APS Working to Keep King’s Dream of Hope Alive

As we recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday today, we will certainly hear about “The Dream,” explained eloquently by Dr. King as he spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

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Dr. Martin Luther King gives his “I Have a Dream” speech 53 years ago in Washington D.C.

The Dream:

Hope.

Equality.

Nonviolence.

Opportunity.

Reflecting today, I know how blessed I am by The Dream and that my own opportunities and successes are a gift from those who came before me, especially those who marched and fought for civil rights even at the expense of their own well-being, their own fortunes …  and sometimes their own lives. Those sacrifices paved the way for a world in which we strive for equity and fairness for all, and that success isn’t determined on the color of one’s skin, the wealth of one’s family or the zip code of one’s home.

The Dream is alive today … and we must keep it well.

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. For example, in too many schools, more than 80 percent of our students are not reading on grade level.

Research findings highlighted just this month during a forum of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. In their “Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2017” report, they noted a Harvard University study showing American children are less likely than children living in other developed countries to grow up and make more money than their parents.

The lack of social mobility – this ability to work one’s way out of poverty – is especially prominent in the Southeast United States. The metro Atlanta region ranked 48th out of 50 of the nation’s largest commuting areas. In short, that means that children born into poverty in Atlanta face some of the greatest odds of working their way out of poverty than anywhere in the developed world.

The City of Atlanta ranks first in the nation for income inequality, with one in four residents living in poverty, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report called Changing the Odds: The Race for Results in Atlanta. Even as our city thrives, the median household income for black families is $26,605 and is $84,944 for white families.

That same report reveals how our families in high poverty do not have access to critical programs in early childhood education. More than 80 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children in the wealthier areas of our city were enrolled in preschool compared to only about 25 percent of children from the least wealthy.

These are the kind of numbers and reports that keep me committed to long hours at the office and focused all of the time on the Journey of Transformation in Atlanta Public Schools.

While these may be disheartening statistics, they didn’t happen overnight, and, for African Americans in particular, go all the way back to slavery. So it won’t be fixed overnight, which is why I respect and honor today people like Rep. John Lewis and others who have committed their lives’ work to truly achieving Dr. King’s elusive and worthy Dream.

From where I sit as an urban schools superintendent, I know the work is hard, having already dedicated two decades of my life to helping us achieve The Dream. And we must take effective action to change these outcomes so The Dream will not degenerate into a dream deferred for far too many children.

As we moved into a new year and in honor of today, I renewed a solemn resolution to do my part to not let that happen in Atlanta. Earlier this month, the Atlanta Board of Education offered me a chance to add another year to my term as superintendent. I humbly accepted the offer as I plan to stay in Atlanta until the transformation of its public school system is complete.

We have a lot of work ahead, but I believe we have the right people with the right attitudes and the right plans to fully achieve The Dream and give every child in Atlanta a fighting chance at a choice-filled life.

The Dream is a legacy for all of us to hold, a legacy for all of us to keep. It stays alive through a conscious decision to act with a strong will and determination and only becomes deferred when people look away and do nothing.

We all have choices – in Atlanta, our choice is to act.

Hope. It’s my dream for APS to work to keep The Dream alive and help change the lives of our children so that they, too, can dream and achieve and prosper.

Nonviolence. It’s my dream for all of our students to live in a safe, caring world and to develop the social emotional skills they need to cope and overcome whatever challenges they face.

Equality. It’s my dream to see us close achievement and opportunity gaps where all of our students have an equal chance at a great education with 100 percent of APS students reading on grade level.

Opportunity. And it’s my dream that every single one of them will earn a high school diploma that gives them many opportunities for college, for careers and for life.

APS Keeps Watchful Eye on Weather; Announces Early Dismissal for Friday

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As temperatures in metro Atlanta threaten to dip near freezing this week, I am reminded of how stressful the inclement weather associated with this time of year can be on everyone. Will I get caught in the snow? Will my child be stuck on a bus on the interstate? Is it too cold to walk home or take the bus?

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Students from E. Rivers Elementary show off their winter clothing.

Below you will see how we make critical decisions and understand why I have already decided to cancel afterschool activities for Friday, Jan. 6, and all activities on Saturday, Jan. 7. We will follow a staggered schedule as we dismiss students two hours early on Friday.

In my life, I have experienced the full range of weather from always cold and snowy (Cambridge, Mass., and Washington D.C.) to sheer freezing (Saint Paul, Minn.) to warm and icy within days (Austin, Texas and Atlanta), so I understand the various impacts weather conditions can have on our students and staff.

We cannot control Mother Nature, but we can try to be as prepared as possible. So I want to take a moment to remind you of our inclement weather practices as well as our notification procedures. Remember: Amid the threat of inclement weather, our No. 1 concern is the safety of our students and our staff.

When severe weather threatens the Atlanta area, we diligently update our website and keep every school principal notified. Whenever you feel the need to contact APS about weather issues, please call your school first. I make certain all principals are updated in real time about our inclement weather decisions, so they will always have the information.

In addition, I encourage you to log in to the campus portal for parents, update your preferences for emergency notifications, which include robo-calls, text messages and e-mails at http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/CPP.

In general, we maintain a vigilant watch on weather conditions, particularly through the harshest parts of winter. I have a Core Weather Team (comprised of representatives from APS Operations, Transportation, Safety & Security, Facilities Services, Communications, Schools and Academics, Nutrition and Information Technology departments) which monitors reports from such groups as Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management, Georgia Emergency Management and the National Weather Service.

In a live conference call, we assess the weather information and emergency plans driven by Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management Office, the National Weather Service and others. In these conference calls, the team relies heavily on National Weather Service input. Before I make a final decision, I also communicate with area superintendents.

We notify parents, caregivers and staff as soon as we make a decision based on weather conditions with the intent of providing such notifications at a time that enables you to take care of your children and families safely and expediently.

Mother Nature is unpredictable, so the decision-making process doesn’t always fall into a neat timeline. But this is how the decision process typically unfolds depending on when we get weather reports.

When inclement weather is expected for the next day, we begin monitoring the weather by 11 a.m. and hold an initial APS call at 7 p.m. If a decision is made to close or open schools, we immediately notify media outlets and APS parents, caregivers and staff. We continue monitoring the weather and hold a final decision call at 3:30 a.m., after which we immediately make notifications.

If inclement weather is forecasted the same day, we hold a morning decision call at 9:30 a.m. and, if necessary, again at 2 p.m. about evening district activities. We make notifications immediately after decisions are made.

We understand our school community’s concerns during these moments, and we always do our best to communicate these latest developments with you.

Stay safe!

Be Safe and Happy over Winter Break!

With the Winter Break upon us and 2016 drawing to a close, I wanted to take a moment to encourage all friends and stakeholders of Atlanta Public Schools to reflect upon the difference we make in the lives of Atlanta’s children.wintercard1

A great joy of being a part of APS is the opportunity to work with our students and observe and interact with them as they learn and grow and become better big people than we could ever be. They give us hope for the future and have amazing talents and gifts of their own as shown by the winners of my annual Winter Card Contest.

But I also have much joy in working work with some of the hardest-working educators, administrators and professional support staff in public education. Our district benefits from a community of educators and staff blessed with many gifts along with the hearts to share them with our students and their families and with each other.

Now is a time for sharing, but it is also a time of reflection and relaxation. So please take time for yourselves over the next two weeks to really enjoy the time off. Then come back in 2017 with a renewed spirit and energy!

In the meantime, I wish you all the best of the season and a safe and Happy New Year with friends and family!

Reflections of 2016

We in Atlanta Public Schools had an amazing 2016 fall semester as shown by the images below. We will miss all of our wonderful teachers, staff and students over the Winter Break. I’ll be back and tweeting and blogging again in the New Year on Wednesday, January 4, 2017!

CCRPI Results: Running the APS Transformation Race

On Sunday, October 23, I finished my first official marathon. Five hours and 40 minutes.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty.

But it was a respectable finish – running and not crawling to the finish line, beaming with pride (and not weeping) after I crossed it. I did it after nearly a full year of focused, dedicated training with the support of family, friends and many colleagues (affectionately known in social media as #SUPTSoleMatestennisshoe ) and students and beloved mentees of Atlanta Public Schools.

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One of my beloved mentees, Stigg, joined me in November of last year for my first half-marathon.

For me, running and completing a marathon is a highly personal achievement. Literally no one can train or run for a marathon but the person who will run it. I had not planned to publicize this accomplishment, certainly not on my blog. I didn’t even tweet about it!

Now that I’ve run one, I often reflect upon the marathon experience because the Atlanta Public Schools transformation often leads people to reference the adage “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” which suggests that when the journey is long, you need to take your time and pace yourself in order to finish.

Today, after I saw the results of the latest College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, I wondered if whoever actually coined the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” saying had ever actually run one.

Now I know that marathons are terrible for the body. They test human endurance almost to the breaking point. They create an almost unbearable and lengthy recovery period. (As evidence, I am still recovering physically almost seven weeks later with plantar fasciitis.face-with-thermometer)

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Whew! I made it!

Whatever health benefits are achieved from running a marathon pale in comparison to those achieved through a sprint regimen. In fact, many health experts agree that sprint training – run burst/recover/run burst – not only increases speed and power but it creates stamina for longer, more grueling activities. Marathons or long jogs only help if all you do are things that are long and slow. (This isn’t a fitness blog, so please go here for supporting evidence.)

So, here’s my point:

A long and slow marathon strategy for school turnaround is not one we can maintain in APS. Our teachers and staff cannot continue working like they are running a marathon. Even if they finish, they don’t have time to recover before they are asked to run another one. APS does not have the capacity for endlessly running back-to-back marathons; further, the urgency for the future of our children demands that we move fast but deliberate so that they can graduate ready for college, career and choice-filled lives.

We need a sprint regimen! We have to scale our capacity for transformation, with bursts of deep investment, supports and partnerships, and then time for smart recovery and implementation.

I want our transformation framework to be built around a sprint concept. This has involved the recent conversion to a charter system operating model, adoption of Standards-Based Units of Study for all grades, implementation of district-wide instructional practices, the launch of benchmark assessments, a focus on early literacy and turnaround for targeted schools.

Today, I am working with the Board on several key unfunded components for transformation designed for another healthy sprint. With additional public funding and/or partnership resources, we can make investments in:

  • Significantly expanding access to quality early childhood education, while also making investments in the primary grades to ensure all students are reading by the end of 3rd grade.
  • Focusing on whole-child development, including positive behavior supports, arts, and athletics.
  • Creating a comprehensive leadership development program.

With the CCRPI, we have one tool to check on our pace. Although just one measure, it provides a significant marker for the race, with measurements for achievement, progress and closing the achievement gap.

33schoolstweetAs a district, APS saw its average CCRPI score drop slightly to 65.2 points from 67.0 points overall compared to 2015 results. The results are consistent with the mixed results of the Georgia Milestones released last summer and similar to the decrease for the state, which dropped 1.9 points to a CCRPI score of 73.6 points.

On this race, we can already find things to celebrate. And so we will shout for those 33 schools in our district achieving gains on their CCRPI scores. Our Top 10 schools showing improvement include Carver Technology (13.5 points), Whitefoord Elementary (13.1 points), Perkerson Elementary (9.5 points), Atlanta Classical Academy (9.3 points), Dunbar Elementary (9.2 points), Cleveland Avenue Elementary (8.6 points), Miles Intermediate (7.2 points), Burgess-Peterson Academy (6.2 points), Mary Lin Elementary (5.7 points) and Venetian Hills Elementary (5.7 points).

We should also cheer on the following schools, which earned CCRPI scores of at least 80:

Mary Lin Elementary (98.9), Carver Early College (97.3), Brandon Elementary (97.0), Morningside Elementary (96.5), Springdale Park Elementary (95.6), Jackson Elementary (95.4), Inman Middle (91.6), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Elementary (84.5), Sarah Smith Elementary (83.8), Drew Elementary (83.8), West Manor Elementary (82.1), Garden Hills Elementary (82.0), Cleveland Avenue Elementary (80.8) and Burgess-Peterson Academy (80.5).

In addition, the following schools are racing ahead by earning at least 37 out of 40 Progress Points for students meeting “typical or high growth” on the 2016 Georgia Milestones: Cleveland Avenue Elementary (40), Inman Middle (39.5), Mary Lin Elementary (39.5), KIPP WAYS Academy (38.5), Parkside Elementary (38), Brandon Elementary (38), Garden Hill Elementary (37.7), Maynard Jackson High (37.4), Carver Early College (37.2) and Burgess-Peterson Academy (37).

As this graph shows, APS maintained its Achievement scores for CCRPI between 2015 and 2016 for all grade bands but saw some decrease in Progress Points in all three grade bands.

APS CCRPI Scores by Grade Band, 2015/2016

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Our Data and Information Group takes a deeper run into the statistics, and their APS data summary is available here. To view detailed score reports for the state and every public school district in Georgia, visit GADOE CCRPI.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods said: “These results point to the need for continued intensive focus on the foundations in early grades. However, I don’t believe the CCRPI captures all the great work happening in our schools. We have seen improvements and, in some cases, record results on the ACT, SAT, and in graduation rates.”

I agree with Superintendent Woods. There is still work to be done. We still have much of the race to run.

Unlike my marathon, this race isn’t just a personal one for me, and I am not the only runner signed up. We have nearly 52,000 students and more than 6,000 teachers and staff in this race. We have tens of thousands of families and caregivers in this race. We have hundreds of partners and community groups in this race.

This APS transformation race can only be finished – in fact, it can only be run at all – with everyone training, conditioning, supporting, cheering, and, indeed, running it together.

Yes, I finished a marathon. But the race I want to RUN … the race I want to FINISH … the race I want to WIN … is the one for the children of Atlanta Public Schools. So, pick up your bibs and meet me at the starting line, so we can finish this together.

APS Contributes to On-going Fight against AIDS, HIV

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For World AIDS Awareness Day, counselors from Atlanta Public Schools designed this beautiful panel as our district’s contribution to the 50-mile long Memorial Quilt.

 

Thirty-five years ago, the Centers for Disease Control first reported about the growing prevalence of a disease that soon would become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. I can remember the early 1980s when reports of the disease or the presence of HIV – the virus that causes the disease – began climbing and reaaps_red_ribbon_logo-noplaceching epidemic proportions.

It was a tense moment in our nation as people did not know how to face this new disease or even how to comfort or address those who had become afflicted with it.

It took a lot of time, understanding and compassion along with the development of better medicines and a strong health care system, but we saw a huge reduction in the number of reported infections and deaths from AIDS over the last couple of decades.

fultoncountyIn general, AIDS has been thought of as a disease in retreat.

But the threat remains real … too real. We cannot be complacent. We in Atlanta Public Schools have been recognizing World AIDS Awareness Day in a big way today because we cannot stop the fight, especially here in Atlanta, where some of the statistics remain particularly frightening.

Right now, in Fulton County the number of new cases, especially in the age group of 13-24, has been reported to be in epidemic proportions. Some reports even say that the number of cases in our school district’s zip codes mirrors third world countries. That breaks my heart when we have the tools at hand to keep up the fight.

It breaks my heart because these people are not strangers. We know them, and we love them.

These people are our fathers, our mothers, our sisters and our brothers.

They are our friends, co-workers, our neighbors.

We go to school with them. We go to work with them. We go to church, synagogue and mosque with them. We play with them.

That is why Atlanta Public Schools has put such a compassionate, focused effort on recognizing World AIDS Awareness Day today by launching our own APS campaign, with the theme of “Knowledge Is Everyone’s Responsibility.” We have a special place in this fight. The CDC, based in Atlanta, is literally in our neighborhood and part of our community.

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Georgia ranks No. 3 in HIV risk! We need to change that!

So, today we aligned our goals with the Fulton County’s Strategy to End AIDS, first by recognizing World AIDS Awareness Day and then by educating our students and school communities about this treacherous, unforgiving disease.

Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University, a leading expert on the epidemic, presented some shocking facts when he joined our program today at the Center for Learning and Leadership:

  • About 3,000 persons in Atlanta and Fulton County have HIV, but do not know they have the virus
  • 68% of new HIV diagnoses are African American, and 69% of women diagnosed with HIV in the south are African American.
  • 47% of people with HIV who died in 2013 live in the South. Seven of the 11 jurisdictions with the highest incidence are in the South.
  • Georgia ranks third in terms of HIV risk and fifth with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses. Recent CDC studies have revealed that one in 51 Georgians will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.

piechartOur team created many opportunities for students, families, teachers, staff and other stakeholders to learn more about HIV/AIDS. At our elementary schools, staff members received AIDS awareness information. In our middle and high schools, counselors, nurses and psychologists conducted lunch-and-learn events. Throughout the district, many learned about the actual characteristics of HIV and AIDs and about prevention and the importance of HIV testing.  They learned how people contract HIV and that some people can have HIV for many years without looking or feeling sick.prep

We learned from Dr. del Rio that through education and treatment, HIV prevention can realistically reach 100 percent. He cited Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the NIAID Division of AIDS, who said: “With full virologic suppression, the virus is not growing in your body. You not only have protection from your own HIV, you also are … not capable of transmitting HIV to … a sexual partner.” I learned that PrEP is a real option! #PrEPWORKS

So what is keeping us from ending AIDS forever, especially when HIV is 100% preventable?

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Dr. Carlos del Rio did not sugar coat the truth during his presentation.

Dr. del Rio explained that we are stifled by the lack of political commitment, the stigma about the disease and social determinants of health including poverty, lack of education and poor access to health care and employment. THROUGH A QUALITY EDUCATION IN ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WE CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THESE BARRIERS!!!

 

In fact, we can be as important as medication and drug research in fighting AIDS!

Knowledge is Power, and as our theme states directly: Knowledge Is Everyone’s Responsibility. Go to the official World AIDS Day site to learn more.

And follow me @ATLsuper and these other people and groups to stay in the know:

We wore red today in solidarity for our friends, family and neighbors who suffer. But I encourage everyone to take action: Get tested, #KnowYourStatus, be responsible for yourself and other people. That is so important in protecting yourselves, your family and your friends and ensuring that AIDS and HIV go into full retreat and become afflictions of the past.  #EndAIDSFulton

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Multitude of Reasons to Be Thankful in APS

As we near big holiday seasons, we often spend time counting the days, then the hours and then the minutes until we can leave APS for a while and spend extended time elsewhere. Our teachers, staff and students have worked hard so far this semester, and they need this much-deserved break. But for a moment, I encourage all of us to count our blessings and the many reasons we should be thankful to be a part of Atlanta Public Schools.

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Students at Deerwood Academy celebrate Thanksgiving during a special lunch this week.

First of all, I am thankful for our many teachers, who serve at the frontlines of our schools. They have spent many days (and nights and, often, weekends) in service to our students. We have a specific mission to graduate every student ready for college and career, and they are dedicated to giving them the smarts … and the hearts … to be better people than we could ever be. I really do not think I could be thankful enough for them.

I am thankful for our parents, our caregivers, our grandparents, our families and friends who do everything they can to get our children to school each day ready to learn. I am thankful for them trying to find teachable in every day.

I am thankful to our school board members and the entire APS staff for doing the work in support of our teachers, families and students, especially as we do the difficult lifting required to create the kind of transformation that is so desperately needed in Atlanta Public Schools.apsnutrition

I’m thankful for the voters in Atlanta, who overwhelmingly reinvested in Atlanta’s kids with the renewal of the E-SPLOST, a penny sales tax that goes toward much-needed renovations of our schools, technology, buses, athletic facilities and school security enhancements. It will make a huge difference in every cluster and every school in the district.

I’m thankful for our new GO Teams, which empowers our school communities to become more engaged in the operations and budgets of their home schools.

I’m thankful for our new Safety and Security Department, which includes a new police department designed in alignment with a national TRIAD model where officers police, counsel and teach. Working with the support of Georgia State University and WestEd, these officers are trained in social emotional learning, positive behavior supports and restorative justice.

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Perkerson Elementary created a Wall of Gratitude in recognition of Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for our district priority of social emotional learning, where all students can be taught skills like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, to reach their hopes and dreams. And I am thankful that Atlanta is at the forefront of this burgeoning national movement.

I am thankful for our many partners – nearly 200 of them! – who have found their way back to APS through donations, expertise or sweat equity and joined us for an amazing State of the District based on the popular Hamilton musical. I am especially thankful for Achieve Atlanta for the college advisement and last-dollar financial support that has enabled more than 700 seniors last year to go to college.

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Schools like Fickett used Thanksgiving to engage our families.

 

I am thankful for the expertise of our new operating partners for giving us the additional capacity, resources and culture to help even more kids have choice-filled lives. And I am thankful for the communities where we came together to create dynamic new learning environments that are the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, the Hollis Innovation Academy, Woodson Park Academy and Thomasville Heights Elementary School.

I am thankful for our new wraparound initiatives such as the new care centers at Dobbs and Miles elementary school and the new Ronald McDonald Care Mobile for schools in the Therrell Cluster.

But, most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to work every day with our students. The best part of this job comes when I spend time with these beautiful children, from the classroom to the recital rooms to the theaters to the labs to the playing fields.

For that, I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart, and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Honoring Our Heroes: Veterans, Military Service Men and Women … and the Tuskegee Airmen

Every day but on Veterans Day in particular, I stand in awe of our veterans and the men and women who actively serve in the U.S. armed services. Their job is to protect our nation, keeping it a free and safe place for our students as they grow into adulthood. They do so while making the great sacrifice of putting their lives at risk in the service of others.

Like many of our students in Atlanta Public Schools, I am a member of a family with veterans. My late Uncle Ralph – to whom I paid tribute in this space last year – was among those whose sacrifice and service to our country and to his family continues to make me proud.

But I wanted to pay special tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. Along with Board Member Steven Lee and Principal Lincoln Woods of the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy, I got to spend some quality time with a few of them during an appreciation ceremony today at Prince Hall in Riverdale.

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Humbling to be in the presence of actual Tuskegee Airmen! Thank you for your service!

Each of them have distinct tales of resilience, grace under pressure and uncommon valor … tinged with a certain sense of irony.

As most of us know… at the time they were recruited for service to serve as bombing escorts for World War II – arguably the most dangerous of the dangerous aerial missions in that war – black men were deemed to be of significantly less intelligence than white men. There were actually “scientific” studies that stated that their brains were physically smaller. Army reports described black soldiers as “childlike,” “unmoral and untruthful” and “shiftless.” (It’s still unbelievable to me that our servicemen and women had to endure these conditions and belief systems!)

And yet, the Army itself was recruiting these very young men to operate extremely complicated machines and some of the most sophisticated technologies available during that part of the 20th century.

Now here’s where the irony comes in.

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Board Member Steven Lee and I with Deputy Grand Master Corey Shackleford Sr. of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which sponsored the event

They trained this new squadron of pilots at Moton Field near Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. As they recruited these black men, not only did many of these raw recruits have college degrees already, some of them even had their pilot’s licenses! In many ways, they were the most qualified recruits for any branch of the service! In all, 992 pilots were trained from 1941 to 1946.

And after training, these pilots could do the seemingly impossible! Such as flying at hundreds of miles an hour in formation with their wings only inches apart.

Now as a private pilot myself, I salute these Airmen for that feat alone! But, there are even more war time accomplishments:

  • 1578 combat missions – 1,267 for the 12th Air Force; 311 for the 15th Air Force
  • 179 bomber escort missions
  • An excellent record of protection, losing bombers on only seven missions for a total of 27 bombers. That’s compared to an average of 46 among other 15th Air Force P-51 groups.

Again, impressive and humbling.

Now a sad irony. They would come home and still be subjected to the Jim Crow laws they had left behind. The country they protected bravely from the air would reject them and neglect them once they returned to the ground.

But many of these Airmen overcame the odds.

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Meeting with First Sgt. Frank Carter and his cadets from Booker T. Washington HS

By bravely stepping up and fighting for their country while fighting for their own rights and dignity at the same time, they paved the way for greater things. This includes inspiring the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement. They continue to inspire us today.

A Special Kind of Tribute

Over the years, I have been enormously proud when our students, educators, staff and school communities came together to recognize our veterans. We have had food drives, clothing drives, partnerships with the USO, special programs and presentations. We have brought veterans into our schools so they can tell us stories and impart some of their lessons and wisdom they have gathered over the years through turbulent times.

But I don’t know that we have ever honored our veterans in such a grand and appropriate fashion as we did recently with the opening of the Tuskegee Global Airman Academy this year.

When we made the hard but determined decision to merge Connally and Venetian Hills schools this year onto a single campus, we knew that we couldn’t do the work lightly, carelessly or thoughtlessly. We had to be deliberate in making the new school into something worthy of those communities and of the Airmen they sought to commemorate.

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Principal Lincoln Woods of Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy

And I am not just talking about the naming of a school, which is pretty fantastic in itself. I am talking about the whole spirit … the entire curriculum … the entire school inside and out. From the marquee outside of the school to what is going on in the classrooms themselves, the aura of the Tuskegee Airmen engulfs that school community.

We chose the STEM curriculum as the signature theme for this school with an additional emphasis on aeronautic science and engineering. With that kind of spirit, cooperation and collaboration, we can be certain that the young Eagles of Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy will soon soar much in the ways of Eagles and the Tuskegee Airmen themselves.

To the Tuskegee Airmen … actually … to all veterans in Atlanta … the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy is your school, too, so I invite you to visit this school that was created in your honor.

Please take your experiences, dedication and passions from serving our country and direct those energies toward the services of our children, the future of our nation.

These kids need you. They really do.

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Some of the beautiful JROTC cadets from Mays and Washington high schools

They need your support. They need your guidance. They need your wisdom. They need your stories.

Most of all, they could use your time.

Come into our schools and volunteer. Relate your tales of challenges, bravery and service. Come and let our children love on you and show you the respect and kindness as only children can. Come into our schools so we can thank you for your sacrifices and service and for this beautiful new school for Atlanta.

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