For Deeper Dive into Black History Month, Just Look at Our Schools

In February, we celebrate the immeasurable impact African-Americans have had on our society and even our individual lives. With such a rich deposit of American and Atlanta history, we really should recognize every month as Black History Month!

It’s inspirational every year during Black History Month to see the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, George Washington Carver and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. revered and discussed.

We, too, in Atlanta celebrate them. In fact, many of our schools are named after extraordinary and well-known African Americans, not only Carver, Douglass and King but Maynard H. Jackson, Benjamin E. Mays and Booker T. Washington as well.

We have honored our schools by naming them after extraordinary women – Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama, M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain, Leonora Precious Miles and Jean Childs Young – as I explored in this space last year.

During the transformation over the past few years in Atlanta Public Schools, we have had the opportunity to name or rename schools and buildings after living and local legends, including the Obamas, Congressman John Lewis, aviation industry pioneer Michael Hollis, the Tuskegee Airmen and Alonzo A. Crim, the first African-American superintendent for APS.

This year, I wanted to explore other APS schools, where the legacy and names of some of the most distinguished people in Atlanta and in American history are literally etched into those walls.


Boyd Elementary School – William Madison Boyd – As a renowned educator who taught at both Fort Valley State and Atlanta University, Boyd became known nationwide for his political writings, especially in support of the 1953 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In addition to his activism for equal access to education, he became a leader in the South for civil rights.


Bunche Middle School – Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) – Bunche was a political scientist, educator and diplomat best known for his mediation efforts in Israel in the late 1940s that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. He continued to serve on peacekeeping missions for the United Nations in the Middle East, the Congo, Cyprus and Bahrain.


Dobbs Elementary – John Wesley Dobbs (1882-1961) – Dobbs was a key civic and political leader from Atlanta who co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League in 1936, which registered more than 20,000 African Americans in Atlanta to vote over the subsequent 10 years. His activism paved the way for black men and women to hold city positions and government offices, including his grandson, Maynard H. Jackson, who became the city’s first mayor.


Charles Drew Charter School – Charles Drew (1904-1950) – Drew was an American surgeon and medical researcher. His expertise with blood transfusions contributed to the development of large-scale blood banks during World War II. He protested the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained such a policy until 1950.


Dunbar Elementary – Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) – As the son of freed slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar became one of the first influential black poets in American literature, known mostly for his dialectic verse but also for his versatility in style and also for his novels, short stories and essays.

Harper-Archer Elementary – Charles Lincoln Harper (1877-1955) and Samuel Howard Archer (1870-1941) – Harper was the first principal of Booker T. Washington High School when it opened in 1924. Samuel Howard Archer became president of Morehouse College in 1931 after teaching there for more than a quarter of a century.


Hope-Hill Elementary – Dr. John Hope (1868-1936) – Dr. Hope was the first African-American president of Atlanta University and Morehouse College, where he was instrumental in expanding the school to include a graduate program. Later, he became active in national civil rights organizations, including the Niagara Movement and later the NAACP.  


Toomer Elementary School – Fred A. Toomer (1889-1961) – Toomer was a well-known businessman and civic leader, who worked as a bellhop, a Pullman porter and an embalmer before becoming an insurance salesman with Atlanta Life Insurance Company. He quickly rose through the rank to eventually become chief auditor and a vice president.  He was active with the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, the United Negro College Fund and the YMCA.


Usher-Collier Heights Elementary – Bazoline Estelle Usher (1885-1992) – Usher was an American educator known for her work in APS as the director of education for African-American children before integration. She was the first African American to have an office at Atlanta City Hall. She founded the first Girl Scout troop for African-American girls in Atlanta in 1943. Her career as an educator lasted more than 50 years, most of which was in Atlanta schools.


Woodson Park Academy – Dr. Carter Woodson – Dr. Woodson was an American historian, author and journalist who founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. And it is appropriate that this list concludes with Dr. Woodson as he was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. As the founder of The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and for launching “Negro History Week” in 1926, he has been called the “father of black history.”

This list isn’t meant to be fully comprehensive or complete but designed to encourage more exploration into the many people who shaped the history of our schools, our city, our state and our nation!

I encourage everyone to delve deeper and take advantage of the fact that we are opening the APS Archives and Museum, located on the first floor of the Crim Center for Learning and Leadership, 130 Trinity Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Monday through the end of February.

Match & Fit: Achieve Atlanta’s Next Transformational Step

To this day, I remember the pent-up excitement I felt the morning of June 5, 2015, moments before a truly transformational announcement from Atlanta Public Schools. I counted the hours, minutes, seconds to when we could tell all of APS, Atlanta and the nation the news. Finally, we spelled it out in huge headlines.

My own blog headline read:

With support from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, the Woodruff Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Achieve Atlanta emerged with a clear, dynamic mission to dramatically increase the number of APS students graduating from high school and then entering and successfully graduating from colleges, universities and technical schools. This $20 million investment supported college counseling support and gap scholarships!

On that day, I described the initiative as “beautiful, bold and aggressive.”

I have rarely been as prescient as I was that day. The numbers bear the claim. Through four cohorts of APS students, 3,060 scholars have received Achieve Atlanta scholarships that total more than $18 million! They have been accepted at 248 colleges. Finally, APS’ college-going rate over that time has increased 11 percentage points with 62% of the 2018 cohort enrolled in two or four-year institutions.

Just in time for College and Career Motivation Week – comes another significant Achieve Atlanta announcement that should change the game even more to not only ensure our students go TO college but get THROUGH college.

This morning at Washington High School, our school counselors joined with Achieve Atlanta to unveil the Match & Fit List Builder, a first-of-its-kind online college advising tool.

As the video shows, the Match & Fit List Builder uses APS student-specific data to help students build lists of postsecondary options that best match their academic qualifications and fit their personal, social, and financial needs.

The Match & Fit List Builder provides students with important information about postsecondary institutions, including majors offered and estimated out-of-pocket cost for students with similar family incomes. The tool prioritizes schools based on graduation rates to ensure APS students are considering colleges and universities where they will have a better likelihood of success, including adequate support systems to help students overcome challenges that arise in college.

Screen shot of what an actual APS student might see in Match & Fit

As Tina Fernandez, executive director of Achieve Atlanta, further explained at the launch this morning, the Match & Fit List Builder helps students choose institutions where they are most likely to complete. When students consider all of their needs—academic, social, financial, and personal – in choosing their path after graduation, their chance of success dramatically improves.

The launch of this tool takes the impact of our partnership with Achieve Atlanta to an even higher level. Through this tool, students become empowered with the information they need to access, pursue and attain a postsecondary education. As counselors at Washington guided students through the tool, high school counselors across the district were also introducing APS students to this soon-to-be-essential advisement tool.

The tool is designed for use with all high school students, but for the rest of the year Achieve Atlanta and our counselors will work with current high school juniors. Next year, they will work with all high school students.

The financial and social emotional support Achieve Atlanta provides to thousands of our students every year has been transformational in our students’ lives, and we are so grateful for this impactful partnership.

Once again, I think we are experiencing the beginning of another transformational moment for Atlanta’s students!

Fuel Your Day! All APS students, families take full advantage of free meal program

As a school district educating students from mostly lower-income families, Atlanta Public Schools faces numerous challenges in ensuring children are ready for school each day, especially those who come to school hungry.

We’ve seen the research: Children whose nutritional needs are met throughout the day have fewer attendance and disciplinary problems and are more attentive in class.  According to the School Nutrition Association, a healthy meal in the morning boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores; increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory; and improves classroom behavior. 

We also know that more than half a million Georgia children suffer from what has become known as “food insecurity,” according to a 2018 bulletin by the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children. In 2017, about one in five children in Georgia had limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to the Feeding America. That’s slightly higher than the national rate.

So I could not be more excited when APS qualified this year for a national program that enabled us to provide free meals to ALL students! Through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), 77 of our schools now provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge with no meal applications!

Our Department of Nutrition has also implemented the Access to Breakfast for every Child (ABC) initiative that ensures that all elementary and middle school students are offered breakfast throughout the first hour of the school day.

For a district that serves more than 155,000 meals each and every week, that equates to feeding an additional 2,100 to 2,700 students every day!

As part of the stipulations of the program, APS is required to maintain certain participation levels to continue the program. While many students take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch meals at schools, overall student participation in breakfast and lunch needs to increase from the current districtwide percentage of 65% to 79%.

Getting to 79% participation districtwide will ensure the continued CEP designation for APS.

That’s why the district has launched a “Fuel Your Day” awareness campaign to get more students eating breakfast and lunch at school. In addition to educating our families about the need for good nutrition every day, we want to provide them with more options to just eating in the cafeteria. Our schools are trying out Grab & Go Carts, where students receive meals from carts located in the entrance hall or in each hallway and eat the meal on the way to class or in class. Our Breakfast in the Classroom program allows students to eat in other designated dining areas in school or even in classrooms with their teachers.

So Fuel Your Day … and this program … by having breakfast and lunch at school!

Breakfast Statistics:

According to the School Nutrition Association, current research demonstrates that school breakfast consumption has many positive proven benefits:

  • Boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores
  • Increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory
  • Improves classroom behavior
  • Reduces absenteeism and tardiness

School breakfast participation is also linked to:

  • A lower body mass index (BMI)
  • Lower probability of being overweight or obese
  • Improved diet quality Federal nutrition standards ensure school breakfast offers nutritious choices including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat milk while meeting limits on calories, unhealthy fat and sodium.


APS Rocks + Runs 5K returns to Historic West End

District announces second annual edition of district fundraiser for Saturday, May 2, at Brown Middle School to kick off National Teacher Appreciation Week

Atlanta Public Schools will be off to the races again in May as it will sponsor its own 5K and fun run event for a second year!

With the success of APS Rocks and Runs last spring – more than 900 runners took to the streets of Historic West End for that inaugural race – the district today announces that it will hold the second annual edition of the 5K on Saturday, May 2, at Brown Middle School, 765 Peeples Street SW.

The event celebrates our schools and especially our teachers as a fundraiser event to kickoff National Teacher Appreciation Week. All proceeds will go towards APS teachers.

The race will feature a fun run for ages 4-11 yrs., special pricing for students, vendors and giveaways! Registration for both the 5K and fun run will include a race bib, commemorative T-shirt and finishers medal. Teachers and Instructional Paraprofessionals run for FREE. The race will begin at 8:30 a.m. The event hashtag is: #APSrocks5K

The race also serves as the final leg of the John Lewis Freedom Runners effort to raise $55,555 as part of the “Five 5Ks in Five Months in Congressional District 5” in honor of Congressman John Lewis to support those who are battling pancreatic cancer. I wrote about that effort here.

Get more details and sign up today at:

So get your jogging and walking teams together now and start training. APS participants are encouraged to wear school spirit gear, district apparel or the APS Rocks and Runs 5K T-shirt! The district also recently launched the official APS apparel store, so get decked out for the race! All proceeds go to APS!

Every race begins with a few steps. Here are a few tips to help you transition from the couch to knocking out your first 5K!

MLK Day 2020: Finding Greatness in Service

Just a few days ago I recognized what would have been the 91st birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if he had not been assassinated on April 4, 1968.

While sadly he is gone, he will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who believe in social justice because of his actions and writings. With inspiration from Dr. King, I’ve written about hope and shared his vision of the Beloved Community. I’ve revisited the Dream. I’ve reflected upon a life too short as we commemorated the 50th anniversary of his death.

The words and lessons from Dr. King are invariably and reliably universal. They are profound. They always quoted.

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2020, we will be recognizing the 25th MLK Day of Service. Soon after the day became a federal holiday back in the 1980s, many observers noted that not working on this day would not be a true celebration of the man and his endeavors. They quickly rectified that by calling for the day to be one for service as much as it was for celebration. Thus, the motto for MLK Day has become: “Make it a day on, not a day off.”

And has been evidenced across Atlanta Public Schools, we are a community that has an abundance of love and grace. So at the advent of this 25th MLK Day of Service, let’s celebrate the day with service.

Thanks to our partnership with Hands on Atlanta, we have several opportunities to participate in projects at our schools. On Saturday, the Hands on Atlanta Discovery program visited Harper-Archer, Scott and Usher-Collier Heights elementary schools to provide tutoring and enrichment. The program reinforces weekday learning through academic assistance, educational games, field trips, service-learning projects, and other enrichment activities. There are opportunities throughout the year to volunteer with this effort. 

Today, volunteers with Learning in Color will transform elementary classrooms at Harper Archer into color-rich and inspiring learning environments. Other volunteers will work on beautification projects at Scott, including landscaping, school garden cultivation and interior painting.

Go to and  to learn more.

But this dedication to service cannot end on Monday, January 20. It must continue throughout the year.

Within our own schools, we have students who need to be better served by our district and supported by our community. They are unable to keep up because their families are struggling without resources, facing intergenerational poverty and needing quality educational services from birth to high school graduation to college.

We have a lot of work ahead, but I believe we have the right people with the right attitudes and the right plans to give every child in Atlanta a fighting chance at a choice-filled life. While it starts with heart and soul and love and grace, it can be best achieved through service!


He Marched for Us, so We Run for Him!

In support for Congressman John Lewis’ battle against pancreatic cancer, “Five 5Ks in Five Months in Congressional District 5” starts Monday with MLK Drum Run in Piedmont Park.

As we neared the end of 2019, we learned sad news: Congressman John Lewis had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He would spend the new year undergoing treatment for one of the most invasive types of the disease. A man who valiantly fought for most of his life in some of the toughest fights in history for freedom, equality and basic human rights would be literally fighting for his own life in 2020.

As we started the new year, I made a pledge that I would be among those fighting for John Lewis. About two years ago, the APS running club rebranded itself as the John Lewis Freedom Runners in his honor. Over the past couple of weeks, we have come up with plans to do more. Because he marched for us, we would run for him!

A bit of background: An APS running club first began five years ago as we worked our way up to run the East Atlanta Village RunFest. Since then, we have run dozens of races across the district! We hit a running milestone on March 24, 2018, when the newly rebranded John Lewis Freedom Runners completed the inaugural run of the 51-mile Selma to Montgomery Relay Race in a time of 10 hours and 22 minutes.

At that time, we were inspired by John Lewis and the events of Bloody Sunday as we “ran” tribute to the brave marchers who walked that course 54 years earlier for civil rights. We took the tribute to Lewis and fitness to another level when we finally introduced our own run. Staying true to the theme of the 2018 State of the District, we called our race – APS Rocks and Runs.

Leading up to the race this year, we wanted to pay further tribute to the man who has done so much for all of us. We decided we would run a 5K for every month leading up to the next APS Rocks and Runs and, thus, “Five 5Ks in 5 Months in Congressional District 5” was created!

Here’s our race schedule:

January 20 – MLK Drum Run, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA
February 1 – Hearts & Soles 5K, Decatur, GA
March 14 – 2020 Shamrock ‘N Roll Road Race, Junior League of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA
April 18 – South Atlanta High School 5K, Atlanta, GA
May 2 – APS Rocks and Runs, Atlanta, GA

Alternate Races:
April 25 – The Sun Run/Walk, College Park, GA
June 13 – Purple Stride, Washington, D.C.

But you don’t have to run to support John Lewis.

Please visit and donate to our campaign to support our beloved American hero and others to help raise awareness and end pancreatic cancer. We encourage you to donate in any increment of 5 that you are able (i.e. $5, $15, $25…$55…$155…$555…$5,555, etc.)! Our goal is $55,555!

All proceeds from your generous gift will go toward well-deserving nonprofits: the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s research and programs, the John Lewis Invictus Academy in Atlanta, and the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.

You can also purchase a commemorative t-shirt to show your love and appreciation for John Lewis! Order here:

Join the runs or join the fight! Do your part so John Lewis and others can outrun cancer.

#goodtrouble #OutpacePancreaticCancer #WageHope #Five5KsIn5monthsInDistrict5

Saying Goodbye to Our Friend and Colleague, Alvah Hardy

It breaks my heart to share that our beloved friend and colleague, Alvah Hardy, passed away Friday, January 10, 2020. Alvah has been a pillar in the APS family for close to a decade, serving as our Executive Director of Facilities Services since joining APS in November 2010.

From 2010 to now, Alvah has had an impact on the lives of so many of us in his role in Facilities, making the sad news of his passing reverberate across the halls of every school and office building in our district.

In addition to working closely with staff in every school or building in APS, Alvah’s work kept him in close contact with people and organizations throughout the community. It was not uncommon for Alvah to be engaging with elected officials, neighborhood associations, community groups and everyday citizens who had questions about our schools and facilities. No question would go unanswered.

For those of you who may not have known him, Alvah spearheaded our most beautiful and recent renovations and construction through the SPLOST work in the district. I’m sure you’ve seen the new Walden Field, or the renovation of Howard and the new construction of Tuskegee Airman Global Academy, which just opened this school year.

He was also behind the renovations at Hollis and Gideons. Those projects were all led by Alvah, beginning as ideas on paper and evolving into gorgeous facilities that serve our students and staff. His hands helped guide those structures through to completion.

You can rest assured that everything Alvah touched, he touched with great care and attention to detail, from the repair of wobbly steps, wonky fences, and rickety handrails, to the large-scale school renovations and new construction. No project was too small or unimportant to him.

Alvah helped give APS the lift we needed as part of our transformational work in our schools and facilities.

From left – APS Chief Operations Officer, Larry Hoskins; and Executive Director of Facilities Services, Alvah Hardy, in front of Henry Grady High School

And, most recently, he played a major role in our facilities master plan process. This is our comprehensive five to 10-year look at population growth and school enrollment projections to help guide our decision making and spending around the need to expand existing schools or build new ones.

We are currently in the community engagement process of the facilities master plan of which Alvah was a key part.

I know that for many of us, Alvah was not just a colleague, but he truly was a member of our family. That makes his passing even more difficult to process.

We will never forget his determination, grit and his passion and commitment to APS. At the end of the day, everything he did was done with fidelity and grace. For that, we are all eternally grateful.

To Alvah’s beloved family, I offer my deepest condolences during this difficult time and I’m sorry for your loss. To Alvah’s APS family, especially our operations, schools and facilities teams who worked the closest with him and his direct reports Jere Smith, Director of Capital Improvements; Robert Palmer, Director of Maintenance and Operations; Herb Joseph, Director of Administration Management; and Tanya Cooper, Administrative Assistant; I offer my sincere condolences and my shoulder to lean on. We stand with you during this difficult time, and we will get through this together. Much love to all of you, and please take care of each other and your families.

Alvah, you will truly be missed, but we will hold on to the great memories in APS and we’ll never forget how you touched our buildings and our lives.