APS Updates Transportation Plan in Wake of I-85 Closure

IMG_9717As most of the Atlanta Public Schools community enjoyed a much-welcomed Spring Break, quite a number of our district team members, especially operations and transportation crews, worked through the vacation break to prepare for the traffic congestion expected after the closure of I-85. That was the kind of spirit and dedication we saw (and I wrote about here) immediately after a portion of the interstate collapsed on Thursday, March 30, that enabled us to have a successful school day the following day.

But we still needed a longer term plan for when students return on Monday, April 10.

In order to minimize the impact of increased traffic on schools and students, we are requesting that all bus riders from Morningside Elementary School and throughout the North Atlanta cluster (including Bolton Academy, Brandon, Garden Hills, Jackson, E. Rivers and Smith elementary schools; Sutton Middle School and North Atlanta High School) report to their bus stops 15 minutes early beginning Monday so that buses have additional time to ensure an on-time drop-off.

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School arrives at Garden Hills Elementary for first day of this school year!

For parents who drop off their children in the mornings within the North Atlanta cluster and at Morningside Elementary School, we will be opening the school doors 15 minutes earlier than normal in hopes of reducing congestion around schools.

For the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year:

  • Elementary school doors will open at 7:15 a.m. with a start time of 8 a.m.
  • North Atlanta High School doors will open at 8 a.m. with a start time of 8:45 a.m.
  • Sutton Middle School doors will open at 8:30 a.m. with a start time of 9:15 a.m.

The district will also make the following adjustments:

  • Atlanta Public Schools is creating a temporary bus compound at North Atlanta High School in order to park buses serving neighborhoods on the north side of the city.
  • Atlanta Public Schools Police Department is working in partnership with the Atlanta Police Department to provide increased traffic support around schools and neighborhoods with anticipated traffic concerns.
  • In an abundance of caution, the district is stocking all of the impacted buses with bottled water in the event that students are stuck in traffic for extended periods of time.

The district will be closely monitoring the situation next week and will make adjustments to the plan as required. We do expect that bus routes will likely be delayed, and we appreciate the patience from our students, families, staff and other stakeholders as we work diligently to respond to the traffic pressures associated with this unforeseen interstate closure.

Many thanks to Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan, Chief Operating Officer Larry Hoskins, Transportation Executive Director John Franklin and other committed colleagues and teams who worked all week to test and shape the strategy.

Please enjoy the rest of Spring Break. We look forward to seeing our beautiful students, teachers and staff on Monday!

APS Keeping Focus on Children amid Crisis, Impending Spring Break

Whenever a long break approaches, we all have a tendency to want to take it easy and coast through the last few days of school. But at Atlanta Public Schools, we have been gradually changing that mindset so that we keep focused on the education of children every single school day … even with everyone eager for the Spring Break.

That became evident over the past 24 hours as we were challenged to consider closing schools following the fire that caused the collapse of a portion of I-85 near Buckhead on Thursday night.

Upon hearing the news, our crisis team – comprised of staff from academics, operations, safety and security, communications and transportation – immediately assembled to determine the safest and most prudent response in Atlanta Public Schools. As you know, we determined we had the team in place and the ability to open schools on time this morning.

The Transportation Department, led by John Franklin and his team of mechanics and bus drivers, worked through the night to ensure buses were ready and in place. For example, 23 buses assigned for the North Atlanta Cluster were moved to the high school campus late in the night, and bus drivers arrived early to handle their routes.

Our Safety and Security Department, led by Dr. Marquenta Sands Hall and Police Chief Ron Applin, had their officers ready to assist with traffic and other issues.

As a result, Atlanta Public Schools completed a full school day in as normal fashion as possible considering the circumstances. In fact, the on-time percentage for our morning bus routes generally compare with the percentages on any other school day as this chart shows.

Spring Break blogWhile buses for some clusters like North Atlanta arrived a bit later than normal, that was expected.

So I really want to praise Mr. Franklin, Dr. Hall and Chief Applin and all of their crews and officers for stepping up on the last day before Spring Break. A big thank you to Board Member Nancy Meister, who represents North Atlanta, not only for her guidance and support but also for working with me all night to ensure we were coordinated. Another thank you to Mayor Reed and Governor Deal for working closely with us to keep students and staff safe. And a final thank you to all of the teachers, staff, students and families for making the day a full school day.

But the work continues, especially since the collapsed portion of I-85 complicates routes along the interstate for some weeks.

We have asked the city to provide assistance with traffic control at Northside Drive near Mount Paran as buses leave North Atlanta High around 1:45 p.m.; at Peachtree Battle near E. Rivers Elementary at 2:30 pm..; Northside Drive near Sutton Middle at 3:30 p.m. and areas around Jackson, Brandon and Smith elementary schools as they dismiss at 2:30 p.m. The city has agreed to help with those routes we’ve identified.

Although Spring Break is ahead, our Transportation Department will be handling bus routes for our second annual Spring Break Academy, which starts Monday, April 3, and then consider route revisions for the regular school days starting Monday, April 10, and for field trips for the rest of the year.

With a crisis averted, I actually have a renewed sense of hope as we move into Spring Break. A hope that we have made significant progress with the operations of Atlanta Public Schools that we could deal with an issue like a collapsed interstate and move forward without looking back.

Enjoy the Break!

APS Advances School Changes for Improved Quality and Efficiency

Over the last three years, Atlanta Public Schools has done a great deal of work in right-sizing the district to more effectively direct resources toward our students. As part of this effort to improve quality while increasing efficiency, we consolidated small schools in the Carver, Therrell and Washington clusters and single-gender schools in the first year. We made changes that led to the creation of Hollis Innovation Academy and Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy and the launch of partnership schools in the Carver Cluster in the second year.

As we entered a third year down the path for transformation, several key data points clearly emphasized the need for more work:

  • APS is a school district that was built to accommodate more than 100,000 students, but in truth, we now only have about 52,000 students in about 87 schools.
  • One of our neighbors, Fulton County Schools, educates just short of 100,000 students, and it has 106 schools. That’s nearly twice as many students in only 20 more schools.
  • Another neighbor to the south, Henry County Schools, educates 40,000 students and has only 51 schools.

Tonight, the Board, with a 7-2 vote, approved school changes in alignment with the district’s Transformation Strategy that take continued strong steps toward improved quality and efficiency. The Board approved the following closures, consolidations and program changes:

  • Jackson Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, close Whitefoord Elementary School, redistricting students to Toomer Elementary and Burgess-Peterson Academy.
  • Mays Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, close Adamsville Primary, restructuring Miles Intermediate as a PreK-5 school and redistricting some Adamsville and Miles students to West Manor Elementary.
  • Douglass Cluster: At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, relocate the Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Academy at the Benjamin S. Carson Educational Complex (BEST) to the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSK) with two 6-12 single gender academies on the CSK campus. Phase out the closure of Harper-Archer Middle School by serving only 7th and 8th grade at Harper-Archer next school year. Phase in and create a new middle school at the BEST facility, serving 6th grade only in 2017-2018. At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, close Fain Elementary School and Towns Elementary School and open a new elementary school at the renovated Harper-Archer campus. For the 2019-2020 school year, launch a new PreK-8 partnership school with KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools to serve all students at Woodson Park Academy. (This will not be a start-up charter school.) For the 2020-2021 school year, we would close the current Woodson Park building and open a new campus at the former Woodson Primary site to include a new school building, a YMCA, an early childhood center and a health clinic.
  • Citywide: Relocate West End Academy to Crim Open Campus High School starting in the 2017-2018 school year.

More details of the mergers, closings and partnership are available in the official plan available here. I wanted to stress in this blog that at no point did we take any of these changes lightly. Closing and merging schools is always hard, never easy or comfortable and always comes with criticism and hope, mourning of the past but celebrating the possibility of improvements for the future.

That is why this district involved itself in an extensive communication and public engagement process over the past three months before I ever took my final recommendations to the board. These have included but are not limited to:

  • Community meetings – this included official meetings such as four (4) cluster meetings in the Douglass, Jackson and Mays clusters; six (6) public hearings in those clusters; and no fewer than a dozen formal meetings with community leaders, staff and parents in those clusters.
  • Informal meetings – there were numerous informal gatherings which my senior staff, board members and I attended to engage with the community and answer questions.
  • Open houses – KIPP Metro Atlanta and Purpose Built opened their doors to provide parents and community leaders with on-site visits of their schools, including our first partnership school at Thomasville Heights Elementary School.
  • Countless individual conversations – these ranged from phone conversations, email exchanges and direct one-on-one meetings. The team and I rode buses and ran with parents as we explored the neighborhood on wheels and on foot to engage the community and verify concerns about proposed solutions.
  • We kept track of the work, plans and calendar at www.atlantapublicschools.us/schoolchanges. It was regularly updated with presentations and FAQs and other information relevant to the school changes being proposed.

And it informed the draft scenarios and superintendent recommendations.

The feedback across all three clusters (Douglass, Jackson and Mays) helped shape the plan significantly and reflects the importance and effectiveness of our community engagement efforts. We spent a lot of time talking with students, staff, families and community members, and we really saw how much those communities connected with their schools.

We listened. And I only have to note that the proposals literally changed with every interaction as evidence of that. When we started in the Douglass cluster, every scenario involved the closing of our single-gender academies. The community spoke, and so we landed on a recommendation that finds a way to strengthen the single-gender schools on a single campus.

Likewise, I learned through interactions with the Benteen community how critical the community supports are to its vulnerable families and student population. It has created a network of wraparound supports with the school as its anchor, a situation that APS does not have the capacity or wherewithal to re-create for this community at another school at this time. So, I ultimately decided not to recommend closure of Benteen.

I will note that I have given a specific charge to both the single-gender academies and the Benteen community that they must continue to support their schools. If we see these schools decline – especially in enrollment – we may have to revisit these decisions in the future.

BenteenRunFinally, community input informed our decisions for future use of both the Adamsville and Whitefoord buildings. Thanks to feedback in the Jackson Cluster, we were able to solidify plans for the Whitefoord building to remain open to provide early childhood education and health care. Likewise, I am optimistic that we are close to finalizing a plan that ensures the Adamsville building will continue to be used for educational purposes moving forward.

I appreciate all of the students, parents, staff, community members, partners and all of the stakeholders for coming out and contributing to these critical conversations. I hope the work we’ve seen reveals signs of the engagement and interaction to come because it gives me great hope and inspiration for the APS Journey of Transformation.

If we were able to tackle something as difficult as these consolidations, closures and new partnerships, then we will be able to do more to put quality and efficient measures in place so that more and more students can graduate ready for college and career.

100 Days into Transformation Results in ‘Democratizing Education Through Student Voice and Hip Hop’ – How Cool Is That?!?

Today marks the 100th day of the first year of full implementation of our transformation in Atlanta Public Schools. As part of that work, APS is changing some of the ways we teach our students, giving them an authentic voice as they interact with the curriculum and shape learning for themselves.

When I was preparing for the State of the District last October, I wanted to convey the kind of enthusiasm and energy I had for this Journey of Transformation to turnaround schools, improve equity and end intergenerational poverty in Atlanta.

For those who know me well, they know I am obsessed with the genius of the dynamic new musical phenomenon on Broadway that is Hamilton. Coupled with our burgeoning partnership with Flocabulary, a teaching method that infuses hip hop and spoken word with history lessons, we had our muse for the State of the District. (As evidence, you can re-experience the State of the District here – put on your dancing shoes!)

So 100 days into the school year, we are asking our school communities to push harder again (as explained in my previous blog). The energy (and, to be fair, angst for some) remains at heightened levels across APS. But, if you look at our progress through someone else’s eyes, you might be able to see the magic and possibility of our transformational work and the beauty and talent of our students and staff.

Alex Rappaport, co-founder and CEO of Flocabulary, captures his experience with Atlanta Public Schools for EdSurge News. It features the partnership and our students. Please enjoy it here. I have also shared it below.

Join the transformation and believe in the change – I believe in you!

Democratizing Education Through Student Voice and Hip Hop

By Alex Rappaport, Jan 19, 2017

Earlier this fall, Flocabulary partnered with Atlanta Public Schools on a writing contest called Hip Hop History. The challenge posed to students was simple: Write a rap song about a historical figure who inspires you. The results were remarkable.

Students from grades 1-12 participated in the contest, and the historical figures ranged from George Washington Carver to Michelle Obama. One ninth-grader named Asmara decided to write about Trayvon Martin:

They call it looking suspicious; We call it being Black and alive.

They call it keeping criminals off the streets; We call it genocide.

Trayvon: your death had no meaning in the government’s eyes.

They killed you unjustly and had it advertised.

The superintendent’s office evaluated submissions from across the district and invited several groups of students to perform their work at the annual State of the District address. The students performed proudly in front of more than a thousand teachers, parents and guests, bringing the crowd to its feet and stealing the show. When asked to choose a winner from the student groups, the audience refused. The consensus was that all of the students were winners that day.

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Talented students from Kimberly Elementary perform at APS State of the District

In our current social climate, diverse voices and perspectives are more important than ever. We can’t rely on gatekeepers to tell the whole story.

So, what did this contest have to do with democratization? At its surface, the contest was aimed at fairly traditional learning outcomes. Once students chose a subject, they used standards-based academic skills like independent research, critical thinking and non-fiction reading. The use of songwriting also allowed students to be creative and encouraged them to work collaboratively, two important 21st-century skills that are increasingly important in the workplace, yet hard to teach in the classroom.

But the contest went far beyond standards and skills. It also elevated student voice. By giving students a chance to take ownership of the curriculum and content, we allow them to shape what is being covered and how it’s being taught. (Researchers have taken notice of this too: A literature review by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University concluded that student motivation and academic achievement increase when students’ interests and goals are reflected in the classroom.)

Lessons that elevate student voice also allow diverse identities and cultural perspectives to break through the curriculum—a curriculum that has been covered in the permafrost of a limited cultural perspective for far too long. This perspective can be biased and sometimes just plain wrong. As recently as 2015, it was discovered that a major geography textbook, published by McGraw-Hill Education and adopted by the Texas Board of Education, referred to slaves as “workers” in a chapter on global immigration. The book was rolled out to thousands of high school students, one of whom caught the error himself, and wasn’t updated with a correction until a parent demanded it. How would a textbook cover Trayvon Martin?

While the students rapped about history, they were also making some of their own.

The idea of elevating student voice is becoming a major focus area—right alongside traditional K-12 themes like core curriculum, assessment and graduation rates—among superintendents and chief academic officers. The willingness of Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to showcase the writing contest on her district’s biggest stage is one example. But bringing activities that elevate student voice into more classrooms will mean designing new tools to support teachers and creating new frameworks to connect the activities to core standards and skills.

Lessons that showcase student voice bring new vantage points and ultimately democratize education, particularly for students whose cultural perspectives have been suppressed or marginalized. In our current social climate, diverse voices and perspectives are more important than ever. We can’t rely on gatekeepers to tell the whole story.

The Hip-Hop History contest worked because it sat at the intersection where popular culture and academic content meet—a pedagogical sweet spot where authentic engagement can be a springboard into skills and standards. The Atlanta students showed remarkable depth of knowledge, but it was their confidence and ownership of the content that shined through. For those of us in the audience that day, one thing was clear: While the students rapped about history, they were also making some of their own.

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Therrell High School drops the mike for Atlanta Public Schools

APS Considers School Changes for Improved Quality and Efficiency

As part of the work for students, Atlanta Public Schools has had to strive to improve quality while increasing efficiency. That is why we have continued the work to right size the district to more effectively direct resources toward the students. That has been difficult when you continue to work within an infrastructure that at one point was designed to service more than 100,000 students but today serves about 52,000.

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This school year, we successfully opened two dynamic new schools, including Hollis Innovation Academy …

We have also wanted to deliver the most coherent and effective academic programs possible to our students as well as providing the most complete and essential services we can with limited resources.

To that end, here are some of the details for the emerging potential recommendations:

  • Consolidate Benteen Elementary School with D.H. Stanton Elementary School on the D.H. Stanton campus.
  • Merge Adamsville Primary and Miles Intermediate schools into a single, cohesive school on the Miles campus.
  • Close Whitefoord Elementary School and rezone students to Burgess-Peterson Academy and Toomer Elementary School.
  • Consider changes that would impact the Douglass Cluster. We will have more information regarding these potential changes for this cluster in the next few weeks.
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… the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy.

Over the past two years, among the changes necessary have been consolidating or closings schools. Let me stress now as I have in the past: We do not take the matter of school mergers or school closings lightly. We are driven by a number of factors, but most importantly we are working to improve quality while also improving efficiency.

As we did last year, we looked at College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, school enrollment under 500 students and usage of classroom space, renovations needs and the proximity, capacity and performance of nearby schools.

Even after the mergers, consolidations and new partnerships of last two years, the fact remains that we have more work to do here to eliminate redundancies and create stronger, more effective programs that lead to students graduating with real choices in college, career and life.

Adamsville/Miles Consolidation

For this proposal, we plan to close Adamsville Primary School and restructure Miles Intermediate as a PreK-5 school. To balance elementary enrollment in the Mays Cluster, some students would be redistricted for West Manor Elementary.

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Adamsville/Miles/West Manor

We found the primary and intermediate split between Adamsville and Miles creates a lack of coherence in academic planning and programming. Additionally, all three schools – Adamsville (381), Miles (396) and West Manor (270) – are significantly under-enrolled. Both Miles and West Manor have sufficient capacity to accommodate more students.

Due to increased total enrollment after a merger, the new school on the Miles campus will qualify for additional staff allotments and core services. The school would earn a full counselor and earn more allotments in extended core curriculum, such as orchestra, band and world languages. West Manor could potentially quality for additional allotments in extended core as well. The teacher allotment formula, which is drive by class size ratios, will remain the same.

I am recommending that Thalise Perry, currently principal at Miles and an experienced APS administrator with a strong track record of performance, serve as principal of the new school.

The chair of the Atlanta Board of Education will empanel a committee to engage the community to name the new school.

Benteen/D.H. Stanton Merger

For a Benteen and D.H. Stanton merger, we found that Benteen Elementary, with 310 students, currently stands as one of the smallest elementary schools in APS. While both schools have significant capacity, D.H. Stanton has a larger building and will also be the site of a new Sheltering Arms early childhood center, which is currently under construction.

benteen-stanton-map-11717Again, schools with higher enrollment qualify for more staff allotments and core services, so this new school would earn a full counselor and earn more allotments in extended core curriculum, such as orchestra, band and world languages.

Some rezoning will be necessary to ensure whole neighborhoods are zoned for the same school.

I am recommending that Robin Christian, the current principal of D.H. Stanton and another strong APS leader with a record of school turnaround, serve as principal of the new school.

Again, the board chair will form a naming committee for the new school.

Whitefoord Closure

We also propose to close Whitefoord Elementary School and redistrict students to Toomer Elementary and Burgess-Peterson Academy. The district is in discussion about an appropriate new location of the existing care center at Whitefoord to ensure that Whitefoord families can continue to access its services.

Whitefoord Elementary, with only 272 students, is another one of our smallest elementary schools. Toomer and Burgess-Peterson, both located in the Jackson Cluster within reasonable proximity of Whitefoord, have capacity to handle additional enrollments.

Based on the district’s extensive facilities assessment report from November 2015, the condition and suitability scores for buildings on the Whitefoord campus ranked among the lowest in the district. Estimates to restore the buildings to original state would exceed $7 million.

Due to increased enrollment, both Toomer and Burgess-Peterson will qualify for additional staff allotments and core services. Each would earn a full counselor and earn more allotments in extended core curriculum, such as orchestra, band and world languages.

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As part of school changes, Purpose Built Schools became the operating partner for Thomasville Heights Elementary.

We have met with staff at all of the affected schools (except Douglass Cluster, but we will be doing those over the next few weeks) and have scheduled town hall meetings and public hearings. More details and rationale about the proposals and the upcoming meetings are posted at www.atlantapublicschools.us/schoolchanges.

These are not easy decisions. I am particularly aware of the fact that we will be asking some of the hardest working and most talented people in APS to reapply for jobs. Some will get hired by their new schools, but all will receive priority treatment if they apply for jobs elsewhere in the district.

And it can be hard for the community as well, but I am hopeful that we can work together to ultimately make the best decisions for students.

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!