A Beautiful APS Day at the Races!

As a runner, there are few experiences as satisfying as a race well run. But as we concluded the Inaugural APS Rocks and Runs after running a 5K path alongside the Westside Beltline Trail and holding a Fun Run at Brown Middle School, I was on a runner’s high like no other.

Over 940 teachers, students, community members and others who support Atlanta Public Schools signed up for the race and close to 650 of them turned out and enjoyed a lovely Saturday morning, celebrating our schools and especially our teachers as we near National Teacher Appreciation Week (which will get its own blog on Monday!).

I’ve written before about the long, winding road it took to get here. But I must thank again our race coordinator, GO RACE Productions and all of the partners who made this event possible. Our sponsors include:

  • Pinnacle Credit Union
  • Girls on the Run
  • Atlanta Track Club
  • Family First Credit Union
  • Georgia’s Own Credit Union
  • Team Rehabilitation
  • Lasso
  • King of Pops
  • Monday Night Brewery
  • Morningstar Storage
  • V103
  • PAGE Inc.
  • The Tax People USA
  • Georgia Federation of Public Service Employees
  • STREAM Realty
  • Educators First
  • Georgia Work Force

I also must thank our safety and security team for making this a safe race. Thank you to all of our volunteers for making this a fun race! Thanks to Olympic hurdler, Mikel Thomas, for warming us up! Also, thank you to Principal Tiauna Crooms of Brown Middle and my BFFs Michael Wilburn and Rachel Sprecher for helping bring this event to life.

Thanks to everyone who ran! Enjoy the photos!       #APSRocksandRuns

Celebrating our 2019 Valedictorians, Salutatorians, and STAR Students, and Knowing When to Pick Your Right Moment!

It’s that time of year! It’s time to celebrate!

I wish everyone could have seen our shining stars this morning at our annual Val/Sal/STAR Awards ceremony at the Georgia Power corporate headquarters building. Our students’ accomplishments, academic achievements and positive outlook shone brightly across the room.

Click here to watch an exciting video of each of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students introducing themselves and explaining the work they put in to achieve their goals.

This is my fifth year presenting the challenge to our outstanding student scholars, and every year I am impressed by these academic superstars who overcome all obstacles in order to succeed. That commitment takes grit, it takes perseverance, and it takes self confidence. But, it also means not bowing at the feet of failure, as our eloquent mistress of ceremony, Kireon Bunkley-Hill, stated.  

I shared with our students that even in the face of adversity, we must not only have the courage to act, we must know when to act in order to have long-lasting impact.

Let’s look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the example he set for us. Dr. King showed us how to make the right choices in leadership and when to pick the right moment to act – even amid adversity and discomfort – to make a greater gain later.

If we were to travel back to this very week in 1944, we would find that a young Dr. King – a junior at our own Booker T. Washington High School – has won a Black Elks oratorical contest that earns him a trip to the state contest in Dublin, Georgia. Anticipation and excitement for the young King is high. But on the long bus trip, the driver keeps telling King and his teacher that they must surrender their seats to white passengers.

At first, King refuses. But, his teacher convinces him they should give up their seats. They would not win that fight on that day. That wasn’t the right time. Fast forward a decade to 1955, and King leads the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest black passengers giving up seats to white ones.

Fast Forward again, another 10 years, to Selma, Alabama in 1965.

King leads the Selma to Montgomery march that spurred passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But what few people know is that there was actually a third march between the two historical marches (Bloody Sunday and Selma to Montgomery), the one that took a couple hundred people to the bridge and stopped and then turned around.

Dr. King — and this was on a Tuesday just two days after the infamous Bloody Sunday — led some 2,500 marchers on that day. He took them right up to the edge of the Edmond Pettus Bridge. But he wouldn’t let them cross the bridge, not AT THAT TIME.

There was a federal restraining order that would not protect the march, and would not ensure safe passage across the bridge, protecting the marchers from the police, their dogs, their billy clubs, and their guns. Dr. King took the marchers to the bridge, right up to the edge. They prayed. And they turned around.

Dr. King could have taken the marchers across the bridge and faced what very likely would have become a very, very Bloody Tuesday. But he thought ahead and never lost sight of the overall goal. A second bloody march would not have likely advanced the cause, perhaps some may have seen it as a careless waste of lives if some were killed.

For me, that decision to wait demonstrated amazing courage, a certain valor of waiting and turning around. He knew greater outcomes would come to the marchers if he picked the RIGHT moment to push ahead.

And when forced into reflection, often sitting in jail for his beliefs, he used those moments to map out a framework aimed at creating a lasting impact.

Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”  provides King’s perspective on a Beloved Community and has become a blueprint for lasting change. Through his teachings of love in action, Dr. King has given us six steps to social and interpersonal change as articulated by the King Center here in Atlanta: information gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion/negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. Read my previous blog to learn more about these steps.

In reviewing the hard work of our 2019 Vals, Sals, and STAR students, many of their steps mirror those of the action steps to social and interpersonal change.

I can see evidence of the step of Information Gathering in our researchers Kyndall, Jaedyn, Degreer and Niani; our engineers Xavier, Jake, Thomas and Marco; our software and artificial intelligence developers Yusef, Khadim and Tam; and our mathematician Robert and our neuroscientist William.

Education is represented in Natalie, our future educational policy analyst; our kindergarten teacher Kendrecus; our graphic designer Amir; our health policy advisor Emery, our financial analyst, India and our photographer Haley.

Personal Commitment is personified in Charity, who wants to be a Green Beret; Angel, who plans to be an FBI agent; and Peyton, who wants to be a business leader and mentor.

Discussion and Negotiation is evident in our debaters, Mikale and Eric; future attorneys, Drehanna and Ese; and entrepreneur Alahaji.

I see quite a transformation in our students as they plan to take Direct Action by going into medicine and veterinary science. They are Hannah, MacKenzie, Myles, Princess, Niya, Dailyn, Abigail, DeMaria and George.

And finally, I see transformation in our students Reconciliation with their plans to go into the fields of psychology like Ayanna and Ashley or go into humanitarian endeavors like Darling!

But more work lies ahead and so do new and sometimes difficult challenges. In those moments, even when we’re winning and succeeding, I encourage all of us to take a step back, remember the lessons of Dr. King, recognize the right time and pick your right moment. Long-lasting impact is the goal.  Know when to retreat and reset and when to unleash all that is in you to overcome any and all obstacles in your path.

I am so proud of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students and of the educators and friends who have supported them along the way.


North Atlanta High School Bel Canto Ensemble sung the national anthem at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.
Peyton Rodgers, Valedictorian at Charles R. Drew Charter School, played a musical selection on the harp at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.

Get Out the Vote from April 16-24! Because Strong Schools Start with YOU

Let’s get out the vote!

We are three years into our operations as a Charter System, and we’ve seen amazing progress due to the greater levels of transparency and engagement especially at the school level. A major reason for these improvements has everything to do with our GO Teams.

And, now it’s time to get out the vote to elect and appoint the next set of GO Team members, replacing those whose terms expire in June.

Voting starts today, April 16, and continues through Wednesday, April 24. To cast your vote online, you will need your unique voting link. We sent links to parents and caregivers through a combination of text, email and mail, while our educators will receive their link via their APS email.

GO Teams are nine-member governance teams at every school in the district that work in a collaborative fashion with each school principal. We designed the GO Teams to serve as a vital part of our school improvement efforts across the district. These teams are responsible for establishing strategic plans for their schools, voting on innovative school-based solutions and approving the school’s budget.

Additionally, these teams can review school data and provide input to the principal related to school improvement.

The best part of operating as a charter system is that each GO Team can really look at the needs of the students at its specific school.

This year, we have 256 seats – 128 elected and filled by parents and staff and another 128 to be filled by community and other stakeholders as appointed by the school principal. More than two thirds of our parent seats have multiple candidates, while more than half of the schools have multiple candidates for staff seats!

More details about GO Teams and questionnaires with all candidates are available on the GO Team home page.

If you need assistance or have questions, please e-mail goteam@apsk12.org or call 404-802-2885. For assistance in Spanish, call 404-802-7580.

We want to set new records of engagement, so let your voice be heard – VOTE!! Remember…Strong Schools Start With You!

**UPDATE: APRIL 11, 2019: Funeral and memorial arrangements for our beloved friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Maze, have been scheduled as follows: A funeral service will be held on Saturday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m., at New Beginnings Full Gospel Baptist Church at 923 Valley Brook Road, Decatur, GA 30033. A funeral service will be held in Greensburg, Louisiana on Saturday, April 20 at 12 p.m. at Turner Chapel AME Church at 875 Turner Chapel Road, Greensburg, LA 70441. In addition, an Atlanta Public Schools’ Memorial Service will be held on Thursday, May 9 at 4:30 p.m. at the Atlanta Metropolitan State College Easley Pavillion at 1630 Metropolitan Pkwy SW, Atlanta, GA 30310. In lieu of flowers and in honor of Dr. Maze’s work and legacy, the family is requesting that we celebrate his life by donating to the Michael S. Maze Memorial Fund (Click Here). The fund was created to support his passion for ensuring that every student has the ability to fulfill his or her dreams of achieving a post-secondary education. Proceeds will be used for the memorial service and to establish a scholarship fund for deserving APS students. **APRIL 8, 2019: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Michael Maze, our Dedicated CTAE Educator and Friend

When we learned today that our dear friend and colleague Dr. Michael Maze passed away over Spring Break, it devastated many across Atlanta Public Schools including me. 

As the Director of Career Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) for APS, Dr. Maze was an educator whose relationships extended far beyond the work of our district. He was a loving and engaged educator and friend who cared deeply about our students, so his loss leaves a huge hole for many in Atlanta, including our many partners and other CTAE leaders across the state.

Dr. Maze worked in quiet yet compelling ways. He focused his leadership over the past 21 years in APS. I will definitely miss his dedication to the APS mission to ensure our students graduates ready for college and career. As the leader of CTAE in APS for the past several years, Dr. Maze was a champion for children and an expert in his field.

That devotion remained true ever since Dr. Maze began his career in education with APS in 1997 as a business education teacher and department chair at Southside High School and North Atlanta High School. It continued as he became a model teacher leader and then project administrator at our district office, Alonzo A. Crim Center for Learning & Leadership.  

But it fully blossomed when he became the district’s CTAE director. In this role, he led the district’s signature program initiative, which includes STEM education, International Baccalaureate and College and Career Readiness. For his work, he was named the 2017 Georgia Association of Career and Technical Education Administrator of the Year for his long-standing commitment to high quality outcomes in CTAE. 

In receiving that honor, it was no surprise that Dr. Maze deferred much of the credit to his CTAE team and, of course, emphatically stated the importance of the APS mission. He said: “I am particularly proud of the innovative and creative work that we are producing for the students of this great city. I accept this honor on behalf of all the students, parents, stakeholders, community leaders and partners who are committed to ensuring that every Atlanta Public Schools student is college and career ready.”

Dr. Maze implemented the CTAE initiative through awareness, exploration and concentration, providing numerous opportunities for our students to engage. His commitment to preparing our students for college and career extended beyond the walls of the classroom. Through his efforts, we saw an increase last year in the total number of CTAE Pathway Completers, jumping to 1,083, representing a 2.5% increase over the previous year. And the number of students in dual enrollment increased to 8% last year over 2017, totaling 500 students.

The vision for the District’s new College and Career Academy was Dr. Maze’s dream, even before the start of this current administration. He was instrumental in envisioning and leading the development of the Academy, which launched in August 2016 in partnership with Atlanta Technical College. Phase 2 of the Academy will open in 2020 to serve thousands of students.

Many of our partners in the community have worked with Dr. Maze directly over the years, especially when they would come together for the CTAE golf tournament, which has been an annual event for seven years. The proceeds from that tournament are directed toward CTAE activities, such as college scholarships, fees for robotics and other technical skills competitions, student recognition events, and CTAE outreach activities. That annual tournament helps connect our community partners with our college and career efforts and provides a way for the community to invest in APS students. 

Dr. Maze will be truly missed by his APS family and his extended friends and family across Atlanta and the state of Georgia. And I will miss this educator who was truly dedicated in service to make all Atlanta’s students college and career ready no matter their circumstances.

Please join me in keeping his family and loved ones in our prayers during this challenging time.  May God bless you, Dr. Maze! We will all miss you and will be forever grateful for all you have done for the children of Atlanta.

APS Rocks … and Runs with First-ever District 5K!

As anyone who follows this blog or my Twitter feed knows well, running has not only become an essential part of my exercise routine and a marathon-sized stress reliever, but it also has served as an engagment opportunity with students and colleagues across Atlanta Public Schools… some of my favorite BFFs are my run buds.

We’ve run hundreds – perhaps thousands – of miles together for exercise, fun, fellowship and causes.

It’s hard to believe that it was more than four years ago when I formed my first APS running club, which eventually ran the East Atlanta Village RunFest. Since then, we have run dozens of races across the city and district! I completed my first marathon in 2016, which informed my view on how to strategize for the distance on the APS Journey of Transformation!

Running hit a high point for me on March 24, 2018, when my fellow APS runners and I – re-branded as the John Lewis Freedom Runners – completed the inaugural run of the 51-mile Selma to Montgomery Relay Race in a time of 10 hours and 22 minutes. We were inspired by John Lewis and the events of Bloody Sunday as we “ran” tribute to the brave marchers who walked that course 54 years earlier for civil rights. The race also had a very personal meaning for me as I also ran in honor of my dad, who had passed a year earlier.

This past weekend, the John Lewis Freedom Runners ran the 10th Annual Montgomery Half Marathon (under 3 hours each) and visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Legacy Museum and Tuskegee … so the running and lessons never end.

APS Rocks and Runs

With all of the running for so many of our schools and so much participation from colleagues, students, families and friends over the past five years, it seems only fitting that we introduce our own run. Staying with the theme of this school year’s State of the District, we are calling our race – APS Rocks and Runs.

Every race begins with a few steps, so we decided the inaugural APS Rocks and Runs would start out as a 5K (that’s 3.1 miles!) Here’s a few tips to help you transition from the couch to knocking out your first 5K!

We are even adding a Character Fun Run where toddlers can dress and run as their favorite book characters! The inaugural race, to be held Saturday, May 4, at Brown Middle School and along the Historic Westside Beltline Trail, will also serve as a district fundraiser supporting APS educators and kicking off National Teacher Appreciation Week. We hope this becomes an annual tradition.

Registration is now open at https://runsignup.com/Race/GA/Atlanta/AtlantaPublicSchools5k 

The price – $30 for adults; $10 for runners 18 years and younger – includes a race bib and commemorative T-shirt with all proceeds benefiting APS teachers. Teachers and Paraprofessionals run for FREE.

So make plans now to be at Brown Middle School on Saturday, May 4th! Create your own jogging teams. Wear school spirit gear. Have fun! And consider these tips to help you with your run:

  1. Make a running plan that starts at your fitness level. If necessary, start slow, such as 20 minutes of walking; advance to run-walking; and then eventually run a full 30 minutes. The cliché – one step at a time – is especially fitting when training for any run. Build time to recover as the body gets strongest from a routine that mixes exercise with rest.
  2. Wear the right shoes and clothes. Wear shoes designed for jogging or running. They should feel secure, yet comfortable with no slipping at the heel. Wear nylon shorts. Avoid cotton apparel, especially cotton socks (get wool socks instead).
  3. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Run at a pace where you can talk when you run. Time your breaths with every two to four steps.
  4. Eat Right.  What you put into your body makes a big difference in performance and injury prevention. Oats, peanut butter, yogurt, vegetables and whole grain pastas are good options for your running diet.
  5. Join or form a Running Group. The camaraderie and encouragement that comes with being in a group with similar goals is priceless.
  6. Find your own running style. It’s about exercise, but it’s also about fun. Find your own style, and run your own race.

So, APS … get ready to Rock and Run! See you at the finish line!

‘Power Up’ for Another Enriching Summer

Although summer is a few months away, I am already asking our families in Atlanta Public Schools to get ready to “Power Up!” for summer learning. Why am I excited about this so early? It’s because I worry about the time we don’t have our kids in school almost as much as the time we actually have them in our classrooms.

With summer as the longest break, that’s when I worry most. Knowledge retention over the long summer break has always been a concern for educators. For example, it is estimated that “summer slide” accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower-income students and their middle- and upper-income peers. And, all students show a slide in skills and knowledge after a long summer break.

While I am pleased that APS has long offered summer school options, our summer school model of years past primarily focused on remediation for students needing additional supports. That means that if students weren’t going to school during the summer to receive academic intervention, then there were not many places for them to go within the district to further their education.

Working with our partners, APS launched Power Up last summer. This program reimagines the traditional summer school model and moves toward more dynamic and engaging opportunities for all our students. Power Up, which will run throughout the month of June, offers a comprehensive portfolio of summer enrichment programs available at more than 40 schools and sites across the city.

Some of these engaging hands-on programs include:

  • The Adventures of STEAM Island at Hutchinson and Humphries elementary schools, which will incorporate science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The summer experience will include field trips, as well as in-school fun with the Science Guy, STEAM Truck and Game Truck.
  • The Rock and Roll Reading Program, which is an interactive way for students to engage in musical based enrichment activities in the afternoon and various hands-on reading activities.
  • The ULTIMATE S.T.E.A.M. Experience, which provides children with creative activities and lessons from culinary arts to drama to physical arts and so much more.
  • The Girl POWER STEMinists Camp, which allows young ladies in grades 6 to 9 to develop their inner STEMinist through hands-on inquiry based learning focused on the engineering-design cycle.
  • iEngineer, which is a free summer program for incoming 7th and 8th grade students to support student learning about the engineering process. Students will generate an engineering structure that will attempt to solve a world problem or develop a new, innovative process.

These innovative and interactive programs will transform the way students think and learn, inspire confidence, and empower participants with the tools to be college and career ready. Whether it’s science, cooking, technology, sports and physical activities, music, art, games or drama, Power Up is sure to have a session for every child to explore.

For APS students, participation for most programs is free! Breakfast, lunch and transportation are included.

Registration is now available for our Summer Power Up program. For complete details about Power Up, visit the APS website at www.atlantapublicschools.us/powerup. It’s important that you register, but it’s equally important that everyone who registers shows up on the first day of their Power Up program!

Whether our students continue their summer studies with Power Up or another program, I hope that every APS student will find ways to expand his or her learning and imagination over the summer break and ensure that they are ready and eager for Day One of the 2019-2020 school year.

We’re Continuing to Make our Schools Safe Places for Students to Learn and Grow

Even when our students, teachers and staff go away on a short break – like our recent Winter Break – I cannot wait for them to return to the classroom and resume learning. Amid my eagerness to see them back in the classroom, I continue to work with our schools and our Office of Safety and Security to ensure that our classrooms and schools are safe places for our students to learn and grow.

Changing circumstances require us to always be vigilant, forward-thinking and proactive as safety remains one of Atlanta Public Schools’ top priorities.

We took our first giant step more than two years ago when we created the APS Police Department. Led by Chief Ron Applin, this department was designed in alignment with a national “triad” model where our school resource officers counsel, police and teach. Most importantly, these officers represent a new kind of police – trained specifically for the school environment with skills in social emotional learning, positive behavior supports and restorative justice.

But our schools, students and officers needed more tools, so APS has explored many options to improve security across the district so every child has a safe learning environment.

Sandy Hook Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

Earlier this school year, we introduced a new anonymous reporting system, the Sandy Hook Promise Say Something Anonymous Reporting System (SSARS). We introduced this tool to provide the opportunity for students and staff to send anonymous tips about life safety and non-life safety concerns happening in and around our schools.

Since implementation of SSARS began, we have been alerted to and addressed dozens of important safety tips, which we may not have otherwise received.

Avoid. Deny. Defend.

We are scheduled to provide training to students and staff in the coming weeks on Avoid. Deny. Defend. This is a nationally recognized program that shares strategies to be used should violence or even the threat of violence happen at our schools or offices.

The curriculum teaches three important steps:

  1. Avoid – If you become aware of a threat in the building, immediately look to move away from that threat.
  2. Deny – For this phase, you would close and secure your door, turn off the lights, and barricade the door to prevent anyone from entering.
  3. Defend – Once you have denied access and are unable to evacuate, prepare to defend yourself.

This method, developed by the ALERRT Center at Texas State University, has been taught to thousands of school districts and companies around the nation since its release in 2013. Our goal is to build confidence in our students and staff and emphasize that what you do matters in an emergency situation.

We are taking this program directly to our schools. Trained law enforcement officers, supported by our own officers, will show our students and staff specific steps to take when their schools face real or perceived danger. We believe that this training is essential should any of our schools face such inconceivable perils.

Body-Worn Camera Initiative

Finally, APS plans to start adding body-worn cameras to the uniforms of our school resource officers within the next few weeks as part of the Metro Atlanta Body-Worn Camera Initiative. This initiative is funded through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Last year, we held a series of community meetings to get feedback on the standard operating procedures for adding these cameras to our officers’ uniforms. The Atlanta Board of Education during its March 4 meeting plans to vote on policy revisions that ensure proper use of the cameras, especially with respect to privacy rights of students and staff.

Our Office of Safety and Security recently purchased the cameras. More than 80 APS police officers and employees have begun training to use these cameras. We expect our officers to begin wearing these cameras sometime in March.

We support the use of these cameras because we believe they will enchance school safety, promote accountability, create more transparency, increase public trust and boost the efficiency and technical capability of our investigations.

But, I must stress again that these additional strategies and the body-worn cameras are a part of a multi-layered approach to keeping our schools safe. Our officers’ primary roles are to serve as school resource officers, whose most important tools are not on their uniforms or on their belts, but in their hearts and minds. Social emotional learning, positive behavior supports and restorative practices are the most critical instruments for our officers.

School safety is everyone’s business, and we take this seriously. Remember, we each have a role to play in ensuring that our schools continue to be safe and secure places for learning and growing. 

Thank you for all that you do to partner with us in these efforts. Together, we are building a safer and more caring culture to ensure that our students graduate ready for college and career.