Celebrate! APS Cohort 2017 Reaches Graduation Rate High of 77.0%

District graduates 2,356 students – 89 more than last year – for a 5.9 percentage point gain, closing the gap by 4.7 percentage points with the state graduation rate

As superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, several events and parts of the year make me anxious enough that I am actually kept awake at night or left constantly checking emails – Day One, inclement weather like the recent Hurricane Irma and graduation week and data releases!

Drumroll, Please!GradTweet1

Atlanta Public School has reached a new high with its graduation rate: 77.0 percent!

Today is the official release of the official Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) report on graduation rates. I guess I’m not so much anxious as I am eager. That’s because for APS – with its stated mission to graduate ALL students ready for college and career – this is the main benchmark measure that truly defines progress in our district.

So for me, it’s the time of year when I sit and wait for news from the GaDOE the most.

Although I have already given the news away on Twitter (and in the headline to this blog), I still want to say …

GraduationRatesIt’s official. APS graduated 2,356 students for Cohort 2017, which is 89 more than last year, for a 5.9 percentage point gain. What’s more, APS has narrowed the gap with the state graduation rate by 4.7 percentage points. The state graduation rate rose by 1.2 percentage points to 80.6 percent in 2017.

I am excited about this boost even more than in 2015 when we saw a 12 percentage point increase and last year when we maintained the gain. I am excited because it shows that we can actually build on recent success. Plus, it shows that the improvements are real. They are significant. And with three years of graduating more students (18 percentage points more!), it’s sustainable!

With the Board and our community, the district developed a mission to graduate more and more students prepared for college and career, and we are really starting to deliver. The past year saw us fully implement our new charter operating model with signature programming that directs more resources to our schools and provide targeted intervention to our lowest-performing schools. As we continue to provide those supports as well as address deficiencies in core subjects such as literacy and math, I believe we will continue seeing this wonderful upward trend.

Let’s look at the numbers. We have so many bright spots with this latest data release.

Of 17 schools’ graduating cohorts, 13 saw gains and Charles R. Drew Charter School, which graduated its inaugural class in 2017, reported a 100 percent graduation rate. Other APS schools with high graduation rates include:

  • Carver Early College, 98.8 percent
  • North Atlanta High, 94.9 percent
  • Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, 94.3 percent
  • KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, 91.4 percent
  • Grady High, 88.4 percent

GradTweetCarverSchools achieving significant increases in their graduation rates include: Carver School of Technology, which achieved a 16.7 percentage point gain to reach a 79.7 percent graduation rate; followed by Therrell High School with a 12.8 percentage point gain and a 79.6 percent rate; Carver High School with a 7.4 percentage point gain and a 73.9 percent rate; and North Atlanta with a 6.6 percentage point gain and a 94.9 percent rate.

Graduation data for all of the schools is provided in this graph:

GraduationRates2

In efforts to graduate more students, we’ve adopted a series of measures to improve graduation factors for the senior class. Our Office of High Schools has created transcript audits, tracker modules and data dashboards to identify issues that might inhibit students from graduating on time. For example, the district and high schools provided students with ongoing recovery options based on their needs and encourage them to take advantage of opportunities to obtain credits. We work with every school to clearly identify all students who only needed an extended summer opportunity to graduate in 2017 and strongly encouraged them to do so.

GradTweet5.pngIn addition to keeping high school students on track to graduate with their peers, APS also stresses attendance, strong school climate and social emotional learning or SEL at the high school level and across all schools in the district.

With our efforts to improve attendance and learning environments while also providing positive behavior supports, we are making schools more conducive places for learning. When students feel safe, welcomed, respected and challenged by quality educators and programming, they are more likely to learn and stay on a path to graduate on time and ready for college and career.

For details, visit APSInsight, our great new public facing data site.  To experience graduation of Cohort 2017 again, go to my graduation blog.

GradTweetThanksNone of this progress would have been would have been possible without the hard work of a lot of people, in addition to outstanding teachers and students. At each school, we have our graduation coaches, counselors, registrars and administration teams. For the district, we have our Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) team and our associate superintendents, including Dr. Dan Sims, our associate superintendent of high schools, providing leadership, guidance and support. We have our data and research experts, who created the dashboards and tracking tools to ensure our students remained on the pathway. We have great partnerships such as Achieve Atlanta and Communities in School, who provided advisement and tutoring and other college preparatory assistance for our students.

#APSGrad17

We couldn’t have made these gains without any of them. They worked hard last year, and they already diving into the work so that Cohort 2018 can graduate even more and more students.

#APSGrad18

Keeping APS Safe in Irma Aftermath

District focused on safe return of students & staff to school

UPDATE (6:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 14): We are open for business today!

Atlanta Public Schools will follow a normal operating schedule now that our operations team has completed a full review of our facilities, buses, technology, and nutrition services in the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irma. Power has been restored to all APS school campuses, including M. Agnes Jones Elementary School where power was restored overnight.

Because many buildings were without power, an alternate menu may be provided for students for breakfast and lunch for the next several days. Also, students may experience delays in bus routes due to driver staffing shortages.

We appreciate the patience our families have shown as we have worked to ensure a safe environment for all of our students and staff. We look forward to welcoming everyone back today!

***

UPDATE (7:45 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 13): Three words … We Are Back!

Thanks to the hard work of our Atlanta Public Schools Operations team and crews from Georgia Power, our schools are back on-line. Additionally, now that our school buildings are safe and many of the hazards in our neighborhoods – downed power lines, hanging tree branches, obstructed streets and sidewalks, and inoperable traffic signals – have been addressed, I believe it is time for us to get our kids, teachers and administrators back in their classrooms and offices.

Dr. C Hugs Student

 I am happy to report that APS will be back open for business, bright and early Thursday morning! This includes after-school programs and extracurricular activities as well. We realize that there may be a number of school-based employees, including teachers, who may not be able to report for duty. So, as has been the case throughout this week, we are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach. Central office administrators and support staff will be ready to fill in for school-based employees when necessary.

 Currently, power has been restored to nearly all APS school campuses. There are four remaining schools without power that we expect to have back online tonight. APS operations staff are monitoring the power situation at these locations and will inform parents if school is in session starting at 5 am tomorrow.

 Because many buildings were without power, an alternate menu may be provided for students for breakfast and lunch for the next several days. Also, students may experience delays in bus routes due to driver staffing shortages.

 We appreciate the patience our families have shown as we have worked to ensure a safe environment for all of our students and staff. We look forward to welcoming everyone back tomorrow!

See you in the morning!

***

 UPDATE (9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 12): As superintendent, I spent most of today assessing the safety conditions for our students and staff, having personally canvassed every cluster in Atlanta Public Schools. I am concerned with the number of downed power lines, hanging tree branches, obstructed sidewalks and inoperable traffic signals. While the threat of severe weather has subsided, many of our schools remain without power, and concerns about more power outages continue.

I cannot put it any more simple than this: It’s not safe!

Our APS operations team continues to work closely with power crews to bring affected schools back on-line; however, many of our employees are reporting their own power has yet to be restored, making it difficult to report to work from various counties within the region.

Therefore, we have decided to close school campuses and administrative offices for Wednesday, Sept. 13, to keep our families and employees safe. This decision extends to all afterschool programs and extracurricular activities.

This decision was the result of a huge APS team effort, tons of analysis and brutal but thorough discussions!

***

With high sustained winds, gusts and heavy rains, Irma left its impact on Atlanta Public Schools, including knocking out power in 31 of our schools, damaging some perishable food supplies and limiting our ability to safely transport students to and from school.

Rainy_UmbrellaWorking in coordination with city, weather and other government officials amid an abundance of adverse conditions, we decided to close APS schools for a second day. Our biggest concern was having sufficient power/electricity and resources for our schools in the immediate aftermath of Irma. Additionally, we had to make a decision in a timely fashion to get our message out to about 50,000 households. At the time we and many other school districts decided to close schools, weather forecasts continued to predict exceptionally high winds and other extreme weather which would limit our outreach ability.

(Please see my previous blog here for the rationale and research about closing schools amid such weather.)

Even in the wake of a storm, we have to be cognizant of remaining dangers of returning to school too quickly. Debris and continued bad weather create dangerous conditions for safe bus travel and for children walking to and from school. Emergency crews and weather service teams continue to work at capacity, with their resources stretched and strained even now.

Safety ALWAYS comes first.

During the storm, 31 of our schools – more than a third of APS campuses – were without power.

While the storm may not be around us right now, we are dealing with the aftermath. Even at mid-morning on Tuesday, our own teams for school safety, operations, facilities, nutrition and transportation continued to assess the full impact of Irma upon the school district. Our schools are not safe when we do not know the full status of school conditions. I cannot thank Larry Hoskins, our Chief Operations Officer, and his teams enough for being so responsive before, during and after the storm.

As we continue to assess damages and other issues, we know that at least a dozen of our schools still did not have power as of this morning. Many do not have Internet access. With the power being out for so long, we are worried about food safety such as frozen food staying frozen and milk and other perishables staying fresh.

We have to make sure all of our emergency resources are available and that we can maintain proper school protocols.

We still have a lot of challenges. But my colleagues and I are working around the clock – restoring power and Internet, replenishing food supplies, clearing debris and repairing damages – so our beautiful children and wonderful educators and staff can return to safe and clean schools.

Keep following me on Twitter @CarstarphenMJ and our web site at www.atlantapublicschools.us for updates.

In the meantime – Keep safe!

#SafetyFirst

#Irma2017

 

APS Closes Schools for Monday, Sept. 11, & Tuesday, Sept. 12

Sustained winds & gusts from #Irma = unsafe for kids and community

Due to the anticipated inclement weather and dangerous high winds caused by Hurricane Irma, all Atlanta Public Schools campuses and district offices are closed on Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12.

Our team has been closely monitoring the weather conditions in collaboration with the National Weather Service and city and state officials. Although the storm has been downgraded as it makes its way through Florida, we made our decision with an abundance of caution.

WeatherGustsImageI want to take a moment to highlight an area of the weather that needs deeper attention for children and their safety: WIND! The latest reports indicate that the Atlanta area is expected to experience sustained high winds between 35-40 mph with wind gusts between 45-55 mph by 8 a.m. Monday, according to the most recent Weather.gov briefings. These high wind conditions will be paired with rainfall and thunderstorms.

In addition to all the other potential hazards, the wind will also make this weather particularly dangerous for children to be outside. We didn’t want them waiting for school buses (physical bus limits are maxed at about 40 mph for sustained wind and gusts at about 54-66 mph) or walking to school. In short, we also don’t want them outside when school is closed if these weather projections prove true tomorrow! Read more below on why…

From our careful monitoring and research, we have learned that the storm has been upgraded to a tropical storm for most of Georgia.  We will see these strong winds beginning as early as 4 a.m.  Forecasts predict high winds all day tomorrow with Central and North Georgia at risk for inclement weather.  The National Weather Service continuously updates its briefings at www.weather.gov/atlanta/briefings.

 

Based on that information and given anticipated wind gusts potentially topping 65 mph by 8 p.m. on Monday, it’s just too dangerous for buses and students to safely travel to and from school. To further illustrate the danger, research on wind speed effects on school buses and the human body shows that at

  • 11 mph – onset of discomfort for walking
  • 20 mph – significantly affects walking performance
  • 34 to 44 mph – walking difficult and dangerous
  • 40 mph – production of significant debris, causing road obstructions

So, for the first time in a long time, your superintendent is saying: Don’t play outside (especially tomorrow if wind speeds are not safe)!

Following our inclement weather protocol, parents, guardians and employees will be updated via the following communication channels: Infinite Campus, robo-calls, APS Mobile App (sign up for push notifications), emails and/or text messages as well as on the APS website (www.atlantapublicschools.us ), Facebook and Twitter, and through local media outlets (WSB, CBS46, WXIA/11 Alive and Fox5).  School operation decisions for Tuesday, Sept. 12, will be made on Monday evening after a review of the most recent weather conditions.  Parents and guardians will be contacted as soon as any decisions are made through all available communication channels. APS charter school parents and guardians are encouraged to contact their schools directly for scheduling information.

I love you all and look forward to seeing you back in school soon! Be safe and take care of each other!

#Irma2017

When Inclement Weather Threatens APS

As reports continue about Hurricane Irma and concerns that the storms could threaten cities as far inland as Atlanta, I wanted to assure our school communities that we are closely monitoring the weather and tracking the storm’s development in collaboration with the National Weather Service (NWS).

Based on the information we have received, it is predicted that heavy rainfall and strong winds may impact travel to and from school and work next week.

Our team will continue to monitor the weather throughout the weekend to stay abreast of the impact of the storm. Based on the latest weather information available at that time we will determine the impact to school operations for Monday.  If a decision to cancel classes is made, parents/caregivers will be notified Sunday evening by robo-call and text message. We will also post the information on our website and convey the information to the media for broadcast.

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

I have addressed our weather procedures on this blog in the past, detailing the decision process about when we close school operations should weather conditions impede a safe school day. You can review that post here. Although it was written in expectations of wintry weather, it applies all year long.

As always: Our No. 1 concern is the safety of our students and our staff. So we want to make sure our families are informed as we prepare for heavy rains and strong wind gusts resulting from the storm that is expected to strike in the Bahamas and the southern Florida this weekend.

WeatherBlogImage

Some weather reports predict a Hurricane Irma path that could threaten Atlanta.

The greatest impact we see right now is an influx of motorist (evacuees) from the Florida area which is causing the rerouting of traffic on I-16, I-95 which has a direct impact on traffic on local interstates 285, and 75/85. We can expect to see a greater increase of traffic over the next two to three days, which means you can anticipate longer travel times around the city this weekend and early next week.

Here are some other suggestions you can do to prepare for Hurricane Irma:

  • Check on family members in the anticipated storm paths and urge them to seek safety outside of the Hurricane track.
  • Monitor your local television stations to keep up with the latest updates on the weather over the next 3 to 6 days.
  • In the event of heavy rainfall, stay home and off the road if possible.
  • Make sure you and your family have plenty of food and water in the event conditions are too bad to travel.
  • While there is a low risk of tornados in the present forecast, remember there is always a possibility a tornado can suddenly erupt; therefore, be prepared to quickly relocate to a safe-zone or sheltering location away from windows and doors.
  • Power outages are always a possibility during storms so make sure you have a weather radio, flashlights and other essentials in case of an outage in your area.
  • Charge cell phones in advance. Extra batteries are a plus.
  • Your local county Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross and Georgia Emergency Management Agency are great resources in the event you need assistance over the weekend – shelters, food, etc.
  • Finally, think through your emergency preparedness plan “now” to ensure you have a plan that protects you and your love ones.

Be safe and don’t forget to review your home emergency preparedness plan as soon as possible – just in case you need it. We will be in contact with you if there are any changes or updates.

Have a safe weekend!

Rainy_Umbrella

‘Labor of Love’: APS Strategies to Prevent Spread of Hate

BurgessPeterson1

As I reflect upon the contributions of our teachers and staff as we head into Labor Day weekend, I wanted to celebrate those who work with children and contribute to their well-being. But I cannot help but be reminded – because of recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere around the world – that we, as a nation and as global citizens, still face images, symbols and words of hate.

It is essential that those who “labor” for children implement strategies that help them set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships especially in a diverse world that needs more inclusion. Parents and teachers also want to do everything we can to keep our precious children from the types of repulsive behavior we’ve experienced recently.

Unfortunately, we cannot always shield our children from the realities of the world … not even in Atlanta, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. We were disheartened when we learned that one of our fifth grade classrooms found a swastika lightly drawn with pencil on a flower pot. Or when a small group of demonstrators felt it was acceptable to use bullhorns to shout at students, families, teachers and staff at one of our high schools during dismissal.

It raises concerns about those very qualities we celebrate during Labor Day – strength, prosperity and good fortune – when tensions are heightened around race, belief systems and identity, especially around those who labor for children.

Being a part of a vibrant growing city, like Atlanta, has many advantages. There are economic, social and educational opportunities for our students that are not available elsewhere, and our growing diversity is a source of great joy. It can also be said that the city is home to a part of U.S. history that brings both pride and pain, which has an unspoken existence in the culture of our city and schools.

Atlanta Public Schools has the responsibility, and the privilege, to develop students who are knowledgeable of our past struggles with race and class as they prepare for a brighter future. Again, we cannot fully shield our children from hate; thus, we must give them the tools to combat such adversities on their own.SEL_Twitter

The district’s commitment to Social Emotional Learning or SEL is a major component of that preparation. In simplified terms, SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Working with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (www.casel.org) and other partners, we began implementing SEL in our schools by focusing on developing relationships and building a strong sense of community.

As part of the SEL initiative, students from PreK through 12th grade are learning much needed skills such as active listening, empathy, conflict resolution, problem solving steps, perspective taking and self-advocacy.

In support of the lessons taught by the teachers, our elementary counselors also implement the Bully Prevention Unit in all classrooms from kindergarten through 5th grade. This curriculum is a preventative measure to stop potential bullying through education and awareness. Our students are learning how to recognize and respond effectively to bullying as victims and bystanders.

Our work includes adults as well. The SEL team provides training sessions for adults that address topics such as identity, relationship skills and implicit bias.  These trainings are available to all schools at the request of their principals.

From an academic standpoint, our teachers are also equipped to teach historical events such as the Holocaust, as they appear in the curriculum, with resources from the Georgia Commission on Holocaust and Teaching Tolerance and other groups.

Our collaboration widens to include experts in our surrounding community as well. The King Center is currently a partner in developing a youth program that allows kids to discuss solutions to poverty, racism, and economic instability. Our ongoing partnership with the Anti-Defamation League provides ongoing support to schools as they embark upon critical conversations with students and staff around race, class, culture and sexual orientation.  We are proud to be a 100% No Place for Hate district for the second year in a row.

C2dfJeRXUAEtyVB

Chief Ron Applin reads to students from Deerwood Academy.

Finally, our Office of Safety and Security partnered with the Annie Casey Foundation to train our School Resources Officers on Cultural Competency and Racial Equity. We are providing officers with a quarterly structure for effective dialogues about race and creating a culture in which all practices and policies are developed through a racially conscious lens.

All in all, Atlanta Public Schools strives to help our beautiful students become better people than we could ever be, but there is still more work to do.  As a district, we don’t and we won’t shy away from the tough conversations and the sometimes difficult but morally correct choices.  We are always open to furthering our efforts and diving deeper into these important topics with students, teachers, parents and the community.

It’s all a part of APS’ multi-tiered strategy of love to prevent the spread of hate.

And so I hope that over the Labor Day weekend, we can take a moment to truly reflect upon what it means to celebrate the day and especially honor those who labor for children. Children, after all, are the true source for the continued strength, growth and prosperity for our city, state and nation.

#LoveIs #LaborDay

LoveIs

Athletics in APS #UnitedWePlayTour Returns!

MJC at Maynard Jackson

Nothing signifies the beginning of the school year – particularly in the Deep South and especially in Georgia – like football season! The sounds (bands and cheerleaders!), the smells (grilled hot dogs, popcorn at Grady and Lakewood Stadium, dirty gym socks – yes, please!), the colors (students, parents and fans all dressed in their school gear!) and, of course, the GAMES! I love it!!!MJC with Washington Team

Once again, whenever my schedule permits, you will see me on Friday nights and Saturday evenings at Grady and Lakewood (sometimes both in one night!) cheering on our teams. And just like last year, I’m getting a full-fledged education on what it takes to compete on the football field by practicing with our teams!MJC at Douglass

After three years of practice and having so much fun, I’m back at it and STILL terrible! I started the season with Washington (Thanks, Coach Avery!) and South Atlanta (Thanks, Coach Stephens!), then I worked out with Maynard Jackson (Thank, Coach Williams!), Douglass (Thanks, Coach Cofield!), and Therrell (Thanks, Coach Sullivan!), and most recently I got it in with Mays (Thanks, Coach Battle) and B.E.S.T. Academy (Thanks, Coach Moore). I hope to work out with all 11 of our teams by season’s end.MJC at BEST

It’s sooo hard! It’s hot, and all the running and drills and exercises are a killer (especially those six-inch leg lifts and tire-flipping drills!). And I even had my first football injury – a miserable muscle tear in my left calf (Waaaaaa!). But I love being out there with our students and coaches, and I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me and letting me participate like a true member of the team. Case in point: I had to do 25 pushups for fumbling the ball at South Atlanta … just like a Hornet!Dr. C at SATL (8-2-17 Senior selfie)

Also, I plan to work out with some of the other fall sports. I’ve already worked out with our district-wide APS Knights water polo team (Thanks, Coach Stu!), just as I did last year when I joined the cheerleaders at Carver (Ladies, those five-minute wall sits are brutal! Geezums!) and the softball team at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy. I wish I could take some credit for their record-setting season, coming in second in their region and advancing to the state playoffs – but it was all them!MJC at APS Knights

And, there’s more to come in the  fall – cross country and volleyball – to extend my #UnitedWePlayTour and the APS United We Play initiative (see how that first developed here) to the winter and spring sports, too! It’s a way for me to stay connected to our students and staff, our coaches, athletic directors and principals, and hear their concerns. On top of that, it’s a great way for me to stay in shape!

MJC with Therrell Team

It also gives me an opportunity to reinforce the importance of co-curricular activities in Atlanta Public Schools. (Please note that I refer to them as “co-curricular” and not “extra-curricular,” because these activities do more than just enhance the educational experience in our schools.) They are an essential part of school, which goes for our many clubs and organizations as well.MJC with Mays Team

So let me hear from you! If you want me to suit up, sit up or jump up with your squad, hit me up on Twitter, or call or email Seth Coleman in our Office of Communications and Public Engagement at 404-802-2891 or seth.coleman@atlanta.k12.ga.us.

Last year, the fall sports teams set the tone for what turned out to be an awesome year for APS, on the field and in the classroom (check out the gains we made on the Georgia Milestones!).

Let’s #HuddleUpAndHaveABall !

#UnitedWePlayTour
#APSUnitedWePlay

Day One Dispatches from the District

As part of the Day One tradition in Atlanta Public Schools, my team and I have boarded an APS bus to visit students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on Back-to-School happenings across the district. Throughout Day One on this blog and on social media @CarstarphenMJ and @APSUpdate, we catch up with our schools in real time as we enter another year of the APS Journey of Transformation.

Here are my live reports:

5:15 p.m. Washington High School (Washington Cluster)

BTW Football Practice - Seniors - (Day One) 8-1-17

We closed our Day One Tour today the way hundreds of student athletes will this fall … at practice!

In this case, it was football practice at Booker T. Washington High School, a school as rich and full with history and tradition as Atlanta itself. Its doors first opened in 1924 as the city’s first and only high school at the time for African American students. Just like the community has gone through its ups and downs over the last decade or so, so has the football team. But things are on the upswing on both fronts! The football team was one win away from making the state playoffs last season, and I can personally attest to the fact that they are focused and dedicated to making the playoffs this year (those six-inch leg lifts and tire drills  almost KILLED me!).

WOW! What a day! I’m exhausted, but its days like this that inspire me to continue working as hard as I can for our students and their families. It warmed my heart to see so many of our students – from pre-K to high school seniors – ready and excited about learning on Day One. And our teachers, administrators and support staff were ready as well. It was indeed a great day!

One down, 179 more to go!

#APSFIRSTDAY
#BulldogPride
#WestsidePride
3:08 p.m. Price Middle School (Carver Cluster)

Price3During the APS Journey of Transformation, we have embraced a series of strategies to support some of our lowest-performing schools. For some, we changed leadership or school structures. For others, we provided targeted support that includes professional development, high-impact tutoring and more wraparound services. And in limited cases, particularly in the Carver Cluster, we partnered with experienced groups that have proven outcomes in making changes with limited resources.

Such is the case with Price Middle School, where Purpose Built Schools is helping us transform this school and the community as part of our Turnaround Strategy.

Price and both of its feeder elementary schools – Thomasville Heights and Slater – are part of the Carver Cluster and now all three are under the management of Purpose Built Price4Schools, which also operates Drew Charter. When searching for a new principal, they thought enough of Principal Luqman Abdur-Rahman, whom we had hired more than a year ago, that they kept him at the lead over the transition.

As a former middle school teacher, I can relate to the challenges Principal Abdur-Rahman faces. In fact, I relish them. Middle school is my sweet spot.

During my visit, I stopped by Joshua Thurston’s seventh grade math class where he develops math fluency by challenging his students to complete multiplication and division equations within five minutes. Principal Abdur-Rahman described it as “pushups of math.”

Seventh grader Jaylen Walker and I worked through factoring and T-charts and enjoyed the competition with other student teams as we attempted to figure out the greatest common factors of two numbers.PriceSelfie

For Price overall, Principal Abdur-Rahman said he has embraced the Purpose Built Schools’ focus on project-based learning. He told me he wants his students to really understand what it means to create and especially “to find the power in themselves to create a different kind of school.”

For a school district on a Journey of Transformation, that is an inspiring direction to take and one I hope we all embrace.

#StudentPower

#APSFIRSTDAY

2 p.m. – Grady High School

Next it was on to our first high school visit of the tour – Grady, one of our bedrock schools with a long and storied history of academic and co-curricular excellence.

Grady3Grady’s award-winning student newspaper, The Southerner, is one of the most highly-respected student publications in the country. Most of the students who work on The Southerner are part of the Communications and Journalism small learning community, one of four the school features. The others are Biomedical Science and Engineering, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Law and Investigation. Each one produces top students every year, which is why the school has earned national awards for journalism, as well as speech, debate, mock trial and robotics. Grady’s forensic science and oceanography programs are stellar as well.

Also, later this school year Grady students will be able to access a new digital technology lab, which will help them be even more prepared for college and career in the 21st Century.

And in a little more than two weeks, Grady’s football team, which won the region championship last season, will begin a new season, ready to defend its title.Grady2

This is all being done under the leadership of one of our most seasoned, knowledgeable and professional principals, Betsy Bockman, recipient of the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Educational Advisory Foundation. In fact, Dr. Bockman was so on top of things on Day One that she didn’t need our help with ANYTHING! We had a team of workers ready to go – including board members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Matt Westmoreland, and board chair Courtney English. But she had no books for us to sort and deliver. No files to sort. No forms to collate and staple. Nothing (Major bummer!).

GradyprincipalSo instead, I hung out in Mr. Greg Hardy’s twelfth grade Lit class. Guess what they were talking about on Day One? The poem “Invictus”! That’s right, the same poem that will serve as an inspiration for the students at our new middle school – John Lewis Invictus – will be one of the first assignments for English students at Grady.

All in all, it was another great visit … except for the traffic on the way there!

#APSFIRSTDAY
#GKGKWeAllWeGot

 12:56 p.m. Bolton Academy (North Atlanta)

Bolton1Tucked into a wooded neighborhood near Bolton Avenue in North Atlanta is one of the district’s most diverse schools, drawing students from a wide mix of neighborhoods. So it’s fitting that Bolton Academy is one of our schools that fully embraces the learning of other languages.

APS continues to expand opportunities for its students to learn a world language. Presently, our district has the distinction of being one of the only school districts in Georgia that has a clear pathway for world languages from elementary through high school. And six of our schools, including Bolton Academy, offers Dual Language Immersion, where students are taught two languages every day as part of their regular coursework. At Bolton, the school offers Spanish as well as English.

I always enjoy visiting the quaint school. Last year on Day Two, a group of first grade Owls from Ms. Tomkins’ class greeted me with a handmade banner peppered with personalized owls that read “Look Whoooo’s Coming to Bolton Academy.” It was one of my favorite gifts from all of all last year, and it hung in my office all year long!

Bolton2A trip to Bolton also gives me a chance to brush up on my own Spanish. Senorita Carmen Ibanez’s students are only first graders, but they are fully immersed in the language even on Day One. Not a word of English is spoken or appears on the walls!

Both Kristi Adcock in first grade and Stephani Clark in third grade brought high intensity into the classroom. Ms. Adcock’s class scurried around to fill in a grid for a get-to-know-you exercise even asking Board Chair English, Bolton3Vice Chair Nancy Meister, Board Member Briscoe Brown, Esteves and Westmoreland whether they owned pets or had brothers and sisters.

As part of a team-building lesson, Ms. Clark’s third graders built towers out of plastic cups. They cheered in astonishment when some of my colleagues accidentally knocked two towers down. (Next time, I visit Bolton on my own! 😉 )

11:51 a.m. – Kimberly Elementary School

Next we went to Kimberly Elementary in southwest Atlanta. The Rensselaerville Institute is working with the staff and Principal Joseph L. Salley to help take this community school to new heights!

Kimberly Elementary’s longstanding stature in the community becomes exceedingly clear when you run down its list of community partners – names like Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Cascade United Methodist Church, Chick-fil-A, Publix, McDonalds and the Metro Atlanta Kiwanis. Additionally, the school is filled with academic resources like the John Lewis Learning Lab and co-curricular activities like the Kiwanis Club and the Junior Beta Club.

Kimberly3Kimberly had a fantastic year last school year, which began with them moving back into their newly refurbished building after a year in a temporary site. The students, staff and administrators then got down to business. The result was an average gain of 6.2 percentage points in all subject areas on the Georgia Milestones! That placed Kimberly in the top 15 of all Atlanta Public Schools, relative to gains made. Outstanding!

Kimberly1And we had a TON of fun at Kimberly, and we got a little work done, too. We helped media specialist Jennifer Saunders (one of my run buds helping me train for the New York City Marathon!) collate and deliver workbooks to several classes, including Ms. McCants’ first-grade class (School board member Matt Westmoreland and I left a note for you, Ms. McCants. Hope you like it!).

Then we went out to the new, beautiful playground! I, along with Board Member Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Board Chair Courtney English, had just as much fun as the kids! The Kimberly2playground features entertaining and challenging equipment, like a four-man see-saw and a tall climbing tower. It is part of the major renovation project at the school that has transformed the entire building. It’s larger, roomier and brighter – all paid for with your SPLOST dollars (Thanks again for your vote, Atlanta!).

Yes, Panther Pride is alive and well at Kimberly Elementary!

#APSFIRSTDAY
#PANTHERPRIDE

 

10:58 a.m. Beecher Hills Elementary (Mays Cluster)

As we swarmed into the hives of Beecher Hills Elementary in the Mays Cluster, we hit theBeecher1 midpoint of DAY ONE – and lunch time!

As anyone who follows Atlanta Public Schools and me know, I place a high priority on hot, nutritious meals for our students. More than three of every four APS student qualify for free and reduced lunch, so I make certain our food contracts include healthier options, more locally sourced foods and tastier selections.

I 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 one-year contract with Aramark. I know that with our partnership with Aramark, APS’ award-winning nutrition services department is committed to enhancing our school meals program to provide nutritious foods for our students, while maintaining a comparable level of service.

On the elementary lunch menu today: chicken nuggets, burritos, green beans, rolls and milk.

Beecher5I enjoyed eating the nuggets (with real chicken bits) and my burrito. The green beans were OK, and the roll was soft as bread should be. All in all, I thought the food was better than at the end of last school year, so that’s an improvement.

But I wanted a quick assessment from our own experts – in this case, the Beecher Hills taste-testers. Of my four lunch companions, two had brought their lunch, and the other two seemed to like their food. One of them said she would put the rest of her nuggets in her bag and eat the rest later.Beecher4

Look around the lunchroom, I saw a lot of empty trays, so the children must enjoy the food enough to actually eat the food. But I really need to talk to more kids.

During our visit – which included Board Chair English and Members Amos, Briscoe Brown, Lee and Westmoreland, we ran into school nurse, Jamil Woodridge, who attended Beecher Hills as a young girl.

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Thank you Woodridge Family for making APS a part of your family!

Her own daughter, JaKayla, was a Carver High graduate and recent valedictorian at Clark Atlanta and is now a first-year teacher at Hutchinson Elementary. So the Woodridge family is keeping it within our own APS family!

As for Beecher Hills itself, the school has been around since the 1950s, with Principal Crystal Jones at the helm for the last nine. I know all of the Beecher Bees are looking forward to a renovated hive in the near future.

#BuzzBeecherHills #APSFIRSTDAY

 

8:53 a.m. – John Lewis Invictus Academy

JLewisThe first part of our Day One Tour has been like a celebration of heroes! First, we went to TAG Academy, named in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. Then it was on to Barack and Michelle Obama Academy. And then we came to the third school stop – the brand new John Lewis Invictus Academy – where I got to give a big ol’ hug to one of my personal heroes, Congressman John Lewis!

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My day is complete now that I got my John Lewis hug.

He is truly a national treasure and unquestionably worthy of having a school named in his honor. It is also fitting that “Invictus” is also part of the name. The word means “undefeated,” and it is also the title of an inspirational poem that speaks to Congressman Lewis’ unwavering courage as one of the key leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. One stanza in the poem captures his essence perfectly:  “In the clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloodied but unbowed.” (SMH, I love this brother!)

We want the students who come to this new middle school on the city’s west side, to embody the spirit of perseverance displayed by Rep. Lewis and the poem. The opening of John Lewis Invictus Academy is part of our plan to revitalize the Douglass Cluster, as we grow this new school one grade level at a time, starting this year with sixth grade. And based on what we saw this morning, the students and staff, led by Principal Gregory Parks, are primed and ready to live up to the school’s name!

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John Lewis Invictus Academy has a dynamic new principal in Gregory Parks!

The students sat respectfully – some dressed in their bright orange uniform shirts, others in their navy blue school t-shirts with the word “Effort” on the back – waiting for Rep. Lewis to arrive. When he walked into the gym to take part in a brief ceremony officially naming the school in his honor, it was as if royalty had entered the room! Before we got started, Atlanta School Board members Byron Amos, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Eshe Collins, Jason Esteves, Steven Lee, Matt Westmoreland and Board Chair Courtney English, joined me, Principal Parks and others in a quick photo shoot with the congressman. And it’s a good thing we took pictures before the ceremony, because afterward he was mobbed like a rock star!

In his remarks to this brand new class of more than 300 sixth graders, Congressman Lewis complemented them on their beautiful, handsome faces, their intelligence and their colorful attire. He went on to encourage them to strive to be whatever it is they want to be. After all, he and his peers laid their lives on the line so that we can all aspire to dream big and then set ourselves on the path to achieving those dreams through education.

Thank you, Congressman Lewis, for giving us the honor of naming a school after you! The students, faculty, staff, administration, parents and caregivers of John Lewis Invictus Middle School will make you proud!

#APSFIRSTDAY
#INVICTUSISHERE

7:51 a.m. Barack and Michelle Obama Academy (Jackson Cluster)

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Teacher Jacarruem Bradford and Principal Robin Christian bring the education noise to BAMO!

For our third stop of DAY ONE, we visited another school packed with excitement – from dynamic turnaround Principal Robin Christian and her enthusiastic teachers and staff to an innovative early learning program (more on that in a moment) to a brand new school name!

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A selfie with Principal Robin Christian!

As part of its turnaround efforts, the community wanted to change the name of the former D.H. Stanton Elementary to Barack And Michelle Obama Academy to be more reflective on its future. Because the community overwhelming wanted to honor our former president and first lady, the Atlanta Board of Education this spring approved the name change. (Mr. Stanton and the Obamas are all honored in a beautiful new mural by Ashley Anderson in the school’s hallways.)

But it’s more than a name change at this school, which they have already affectionately nicknamed BAMO! On the most recent Georgia Milestones results, this school has seen gains in most subjects. (See my most recent blog on Milestones here.) So the BAMO community is already seeing improvements!

When we visited for breakfast, we could feel the energy of BAMO kids, families and teachers!

Georgia State athletes from cheerleading, basketball, soccer and track and field along with Pounce the Panther arrived in force as the young BAMO students arrived in sharp white shirts and khaki pants and skirts as part of the school’s new dress code.

In the lunchroom, Jacarruem Bradford, the school’s behavior specialist, pumped up the students with cheers that took them through the paces in math. And then in former teacher of the year Deborah Welch’s second grade class, we engaged in social emotional learning (SEL) with a good morning greeting and sharing exercise. What a inspiring way to start the day!

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The new Sheltering Arms Project is nearly complete!

Later in August, the school will be the site of a brand new Sheltering Arms to provide families with services and early childhood education for children ages six weeks through Pre-K.  Sheltering Arms already operates a successful program at Dunbar Elementary, so we expect great things for our youngest learners!

Stay tuned for more from this Jackson Cluster school!

#EarlyLearningIsKey   #APSFIRSTDAY

6:55 a.m. – Tuskegee Airman Global (TAG) Academy

What a way to start the school year! A brisk walk to school with students into the loving arms and warmth of the “Million Father March!”

TAGwalkTAG Academy joined hundreds of schools across the country in participating in the “Million Father March” – an initiative started by the Black Star Project 13 years ago as a way for African-American fathers to show their total commitment to the academic success of their children by walking them to school on the first day of school.

TAGwalk2TAG Academy dads – including community members such as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks, Derrick Boazman of WAOK and Art Terrell of Kiss 104.1 to just name a few – lined up to high five and cheer students and staff into the school! They all stepped up in a major way! Seeing all these fathers and caregivers with their kids, their faces glowing with anticipation and excitement on Day One of a brand new school year, was inspiring. I can see that TAG Principal Lincoln Woods shares that passion.

Last year he successfully brought two school communities together (the former Connally and Venetian Hills elementary schools) under one nurturing roof, with a new name that honored a group of American heroes – the Tuskegee Airmen, an elite corps of World War II fighter and bomber pilots who became our nation’s first African-American military airmen. This year, Mr. Woods has cultivated a partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine, which will help enhance TAG Academy’s STEM-focused curriculum.

TAGwalk5We walked to school with the Howe family! Thanks Board Members Courtney English and Matt Westmoreland for the escort on this special day. It was great to also see Board Members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Steven Lee at the school to welcome all the kids!

TAG Academy and the “Million Father March” gave this Day One tour the perfect start. And speaking of great fathers and schools named after historic figures, stay tuned for our next stop!

#APSFIRSTDAY
#TAGISIT

5:45 a.m., APS Metropolitan Bus Depot

Welcome back to school!

We start Day One in Atlanta Public Schools where we start every day of the school year – with buses. In mere moments, more than 300 school buses will leave here, our other bus depot at Lakewood Stadium and a third location at North Atlanta High School to travel more than 14,000 miles across the city to deliver 28,000 of our beautiful students to their schools safely.

Bus3I call these colleagues our “transportation educators,” because they are so much more than bus drivers. After a student’s parent or caregiver, a bus driver is often the very first adult that greets students as they start their school day … and sometimes the last as they are driven home from school.

We met with some of our drivers at the Metropolitan Depot where we sent them off with good wishes and Chick-Fil-A biscuits!

Over the past year, our Transportation Department under the leadership of Executive Director John Franklin, has made a tremendous effort to boost the safety and quality of our transportation services. Over recent months, the department completed a full reorganization of the Fleet Maintenance section, complete with a new fleet manager, fleet foreman and certified mechanics. This has already led to more than 86% of our bus fleet to be fully operational, preventative maintenance service on 200 school buses and a reduction of tow costs last school year.

A major highlight of this department was the quick reaction to the I-85 bridge collapse. Bus operators reached an 80% on-time percentage on the next day – Friday, March 31 – despite the circumstances.

Bus1Some other highlights and bragging points:

  • 320 buses have American Traffic Solutions stop arm cameras installed to help ensure the safety of students.
  • Transportation went from a morning on-time arrival status in the high 70s during the 2015-2016 school year to an on-time arrival status in the low 90s last school year.
  • Integrated databases support our new mobile app (search for Atlanta Public Schools on your phone’s app store and download the one with our logo!) and enable better communication with parents.

So from Day One to the last day, we can depend on safe transportation! If you need to check out your bus route, please visit our Transportation page online or call 404-802-0411!Bus2

Now on to school!

#YellowTogether #APSFIRSTDAY