Let’s Celebrate Our Teachers!

During National Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate our dynamic teachers from across the district! 

I really cannot say enough about the importance of our teachers who serve on the front line in our classrooms every school day, educating and preparing our children for a bright future. Teachers provide our students with inspiration and motivation and their work and impact extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom. After a child’s parents, no one is more instrumental in their development than a teacher.

2017 APS TOTY at Springdale Park ES

Throughout the week, we plan to shower our teachers with gifts (hand delivery to schools) and surprise giveaways (some directly from me). Some of those gifts will include a free Chick-fil-A on May 8 as well free admission into one of the most popular and iconic cultural attractions in Atlanta.

Thanks to the generosity of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, APS teachers will receive complimentary Museum Admission on Saturday, May 19, 2018 Museum admission includes access to all indoor exhibits as well as 75 acres of outdoor adventures in WildWoods and Fernbank Forest. Additionally, guests of educators will receive a $3 discount off of museum tickets. Even more, both educators and their guests can add a Giant Screen Movie to their museum ticket for only $5. 

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Again, we thank our teachers for all that they do for APS, our community, but, most of all, our students. I truly hope you enjoy your museum visit and enjoy your week! Also, if you’d like to share your National Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations with me on social media, please use the hashtag #ThankATeacher and tag @CarstarphenMJ and @apsupdate!

Join me in sharing the love and giving big hugs to our Champions for Children!!!!!

Below are our 2018 STAR teachers and students.

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2017 NAEP Shows Gains in 3 of 4 Areas

But More Work To Do

Welcome back! As we all get back into our normal school schedules and activities, assessment results for the “Nation’s Report Card” were released. In short, there is some encouraging news about our student performance in reading and math in 4th and 8th grades.

The results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released by the U.S. Department of Education show that Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is maintaining steady overall growth. When compared to the 2015 NAEP results, the average scale score and percent of students scoring proficient and above increased in 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade reading.

It is a positive trend and can be viewed as an indication that the investments we’re making in the early grades (PreK-3), particularly in our literacy initiatives, are having a positive impact on student performance. We know that effective and high-quality early learning experiences have been shown in repeated studies to have long-lasting impacts on our students.

APS participates in the NAEP assessment as a part of a special assessment group of 27 school districts in large metropolitan areas, called a TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment). By participating in NAEP as the only TUDA district in Georgia, APS can receive district-level aggregated scores which are comparable to other TUDA districts, to the state of Georgia, and to public schools in large cities. (NOTE: Results are not reported for individual students or schools. Additional information about NAEP and APS’ district-level snapshots can be found here: 4th grade reading; 4th grade math; 8th grade reading; 8th grade math.)

We are proud to be the only district participating in TUDA in Georgia, and although NAEP is focused on key performance data across 4th and 8th grades, we continue to focus more broadly on the whole child — understanding the impacts of socio-economics on student performance — to ensure that all of our students, and especially our African-American and Hispanic students, are performing well on these assessments.

As some of you know, NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Every two years, NAEP samples students in 4th and 8th grade and assesses them in reading and math. Other subjects (science and writing) vary from year to year. In 2017, 1,300 APS students participated in NAEP.

As part of determining student performance, achievement levels are broken down into four categories:

  • Below Basic
  • Basic denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at grade.
  • Proficient represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytic skills appropriate to the subject matter.
  • Advanced represents superior performance.

(NOTE: These achievement levels DO NOT represent proficiency as defined by the Georgia Milestones Assessments.)

In this chart below, you can see the percentage of students scoring proficient and above increased by four percentage points in 4th grade math and reading, and by three percentage points in 8th grade reading. The numbers dipped slightly in 8th grade math, going from 21% to 19%.

chart 1

This next chart (below) shows that in terms of scale scores on the 2017 NAEP, APS nearly closed the gap with public schools in large cities nationwide in 4th grade math and was higher than large cities in 4th grade reading.

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Although the overall results are encouraging, we must continue to focus on closing the achievement gap that exists between our White students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. This table (below) shows that achievement gap in our school district through the lens of the 2017 NAEP average scale score by race or ethnicity. The performance gaps are not different from previous years and are similar to those seen on the Georgia Milestones.

chart 3

 NAEP is one indicator of how our 4th grade and 8th grade students perform at a certain point in time in comparison to their national and statewide peers. We will continue to use these scores, our Georgia Milestone, and other assessments to ensure we not only know how our students are performing, but that we put strategies in place to continue to improve student performance.

We’re on a journey; we know we still have a ways to go, but APS is moving forward! I am very proud of the work that our teachers and administrators are doing to improve the academic achievement levels of our students.

#MovingForward #NAEP2017

#MLK50Forward

First Flames of Freedom in APS

building

When the David T. Howard Building opened in 1924, it was a grammar school for African American students. It was, perhaps, at this school that the flame that burned inside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to seek social justice and freedom for all people, was first lit.

Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death, it is only fitting that Atlanta Public Schools is breathing new life into a legacy building and transforming it into a new middle school in Atlanta Public Schools.

As I reflect on the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Dr. King, I feel a profound sense of sadness, sad that he was taken away from his family at the young age of 39, and sad that the world lost a compassionate and impactful leader. But I take solace in knowing that we’ll never lose the impact of Dr. King’s legacy and the indelible mark he made on the history of this country and the world.

As the school district of Dr. King, Atlanta Public Schools takes very seriously our role to not only educate our students about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement, but to empower our students to use their voice and engage in our country’s democratic process. Our students learn about Dr. King’s legacy throughout the school year in lessons, activities, and events. From kindergarten through high school and through our Social Studies, U.S. History, and Language Arts curricula, our students explore not only the figures of the Civil Rights Movement, but they also look at the social, political, and cultural factors that contributed to the movement.

In his words:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

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This is the essence of one of our top initiatives, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which is helping our students to better understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. As we prepare our students for success in college and career, SEL is teaching the skills that Dr. King embodied.

The resurrection of the Howard Building and campus will pay homage to Dr. King’s legacy, and to that of the many trailblazers and trendsetters who attended Howard after it became Atlanta’s second high school for African American students in 1948 (Washington was the first). The school produced outstanding graduates like Maynard H. Jackson (Atlanta’s first African-American mayor), NBA Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Mildred McDaniel Singleton (the only woman from the United States to win a gold medal in the 1956 Olympic Games) – for starters! It also produced business executive and advisor to President Bill Clinton, Vernon Jordan, and Herman Russell, a ground-breaking entrepreneur, architect and real estate developer.

howard-bldg-pics-2Pictured above is an architect’s rending of the newly reconstructed Howard building when completed.

Howard High School closed its doors in 1976. Since then, the building has been used as a satellite office space and even as a storage facility. Meanwhile, the flow of more and more individuals and families moving back into the city of Atlanta, particularly in the burgeoning Old Fourth Ward, has presented both a challenge and an opportunity for APS: provide much-needed relief to the overcrowding issue at Inman Middle School while preserving one of our school system’s most iconic structures – the Howard Building.

Our solution blends the best of both worlds. We are renovating the Howard Building and campus and converting it into a new home for Inman Middle School in the Grady High School Cluster. In addition, we are doing so while respecting the tradition and legacy of the Howard campus, as well as the natural aesthetic beauty of the neighborhood. The Atlanta Board of Education has agreed to make this wonderful dream become a reality by investing $52 million of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds – $47 million from the SPLOST most recently approved in May 2016, $5 million from the 2011 SPLOST – into the rebuilding of this iconic school.

howard-bldg-pics-4Pictured above is an architect’s rending of the newly reconstructed Howard building when completed.

Our Facilities team has worked with award-winning architecture, design and planning firm Stevens & Wilkinson, as well as with Lord Aeck Sargent, a national leader in historic preservation and arts/culture projects, on the re-birth of Howard. These firms are well known for their expertise in landscape architecture and urban design and planning.

The Howard campus is roughly seven acres and sits right in the middle of the Old Fourth Ward community. Due to the age of the property, extensive amounts of re-grading and site work are needed in order to bring the school site into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This ensures student safety and accommodates the new educational buildings and circulation routes for cars, buses and delivery vehicles of various sizes.

Part of respecting the legacy of the school is to preserve the past and remove barriers for the future. While the key features of the building that Dr. King would remember will stay in place, we will also be adding new state-of-the-art classrooms and common spaces. Some of the innovative features include:

  • A network of bio-retention cells across the site to help filter surface runoff and reduce demand on city infrastructure.
  • Safe pedestrian and bicycle routes to/from the school from both the Belt Line Eastside Trail and Freedom Parkway Trail as well as a substantial amount of bicycle parking on-site.
  • New sidewalks and pedestrian walkways are required to be constructed at certain slopes.
  • Added parking spaces for staff and for visitors, so as not to take up spaces on the street in front of residential homes.

We are extremely proud of the plans and are excited about the opportunity to knit the Howard School site back into the neighborhood of the Old Fourth Ward and back into the future transformation of Atlanta Public Schools. I think Dr. King would be proud, too.

When we open the building in the fall of 2020 as the new middle school for the Grady Cluster, we want the campus to be a forward-thinking education center that embraces its history and enhances the community, especially honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

#MLK50Forward

(Spring) Break Through Barriers

It’s Friday! But, not only that, it’s the Friday before Spring Break!

I hope you are all looking forward to your much-deserved time off next week for Spring Break with friends and family. Some of you may be traveling, while others may be booking themselves a stay-cation (I am…at least for part of it!) to re-energize in preparation for the rest of the school year. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have fun and be sure to take care of yourself! I’m so appreciative of everything you do each day to make sure our district stronger for children.

image1I want to share some fantastic news with you. Earlier this week, every single classroom project request on DonorsChoose.org was funded by Ripple, a San Francisco-based technology company! They donated $29 million to support school programs around the country breaking through financial barriers for investments directly to the classroom. Many APS teachers participate in this awesome opportunity! The New York Times covered our amazing gift (and my tweet)! https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/us/donors-choose-donation-ripple.html

What that means for APS is that every single one of our school projects were immediately funded. That’s 260 individual projects, supporting 177 teachers. When combined, our projects are receiving over $282,000 to support classroom efforts. Since our new partnership began with DonorsChoose three years ago, they have invested $4 million into our classrooms for teacher projects.

DZZjlhnV4AAZBg6Wowza! We couldn’t be more thankful to Ripple and to DonorsChoose.org for the #BestSchoolDay ever! I have to give a shout out to our APS Partnerships team, especially Rachel Sprecher, for their work with DonorsChoose.

If your teacher or school has never used DonorsChoose.org here’s how you can break a barrier for learning! It’s really simple:

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  1. Come up with a project idea that you think will bring your classroom to new heights. The more it’s able to boost how your classroom is bringing our transformation strategy to life, the better!
  2. Sign up for an account at donorschoose.org/teachers if you don’t already have one.
  3. Submit your request — the whole process shouldn’t take more than 25 minutes. When your project is funded, DonorsChoose.org ships the supplies directly to your classroom.

How easy is that to be a champion for kids!

Finally, while you are on Spring Break, I hope you will take a moment to remember the man who was greatest giver, barrier breaker and “donor” of love and freedom on Wednesday, April 4th . It is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and death are being commemorated under the theme MLK50 – Where do We Go from Here. As the school district of Dr. King and as a district that continues to celebrate his life and legacy throughout the year, APS is proud to join civil rights groups, schools and other organizations across the country and around the world to show our appreciation for choices he made in the fight for social justice. We’re proud that all of our students, from kindergarten through high school, have a rich legacy to draw from and they are engaged, both inside and outside the classroom, in learning about the Civil Rights Movement and about exercising their civic rights in the world around them.

I will be posting a special blog commemorating #MLK50 on April 4th, and I encourage you to engage in the many activities and events at our schools and in the community in the coming days and weeks and to learn more about #MLK50 on the National Civil Rights Museum’s website at mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/.

Be safe, have fun and see you on Monday, April 9th!

#BestSchoolDay

#SpringBreakthroughBarriers

#MLK50

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Your Vote Makes a Difference! GO Teams Elections Going on Now for 2018-2020 Term

Email Header (for School)-01It’s hard to believe, but we have been operating as a Charter System for nearly two years! Throughout this transition, we’ve seen greater transparency and increased engagement. A major factor in these improvements is the work of our GO Teams. Each school in our district has a nine-member governance team that works collaboratively with the school principal to develop a strategic plan, approve an operating budget and offer input on personnel decisions. These teams are charged with seeking out new and innovative ways to ensure every student is afforded the tools and support necessary for success.

The best part of operating as a charter system is that each GO Team can really look at the needs of the students it serves. Not the district as a whole, but the needs of an individual school community. In June, the first two-year term will expire, leaving more than 400 seats available on GO Teams all over the district. That’s at least five positions at each school.

Now, it’s your turn! The GO Teams in place now have done an incredible job in their first term. More than 400 new and returning candidates need your votes!

So, here’s what we need…parents/guardians and instructional staff, you can vote for your peers from your computer or mobile device at aps.everyonecounts.com now through March 26. We also have community member seats open. Anyone interested in those positions can register online at www.apsstrongschools.com. Candidates for these seats are nominated by the principal and approved by the team.

GO Teams give our parents, educators and community members a real voice … It’s a genuine opportunity to positively impact the future of your Atlanta Public Schools. You can be the voice our students need. STRONG SCHOOLS START WITH YOU!

 

Don’t Repost Threats! Consequences of Posting and Sharing Threats on Social Media

As we prepare for National School Walkout Day, it is important for our stakeholders to understand the consequences of posting (and reposting or sharing) threats on social media – even if you didn’t originally create it.

Since Friday, February 23, Atlanta Public Schools and other metro area school districts have seen a spike in threats of violence against our schools made on social media. Many believe that these threats are occurring in the wake of the tragic school shooting earlier this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida for a host of reasons.

The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority. We take every threat very seriously and we investigate each one in coordination with the Atlanta Police Department Homeland Security Unit, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigations Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, our APS Police Department, social media platform companies, and others.

The posting or reposting of threats of violence against schools on social media is against federal and state law and these actions may be punishable with jail time, fines or both.

Simply put, it is a crime to post and transmit information related to terroristic acts. Specifically, the law (O.C.G.A. 16-11-37.1) states:

“Dissemination of information relating to terroristic acts – It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to furnish or disseminate through a computer or computer network any picture, photograph, drawing, or similar visual representation or verbal description of any information designed to encourage, solicit, or otherwise promote terroristic acts as defined in Code Section 16-11-37. Any person convicted for violation of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature; provided, however, that if such act is in violation of paragraph (1) of subsection (d) of Code Section 16-11-37, the person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or by a fine not to exceed $100,000.00 or both.”

While we believe the felony upgrade may not applicable to the recent social media threats against school districts under Georgia law, punishment for the misdemeanor is a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment of one to 10 years. Even though our APS Police Department may sometimes prefer to file juvenile charges in lieu of the court taking additional action, all of the prosecutorial discretion actually rests with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Posting threats against schools on social media is a federal matter and we are not able to remove it from their jurisdiction.

It is critically important for parents to have a conversation with their children about the seriousness of posting or sharing these threats through social media and review the potential consequences which will start with a suspension from APS and go from there.

As a result of our vigorous investigations into this matter, I am relieved to tell you that APS has identified some students involved in these actions. Appropriate disciplinary measures are being considered and then implemented. We will continue to investigate the threats to find all the original sources, but be forewarned that sharing also has consequence. It breaks my heart to see our young children making bad choices, especially given the severity of the consequences and legal actions that may be levied.

Parents and caregivers must get involved and be vigilant about what their children are posting or reposting on social media. A moment of immaturity for our students can result in significant, long-lasting penalties that may stay on their record for as long as the law deems appropriate.

According to a 2017 study conducted by the Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center for Public Affairs Research found that Instagram and Snapchat have surpassed Facebook as the most popular social media platforms among teens ages 13-17: 76% prefer Instagram, while 75% prefer Snapchat, followed by Facebook (66%) and Twitter (47%).

Social Media Post Chart (2018)

In a Washington Post story published in January 2018, teens talk candidly about what they wish their parents knew about social media. Here’s a highlight of what teens interviewed said:

  • “When you take away one device at night, you might not realize how many devices we still have with us.”
  • “Many of us have a fake Instagram account.”
  • “If we are passionate or angry about something, we take it to social media.”

In addition, according to the latest Common Sense Media Census on Media Use by Tweens and Teens, not all parents know what happens on their children’s social media platforms. Here’s the percent of teens who say their parents know about what they do on social media:

  • 32% say a lot
  • 32% say some
  • 27% say only a little
  • 9% say nothing
  • 5% not sure

While there are great benefits to our young people using technology to express themselves, there are just as many pitfalls. In terms of our responsibility as adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says it best on their website:

“Ultimately, social media becomes a tool or risk for teen’s health based on how they use it, which is in turn shaped by the guidance they get from caring adults.”

HHS also provides a number of resources to help parents set boundaries for their children on social media use. Click here to learn more.

As caring adults, it’s our collective responsibility to guide our young people and intervene before it’s too late. Please talk to your children and reiterate that there are severe disciplinary and legal consequences for posting or reposting threats of violence against schools on social media. School safety is everyone’s business, and I ask for your continued help in making our schools safe.

If you have any information about these threats, please call Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. Tips can be reported anonymously. Also, we appreciate the fact many of our students tried to warn us about the threats, however, they did so by reposting the threats. Remember, reposting is illegal, too!

In addition to contacting Crime Stoppers, you can report any threats of violence against schools that you see on social media by direct messaging us through our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media channels at @apsupdate and/or email the Atlanta Public Schools Safety and Security Department at apspolice@atlanta.k12.ga.us. Please don’t share or repost threats on your account which will continue to circulate the threat and expose you or your child to serious consequences.

Be safe!

Atlanta Has Always Embraced Peaceful Civic Engagement (and so will APS)

On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 14, 2018, our country watched in shock (again) as we learned the horrifying details of a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — part of the Broward County Public School District — where, tragically, 17 students and staff lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured at the hands of a lone gunman. This day marked yet another senseless and devastating act of violence in our schools, sparking national outrage and debate about school safety and gun violence.

For us at Atlanta Public Schools and for so many other school districts around the country, this tragedy hits home and strikes at the core of everything about which we care. We believe our schools should be safe places for students to learn, explore, and engage in the world around them and for educators to teach and inspire. The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority and it’s something we take very seriously.

As many of you may know, on March 14, 2018, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, organizers around the country are calling for a National School Walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to protest government inaction on violence in schools and neighborhoods. You may have seen information on social media and on websites encouraging students, teachers, and their allies around the country to organize on that day, preferably a walkout, and demand that Congress take legislative action on keeping schools safe.

As the birthplace and school district of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta Public Schools takes seriously our responsibility to prepare our students to succeed beyond high school and to help them become well-rounded individuals equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary for actively engaging in society. And, as someone who was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, I have a personal appreciation and respect for the impact civic engagement can have on social change.

To support student engagement around a national dialogue on National School Walkout Day, our schools will work with our students on these issues and work with student leaders to develop a structured plan that will be implemented during that 17-minute timeframe. Some schools are already getting prepared for the learning experience!

I’m excited that our Teaching & Learning team is preparing age-appropriate, recommended instructional activities to support teachers’ efforts in facilitating this conversation around civic engagement and social responsibility.

It’s important that I emphasize here that any participation in any student-led protests or demonstration on March 14th at 10 a.m. is optional and we’re limiting the grade level to secondary schools. More information will be provided to our families closer to the date.

We are proactively communicating with students about the guidelines that will be in place around their participation in the non-disruptive activities (e.g. once the 17-minute activity is complete, instruction must resume and students who choose to go outside those expectations will be considered in violation of our discipline code).  It is also important for students to remember that disruptive “walkouts” are against district policy, and any student led demonstrations that have not received prior approval will result in disciplinary consequences.  Said simply, while we support peaceful organized protesting that is school sanctioned (with prior approval), we do not support disruption of school or obstruction of the school district’s mission, process or function as explained in board policy.

APS is focused on graduating every student ready for college and career. But, at the same time, we know that for our students to succeed, they must also be able to engage in the world around them. We believe that by creating opportunities for safe, structured, student-led civic engagement around a national dialogue such as this one, we are ultimately helping our students develop social and emotional learning skills and be informed residents in our democracy.