**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.

In Remembrance of a Beloved Educator and Friend: Dr. Susan Crim-McClendon

As the daughter of Dr. Alonzo A. Crim — the first African-American superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools — and as a lifelong educator, Dr. Susan Crim-McClendon more than upheld her family’s revered legacy, but she created one of her own. As principal of Woodson Park Academy in the Douglass Cluster and a middle school teacher in APS, Dr. Crim-McClendon was a model leader, motivator and friend.

Today, we mourn. Dr. Crim-McClendon passed away in her sleep last night. The Woodson Park community and all of us in APS are deeply saddened by the news.

I cannot begin to express what an incredible loss her passing brings to APS and the Woodson Park community. Dr. Crim-McClendon brought a great legacy and love for education to APS and this school. That love was instilled in her as a child of educator parents. Her father’s belief in a “Community of Believers” and work toward the education of all Atlanta’s children directly informed his daughter’s work.

In 1976, she graduated from the former Northside High School in APS and attended college at the University of Georgia. Although she earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine, she soon followed in her parents’ footsteps. She began her teaching career in Athens and Valdosta, teaching science to seventh graders. She would teach middle school in several metro Atlanta school districts, including APS at Long Middle School. She earned her master’s degree in middle childhood education and later her doctorate in urban education from Georgia State.

In 2002, she joined Georgia State University and served for several years as associate director for the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Education Excellence, where she led professional development for middle school teachers.

She returned to APS in 2010 as a model teacher and became principal of Woodson Primary in 2011.

When Dr. Crim-McClendon welcomed me to APS five years ago and offered kind guidance, I listened; and it helped me adjust more quickly as superintendent.

When we needed to do more for our children in the Douglass Cluster, she did everything she could to ensure the school would succeed. I could not have been more thrilled when she accepted her new role as principal of the new Woodson Park Academy in 2016 to lead the transformative work planned for that school.

Her love of children could not be more evident. She started every school day with a special greeting she borrowed from Kenyan Maasai warriors: How are the children? Answer: All the children are well. She toiled every day on behalf of Woodson Park children so the collective Woodson Park response stayed focused on the wellbeing of every child.

Today, as we mourn our beloved friend, mentor, colleague and principal, I take some comfort because she has left us a beautiful legacy just like her father. Woodson Park is strong and resilient due to the tireless work of Dr. Susan Crim-McClendon.

We’ll miss you, Susan.

Random Acts of Kindness (and Love on Valentine’s Day)

Happy Valentine’s Day! And, what a wonderful time to show your love for others this week during Random Acts of Kindness Week! Have you shown or told someone how much you love and appreciate them? When my colleagues in the Center for Learning and Leadership and I entered the building on Monday, we were welcomed with multicolored words of praise and love and affirmation and good will and kindness. As the week progressed, every available space on the lobby glass windows filled up as our APS family continued to add to the display.

The randomness of the many colored words has brought a certain sense of beauty and calm to our lobby. You cannot help but start the day with joy in your heart!

This is only one way in which Atlanta Public Schools recognizes Random Acts of Kindness Week, which began on Monday and concludes on Sunday with Random Acts of Kindness Day. #RAKDAY  #RAKAPS19

Not only the window display, but the entire week, has become tradition for APS. As I have written here many times, we have made social emotional learning or SEL efforts like these a district priority. In simplified terms, SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

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

Random Acts of Kindness Week is a perfect time to showcase these skills and demonstrate ways in which we can improve our SEL skills.

Rose Prejean-Harris, director of social emotional learning at APS, and her team have put a great deal of effort into making this week special. Along with the Random Acts of Kindness for the week, they have created lesson plans designed to teach our students ways to be kind to each other all year long.

For the week, they have adapted the Five Love Languages into the Five APS Appreciation Languages to demonstrate how we can show kindness and appreciation across the district and to our students, teachers, staff and community. These languages include:

Words of Affirmation

Words mean a lot to a person with this love language. Verbal compliments don’t have to be complicated; the shortest and simplest words of affirmation can be the most effective. People who respond to words of affirmation love shout-outs and well worded inspirational quotes.

The walls in our CLL lobby are a perfect example of this love language. At Usher-Collier Heights Elementary, students took the “I Am” Challenge and wrote positive words about themselves and others. At Parkside, the students exchanged hearts filled with words and pictures about what they appreciated most about each other.

Acts of Service

With Acts of Service, the goal is to really show that “actions speak louder than words.” This appreciation language expresses itself by doing things that you know others would like. Making a copy for someone, picking their children up from lunch, giving a teacher a restroom break, are all acts of service. They require some thought, time, and effort.  Actions out of obligation and with a negative tone are something else entirely.

At Barack and Michelle Obama Academy, teachers and staff created a “Kindness Parade” to really show how much they care about their students.

Quality Time

This appreciation language is all about undivided attention. This just means that you need to make sure to dedicate time for this person without all of the distractions, including those caused by our use of tech devices. Every time you cancel a date, postpone time together or aren’t present during your time together, it can be hurtful to this person. I personally enjoy quality time with our students whenever I visit our schools, such as these photos from Mary Lin and Fickett elementary schools show.

Gifts

This appreciation language doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive or materialistic gesture. It just means that a meaningful or thoughtful gift makes them feel appreciated and loved. Something as simple as bringing them their favorite snack or classroom supplies they might be running low on can make an impact. 

Our SEL team visited many APS schools to give principals, including Andrew Lockett of Benteen Elementary, golden apples in appreciation of the work they are doing to promote social emotional learning skills across our schools.

Physical Touch

For some people, they best show appreciation when they are physically connected to others, physically active, and comfortable. People who respond to physical touch like hugs and high fives, and even a warm smile with eye contact can go a long way. I love how students at Toomer Elementary offered free handshakes and high fives this week!

With these efforts, I truly believe that APS is doing its part to ensure that love and kindness become a regular – and not random – part of our children’s lives. SEL can help us give our students the skills to create a kinder, braver world to come.

That is our Valentine to the APS community, to Atlanta and to the world.

#RAKDAY  #RAKAPS19

Get APS WeatherWise! Use Tech to Learn During Inclement Weather

When inclement weather threatens Atlanta, we take precautions to ensure the safety of our precious students and staff. Taking those precautions can sometimes mean closing schools in light of impending bad weather in the area. At this time of year, that bad weather can come in the form of freezing temperatures and icy road conditions.  

Safety is always our top priority, but, as educators, we know that students who miss multiple school days could suffer learning loss in their subject areas. That’s why it’s so important in times when schools are closed due to inclement weather that we not only protect our students and keep them safe, but we must also find ways to protect the valuable instructional time our students need to master the curriculum at hand.

In this age of technology and online access, a day without school should not have to be a day without learning. That’s why we’ve launched APS WeatherWise, our new online learning platform that helps prevent learning loss by supplementing missed classroom time.

Online learning is a natural remedy to the loss of class time during school closures because students are already adept at using technology. In addition, our students already have access to the lessons at home through the myBackPack platform, and this easily allows students to continue learning online without the need to extend the school calendar.

APS will make the determination on when an APS WeatherWise Day would kick in and we will announce that plan in the same way that school closings due to inclement weather are announced: robo calls, direct emails and texts, the APS mobile App, on our District website and through our social media channels.

On an APS WeatherWise Day, students will work on grade appropriate assignments provided by their own core-content teachers (Math, English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies). If students don’t have the ability to complete their assignments during the inclement weather day, they will have up to two weeks to complete them.

We know that having access to the Internet outside of school is becoming more and more critical for our students. That’s why I was so excited to surprise every 6th and 7th grader in APS — all 6,000 of them — with the announcement that they will all be receiving a free Windows laptop equipped with a T-Mobile 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot for access to high-speed internet at home!

Thank you T-Mobile for investing nearly $1.5 million in this initiative!

We made the announcement in front of 6th and 7th graders at Brown Middle School on Friday, February 8th, and you should have seen the look of surprise on their little faces! The energy in the room was palpable! I was thrilled to join with T-Mobile executives to share the news.  

This effort is part of our Digital Bridge Program, which is working to bridge the digital divide and ensure that students have a seamless experience with digital resources and 21st century learning from school to home. This program truly comes at a time when technology is integral to our students’ success, and especially now with our APS WeatherWise initiative.

I know some of you may still have questions about the program, so I’ve provided a Q&A here with some of the more frequent questions we’ve gotten:

  1. What is APS WeatherWise?
    1. APS WeatherWise is an online program designed to provide students with assignments from their core teachers when APS is closed for inclement weather.
  • Why APS WeatherWise?
    • Online learning is a natural remedy to the loss of class time during school closures because students are already adept at using technology and they have access to the lessons at home through the myBackPackplatform.
  • How does APS WeatherWise work?
    • The District will announce an APS WeatherWise Day and students will be instructed to access assignments in their APS WeatherWise folder in their Google Classroom.
  • What if I don’t have power or access to the Internet ?
    • If students don’t have the ability to complete their assignments during the APS WeatherWise Day, they will have up to two weeks after they return to school to complete those assignments.
  • How do I access APS WeatherWise?
    • Students should enter their APS student computer login ID.
    • The myBackPackscreen will load with your unique username and password.
    • Locate your Google Classroom and navigate to your WeatherWise lessons for each of your classes.

In addition to the APS WeatherWise assignments, students are also able to access the CLASS Pass in their myBackPack platform. The CLASS Pass, a library card program with Atlanta-Fulton Public Library system, provides access to dozens of resources, including online databases, eBooks, eAudiobooks and streaming videos.

If you have any additional questions about APS WeatherWise, please contact your classroom teachers. More information and other technical resources are also available in myBackPack

We’re excited that learning in APS is seamless — it continues from school to home, and it unleashes limitless possibilities for our students, helping them build a successful future.