step of Information Gathering in our researchers Kyndall, Jaedyn, Degreer and Niani; our engineers Xavier, Jake, Thomas and Marco; our software and artificial intelligence developers Yusef, Khadim and Tam; and our mathematician Robert and our neuroscientist William.

Education is represented in Natalie, our future educational policy analyst; our kindergarten teacher Kendrecus; our graphic designer Amir; our health policy advisor Emery, our financial analyst, India and our photographer Haley.

Personal Commitment is personified in Charity, who wants to be a Green Beret; Angel, who plans to be an FBI agent; and Peyton, who wants to be a business leader and mentor.

Discussion and Negotiation is evident in our debaters, Mikale and Eric; future attorneys, Drehanna and Ese; and entrepreneur Alahaji.

I see quite a transformation in our students as they plan to take Direct Action by going into medicine and veterinary science. They are Hannah, MacKenzie, Myles, Princess, Niya, Dailyn, Abigail, DeMaria and George.

And finally, I see transformation in our students Reconciliation with their plans to go into the fields of psychology like Ayanna and Ashley or go into humanitarian endeavors like Darling!

But more work lies ahead and so do new and sometimes difficult challenges. In those moments, even when we’re winning and succeeding, I encourage all of us to take a step back, remember the lessons of Dr. King, recognize the right time and pick your right moment. Long-lasting impact is the goal.  Know when to retreat and reset and when to unleash all that is in you to overcome any and all obstacles in your path.

I am so proud of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students and of the educators and friends who have supported them along the way.


North Atlanta High School Bel Canto Ensemble sung the national anthem at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.
Peyton Rodgers, Valedictorian at Charles R. Drew Charter School, played a musical selection on the harp at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.