Day One Dispatches from the District

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

Here are my live reports:

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

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

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

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

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

One down, 179 more to go!

3:08 p.m. Price Middle School (Carver Cluster)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



2 p.m. – Grady High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11:51 a.m. – Kimberly Elementary School

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

I survey students about our food all year long, but I am especially curious today about their thoughts now that we have entered into a new one-year contract with Aramark. I know that with our partnership with Aramark, APS’ award-winning nutrition services department is committed to enhancing our school meals program to provide nutritious foods for our students, while maintaining a comparable level of service.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

#BuzzBeecherHills #APSFIRSTDAY


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


A selfie with Principal Robin Christian!

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

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

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

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

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


The new Sheltering Arms Project is nearly complete!

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

Stay tuned for more from this Jackson Cluster school!

#EarlyLearningIsKey   #APSFIRSTDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Welcome back to school!

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

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

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

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

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

Bus1Some other highlights and bragging points:

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

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

Now on to school!

#YellowTogether #APSFIRSTDAY

Countdown to Day One in APS!

Atlanta Public Schools is only hours away from opening its doors on another exciting school year. As we move into the 2017-2018 school year, APS continues its journey of transformation into a culture with a child-centered mission and vision. More than ever, we need a real connection with our students, parents, caregivers … the entire family!

Just as our teachers, principals and staff focus on preparing every single student for college and career, we need all of our APS families to continuously strive for that mission. It starts with getting students to go to school on the first day and every day of the school year.

Every day is a day of instruction, an opportunity to learn. Research is clear that absences hurt achievement. One report traces students’ struggles to master reading in the third grade to missed days in kindergarten. Another shows students’ chances of graduating high school are severely limited by days missed in middle school. Simply put, every school day counts.

Behavior also matters on the journey. Many of our students don’t come to school with the skills to set goals, overcome obstacles, develop healthy relationships and self-monitor behavior – abilities necessary for success in school, work and life. By focusing on development of the whole child – with a focus on social emotional learning skills – our kids will not only have the smarts, but the hearts, to be better people than we can ever be.

Most importantly, the education of our children matters as they get the academics they need to remain on course and grade level to graduate with their class and on time.

For the journey, we have made school-based decision-making, flexibility and engagement a priority especially as we work within our new charter system operating model. And as we continue on this journey together, I pledge to continue to do my part to work diligently to foster a transparent, collaborative environment for our families and stakeholders.

I will continue to visit schools to hear from students, teachers, parents and the school communities directly about their experiences and what we all can do to make APS better. I look forward to being your partner in helping to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our children.

Again, as APS families, you play a critical part in the journey, and we have adopted a district-wide strategy to empower you to become even more engaged in your children’s education. It starts on Day One, and I encourage you to connect with your schools and the district.

(It includes following this blog as well as @CarstarphenMJ and @APSUpdate on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram. Use #APSFIRSTDAY.)

Welcome back and have a great school year!

APS First District in Georgia to ‘Recycle Across America’


Thanks to our volunteers for “sticking it” for recycling!

We made an exciting announcement in Atlanta Public Schools today when our school district became the first to join the national “Recycle Across America,” which is designed to teach Americans how to recycle right!

At the former Coan Middle School building today, volunteers from Bank America, Republic Services and Recycle Across America spent some of their valuable summer time placing more than 4,000 standardized labels on recycling bins. These labels detail the proper way to recycle paper, glass, plastic and other reusable materials.

Atlanta Public Schools, in our ongoing effort to be an environmentally friendly school system, already has a comprehensive single stream recycling program that accepts paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass at all APS-operated and -managed sites. Our district has been a member of the Atlanta Recycles Coalition, which promotes a culture of recycling, since 2011. Recently, the National Wildlife Federation recognized five our schools – Beecher Hills Elementary and Douglass, Grady, Maynard H. Jackson and Mays high schools – as “Eco Schools,” a distinction awarded to environmentally conscientious schools that have established a student managed recycling program.

During the 2015-2016 school year, we diverted some 445,000 pounds of recyclable material in our schools from the landfill.


With standardized labels, our students, teachers and school visitors will know exactly what to place in the bins!

But during a Recycle Across America event at Coan, I learned that we could be doing so much more! (See the end of my blog for some really interesting recycling facts!)

As part of the new national Recycle Across America initiative, we have made a goal to recycle more than a million pounds of material each year, which will not only keep more reusable materials out of our landfills but also save the district on trash hauling fees. Thanks to Bank of America and our hauling vendor Republic Services, every classroom in every school will have a recycling bin that will feature a standardized instructional label.


APS now has 4,000 recycling bins with clear instruction labels!

But this effort is more than just labels on recycling bins. Through the generosity of a $50,000 gift from Bank of America to Recycle Across America, APS is also launching a comprehensive audit that will help us recycle more efficiently. We want to make sure recyclable materials – plastic bags, plastic bottles and paper – do not end up in a landfill.

Summer blockbuster movies – such as my current favorite Wonder Woman – often stir our imagination to behave in heroic ways. But today, I learned how in reality we can all do a little part in saving the world simply be recycling more and more.

So join us in APS and Recycle Right!

Recycling Facts:

  • Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to run a TV for three hours – the equivalent of a half gallon of gasoline.
  • Once an aluminum can is recycled, it can be part of a new can in six weeks.
  • An aluminum can will remain a can for 500 years, but it can be recycled again and again.
  • Recycling newspapers throughout the year would save 250 million trees each year. To put a finer point on it, if every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we could save about 25 million trees annually!
  • Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour – and throw most of them away.
  • Plastic bags thrown into the ocean kill about a million sea creatures each year.
  • Each month, Americans throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill a giant skyscraper – all of those jars can be recycled.
  • Energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
  • The United States is the No. 1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person.
  • A typical family consumes 182 gallons of soft drink, 29 gallons of juice, 104 gallons of milk and 26 gallons of bottled water each year. That’s a lot of opportunities to recycle.

Source: Recycle Across America

Highlighting (and Understanding) 3rd Year of GA Milestones Results

57 Schools Improve, Up 17 More than Last Year

APS_4.27.17_AAA0495.jpgWhile our beautiful students are away for summer break, my Atlanta Public Schools colleagues and I spend these months evaluating the past school year and preparing for the school year ahead. In what is becoming a Georgia education pattern, summer seems to also now mark the official release of Georgia Milestones results. (No summer rest for the school-year weary! LOL!)

This morning, the Georgia Department of Education released the results of its third administration of the Georgia Milestones assessments based on the new Georgia Standards of Excellence. Milestones results also inform College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, which will be released later this year. (I have written extensively for this blog explaining what these tests mean for Atlanta Public Schools and our results; I encourage you to click my 2015 results blog if you need a primer to make sense of these tests and the differences from previous assessments and my 2016 results blog for how APS did last year.)

APS Selects BD.These tests sometimes come with news of hope and progress but always with indicators for improvement and renewed focus. Once again, we have both. Here goes …

For the glows: 57 – or about two-thirds – of our schools showed improvements over last year’s assessments – that’s 17 more than last year! Broken into the two main categories of assessment, that means that 50 of our schools in grades 3-8 showed overall improvements on the End-of-Grade (EOG) tests when we average the results across all subject areas. For the End-of-Course (EOC) tests administered at the high school level, 10 of our schools achieved an overall gain in their scores. Three schools – BEST Academy, Charles Drew Charter, Forrest Hill Academy – saw improvements in both the EOG and EOC.  (See Tables 3 and 4 at the end of the blog for those schools!)

I am pleased with the progress, especially when two-thirds of our schools improved on their Georgia Milestones as compared to the year before. We also saw significant EOC improvements in five high school subjects with comparison data. Also, APS improved district-wide in the EOG mathematics assessments, which tested elementary and middle school students.

As a reminder, APS has made considerable strides over the past two years as part of the district’s Turnaround Strategy. Nearly all of our schools receiving targeted interventions – that is, 16 of our lowest-performing schools with the deepest supports with school programming changes, operating partners and/or additional resources – saw gains across all subject areas.

That’s encouraging news as we go into the 2017-2018 school year and inspires us to push those scores even higher!

And now for some of the flows (as in charts – assessment humor – womp womp!): We can expand the scores even further as shown on the following tables. To understand the charts, note that Georgia Milestones Assessments measure student performance using four levels: Beginning Learner, Developing Learner, Proficient Learner, and Distinguished Learner.  Each level provides information based on student mastery of content standards.

On the EOG tests, the district percentages of students scoring Developing and Above ranged from 51.7% in Science to 65.2% in Mathematics.

Table 1: APS 2016-2017 Milestones EOG Results, Average of Grades 3-8

Subject Beginning Learner Developing Learner Proficient Learner Distinguished Learner Developing and Above
ELA 38.5% 29.5% 23.1% 8.8% 61.5%
Mathematics 34.8% 35.5% 20.8% 8.9% 65.2%
Science 48.3% 24.6% 20.0% 7.1% 51.7%
Social Studies 37.2% 37.4% 17.3% 8.1% 62.8%

On the EOC tests, Ninth Grade Literature & Composition had the highest overall achievement levels with 74.4%, followed by American Literature & Composition at 70.5%.

Table 2: APS 2016-2017 Georgia Milestones EOC Results by Subject

 Subject Beginning Learner Developing Learner Proficient Learner Distinguished Learner Developing and Above
Algebra I 53.5% 28.5% 12.9% 5.2% 46.5%
American Literature & Composition 29.5% 35.1% 26.2% 9.3% 70.5%
Biology 45.6% 24.5% 23.4% 6.6% 54.4%
Economics/Business/Free Enterprise 37.2% 30.9% 27.1% 4.9% 62.8%
Geometry 41.8% 33.7% 16.6% 8.0% 58.2%
Ninth Grade Literature & Composition 25.6% 36.1% 31.9% 6.4% 74.4%
Physical Science 62.1% 22.6% 11.7% 3.6% 37.9%
United States History 36.8% 33.4% 22.6% 7.2% 63.2%

Here are some positive highlights among the numbers:

  • Fourteen schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level averaged across all subjects in elementary grades. These schools are Warren T. Jackson (96.3%), Mary Lin (95.3%), Morris Brandon (94.4%), Springdale Park (93.1%), Morningside (92.6%), Atlanta Classical Academy (91.7%), Charles R. Drew Charter (90.4%), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (88.2%), Sarah Smith (85.7%), West Manor (81.4%), Burgess-Peterson (81.1%), E. Rivers (79.3%), Garden Hills (78.0%) and Wesley International (77.3%).
  • Seven schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level averaged across all subjects in middle school grades. They are Atlanta Classical Academy (91.5%), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter (85.4%), Inman (84.8%), Charles R. Drew Charter (81.3%), Sutton Middle (80.0%), KIPP STRIVE (76.6%) and KIPP WAYS Academy (75.8%).
  • Six high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in American Literature & Composition. They are North Atlanta (88.7%), Grady (88.6%), Charles R. Drew Charter (87.8%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (79.1%), Coretta Scott King (78.4%) and Maynard H. Jackson (78.2%).
  • Seven high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in Ninth Grade Literature & Composition. They are Atlanta Classical Academy (98.1%), Grady (90.8%), Charles R. Drew Charter (90.7%),  North Atlanta (88.2%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (84.4%), Maynard H. Jackson (83.8%) and Carver Early College (83.5%).
  • Five high schools had at least 75% of students perform at or above the Developing Learner level in U.S. History. They are Grady (80.3%), KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (77.6%), North Atlanta (76.7%), Carver Early College (76.1%), Charles R. Drew Charter (75.0%).

I’m so proud of the schools above and the achievement levels they are meeting! Please see our press release, and visit our Georgia Milestones results page and my Twitter feed @CarstarphenMJ for more information.

As we continue the Journey of Transformation of Atlanta Public Schools, it is imperative that we continue to improve student outcomes over time. We must make greater progress. As I wrote earlier in this blog, Georgia Milestones is one guide to help districts determine our needs and areas of focus for academics.

For the grows, we have seen a decline in English Language Arts (ELA) in the elementary grades, meaning many of our students are not reading on grade level. To that end, APS has targeted literacy as a district priority for the future.

This summer, we made a big play in literacy thanks to a multi-million-dollar grant from the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Inc. and the College Football Playoff Foundation. With that grant, we have implemented a district-wide training program for all kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers over a two- to three-year period. APS will oversee the use of the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction that focuses on teaching kids to read at the word level, make connections between sounds and letters and develop language skills. Training for 175 teachers began this summer; by 2020, this initiative will equip 1,500 APS teachers with the skills to more effectively teach reading to our students.

Other grants and initiatives for literacy are in the works, so stay tuned!

But we are working hard across the curriculum – not just with reading – to meet the state’s more rigorous and demanding standards. And that will be more difficult with fewer resources in the upcoming school year.

While we have every intention of continuing this work along a strategy that has shown results, an unexpected fiscal challenge recently surfaced around our budget as it relates to tax assessments as I’ve written about on this blog before. With the Fulton County Commission voting to freeze residential property tax assessments at FY2016 levels, the district is preparing to lose up to $12 million in tax revenue and that has reduced our budget resulting in program cuts and furlough days for staff and preventing the implementation of the state’s increase to teachers’ base salary scale.

To date, we still don’t know the exact details of the Fulton County tax digest, especially in commercial and new construction; therefore, we will not be able to assume growth levels will be enough to reinstate the aforementioned reductions. As our results show, it requires an investment to turn our lowest-performing schools around, which is now in jeopardy.

Despite that possible setback, we will continue to be committed to supporting our teachers and schools with the resources we have so that they can try to deliver quality instruction. Our mission remains to graduate all students ready for college and career.

Finally, I know it has been hard on school communities that have experienced targeted interventions such as consolidations, new operating partners and big changes in programming and staffing, and I thank them for their thought partnership, critical feedback and ideas that helped refine our strategies over these past three years.

I want to also thank my colleagues – our leaders, teachers and support staff – for their patience, flexibility and support throughout the turnaround, as well as our partners for their expertise, guidance and resources and our parents and caregivers for their loyalty and trust.

All of the work required support from the Atlanta Board of Education, and I appreciate the members for their commitment to the district.

Most of all, I thank the students for their hard work and preparation that led to these gains.

We achieved this progress TOGETHER!


Table 3: Schools seeing gains in the percentage of students scoring at or above the Developing Learner level across all subjects for grades 3-8 End-of-Grade tests

Table 3 EOG 2017 School Gains

Table 4: Schools seeing gains in the percentage of students scoring at or above the Developing Learner level across all subjects for End-of-Course tests

Table 4 EOC 2017 School Gains

Table 5: APS Year-over-Year Milestones EOG Comparisons, Developing and Above

Subject 2015 2016 2017 Difference 2016 to 2017
ELA 61.6% 62.5% 61.5% -1.1
Mathematics 63.9% 62.4% 65.2% 2.8
Science 51.7% 52.7% 51.7% -1.0
Social Studies 61.8% 62.4% 62.8% 0.4

Table 6: APS Year-over-Year Milestones EOC Comparisons, Developing and Above

2015 2016 2017 Difference 2016 to 2017
Algebra I N/A 52.7% 46.5% -6.2
American Literature & Composition 69.3% 65.1% 70.5% 5.4
Biology 46.0% 52.4% 54.4% 2.0
Economics/Business/Free Enterprise 59.3% 57.0% 62.8% 5.8
Geometry N/A N/A 58.2% N/A
Ninth Grade Literature & Composition 70.5% 63.4% 74.4% 11.1
Physical Science 34.2% 31.3% 37.9% 6.6
United States History 60.9% 64.2% 63.2% -0.9



#WorkHardPlayHardAPS #Summer

Although most of our students are away for the summer, my dedicated colleagues across Atlanta Public Schools continue working hard as we prepare for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year and move forward on the APS Journey of Transformation!

I miss all of you, and I want everything to be ready when you come back. So our facilities team is cleaning and renovating our buildings … our teachers and staff are taking time for professional development … our human resources team is working to ensure our schools are fully staffed on Day One … and that is just some of the work going on this summer.IMG_1910

(There’s a brief break for the system when the district will be closed from Friday, June 30, through Friday, July 7, and again on Friday, July 14, but we will be right back to work bright and early on all other days!)

I’m so excited for the new school year to begin on Tuesday, Aug. 1! We need all of our students at school on Day One because every day is a day of instruction. #EveryDayCounts

Continue to follow me on Twitter @ATLSuper to track our Day One readiness, also, please mark your calendars with these other important events:

  • First Official Day of Practice for Athletes on Tuesday, July 25. Everyone knows I love our high school athletes. I will be joining many of our football teams and cheerleading and dance squads for practice as APS starts on another great year of high school sports. #APSUnitedWePlay #Forever11CtopTgQWEAAYLei
  • District-wide School Open House on Friday, July 28. Every school will be open to allow students and their families to visit with teachers and staff at their schools to get an early start on the school year. #APSOpenHouse Open house hours are:
    • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. – elementary schools
    • 1 to 3 p.m. – high schools
    • 3 to 5 p.m. – middle schoolsIMG_0187
  • Third Annual Back-to-School Bash from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, at the Georgia World Congress Center. For the Bash, APS is partnering with more than 50 community organizations and businesses to give APS families the resources they need to have a safe and successful school year. The Bash will include school registration information, health screenings, immunizations (while supplies last) and on-site school transfer applications for families who are new to the district.

A ton of information will also be available about APS services and resources, including afterschool enrichment programs, extracurricular programs and more. The Bash will have backpack and school supply giveaways and free activities for the kids. This event is free and open to all APS students –that means from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. There will also be free parking!

Basically, the Bash will make sure that all of our families and students have access to everything they need to get the school year started right and to put us on a path to beat our record attendance numbers from last year’s Day One program for the first day of school. For more details, visit and use the tag #APSBash.

While I want our students to fully enjoy their summer, I truly hope that they are staying engaged to avoid summer learning loss.

_DSC7440To keep our students reading, our Instructional Technology department launched the Summer e-Reading Getaway, which provides students from kindergarten through 12th grade with access to more than 6,000 e-books, which they may access by going to the Summer e-Reading Getaway website at and entering their unique user name and password, which was given to them before the last day of school. For students without Wi-Fi or an Internet connection at home, media specialists at all of our schools downloaded books onto students’ mobile devices.

The program is linked to each individual student’s school data and will record how many books he or she reads and how much time they spent reading. Additionally, it will suggest books on their reading levels or slightly above to help them continue to improve their reading skills.

So even though it’s summer, the learning should never stop. When everyone returns for Day One – again, on Tuesday, Aug. 1 – our students will already be off on run to start school off right. #APSFirstDay





APS Considers Millage Rollback as Part of Reassessment Solution

As I wrote in my blog “Clarification of Our Millage Rate Adoption Process and Call for Reasonable Stop Gap for Your Property Taxes” last week, the Atlanta Board of Education earlier this month approved an FY2018 budget based on 6% growth projections in the Fulton County Tax Digest as provided by the Interim Chief Tax Assessor.

As a school district in a growing city, APS has been working to keep up with mandatory pressures – the state’s increase to teachers’ base salary scale, pension and retirement obligations and rising health care costs among them. The projected 6% growth in local revenue pays for those mandatory obligations.

Our first priority is our kids. Our mission is to prepare each one for college and career, and help make them good citizens along the way. Every decision we make is based upon that ideal, and we make those decisions in a fiscally responsive and prudent fashion.

APS_CCC3279Understandably, the reassessments left many residents in a difficult position as the digest may show double-digit growth with individual property reassessments ranging widely from 1 percent increases to over 100 percent. At 12:30 p.m., Thursday, June 15, the County Board of Assessors plans to consider solutions for the reassessments including freezing property values to 2016 tax values.

While we understand the impact that reassessments could have on our communities, we must also consider the damage deep cuts will have on our schools and the education of our students, especially at this late stage in the budget and hiring process. As we explained in a letter to Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker, we believe the county needs to find a more balanced, more measured and more reasonable approach that provides at least the 6% increase in the digest as projected. To help reach that solution, APS will consider a millage rollback to ease taxpayer pressures.

Here is the letter we sent to Ms. Perkins-Hooker:

Dear Ms. Perkins-Hooker,

Our School District has been asked by Fulton County Senior Attorney, Ms. Cheryl Ringer, to assess the very real budgetary strains on Atlanta Public Schools based on conversations held at the June 8, 2017, Special Called Board of Assessors (BOA) meeting.

Our first priority is our kids.  Our mission is to prepare each one for college and career, and help make them good citizens along the way.  Every decision we make is based upon that ideal.

Atlanta Public Schools understands that the released assessments have left the families of the city of Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools in a difficult position. We are appreciative that you are allowing us to weigh in as the decision could have a significant impact on district operations for FY2018.  We understand and appreciate the need for property assessments to be correct and we have a deep appreciation for the impact that these new assessments have on the citizens all across the city. To that end, we believe a more balanced approach is necessary to address this issue in a way that protects the interests of our students, their families and our communities.

Specifically, it was requested that we respond to the following questions:  1) The impact of delaying the digest for additional review and 2) The impact of freezing the digest at the 2016 amount.

First, we were asked to determine the impact of delaying release of the tax digest until further assessments and review were carried out.  With a delay of the digest until July, APS would need to issue a tax anticipation note (TAN) for the second year in a row in order in meet cash obligations beginning in September.  We will be forced to budget for interest, related to the TAN borrowing.  Last year this unplanned expenditure amounted to $148,000 in net interest on a $60 million borrowing. Additionally, if the release date of the tax digest and subsequent late property tax billing is pushed even further off schedule, APS would be placed at real risk of not being able to meet the Georgia Constitutional requirement that short-term loans such as a TAN be repaid by December 31 of the calendar year in which the TAN was issued.

Secondly, based on the range of 5%-7% provided by the Fulton County Interim Chief Appraiser, APS adopted a FY2018 budget that assumed an increase in Fulton County assessed values of 6%.  This was within the range provided and seemed conservative based on growth and reassessments from other local counties.  Freezing assessments would mean that APS would lose the anticipated $24 million in assumed increased revenue.  This $24 million was budgeted for FY 2018 to meet mandatory cost increases for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) ($8 million), classified health rates ($1.3 million), scaling of charter schools ($4 million), City of Atlanta pension ($1.5 million), scaling up of system strategic initiatives in support of the charter system model ($3 million), and a 1.5% COLA for all employees in support of the Governor’s/General Assembly’s increase to the teachers’ base salary scale ($6 million). As a note, state revenue allotted to the District to fund the salary increase and the increase in TRS was more than cancelled out by a dramatic increase in the state’s withholding for local fair share meaning that the local revenue picked up the cost of the increases.  The District has very limited opportunity to raise additional funds by other means and depends on the local digest for 70% of all revenue of the general fund.

With more than 70% of our budget in salary and benefits, and with contracts already issued for teachers and other certified staff, we have limited responses: furlough days, cutting contracts days, reinstating austerity cuts to schools, freezing hiring of teachers (leaving hundreds of classroom vacancies for start of school year), cutting non-instructional staff including paraprofessionals, custodians, food-service workers, etc. (those without contracts), and reneging on the Governor’s and General Assembly’s increase to the teacher’s base salary increase.  None of these are good options, as you can see.

Finally, if the digest is both delayed and then frozen, the issues above are compounded and many of the aforementioned strategies and solutions are no longer viable and are off the table leaving us with only draconian and destabilizing methods of cutting.

Therefore, we request that you consider other options to a freeze including capping the assessments at a certain amount, phase-in the new assessments over a period of time and allow municipalities and school districts to contemplate rolling back millage rates, which Atlanta Public Schools is prepared to consider.  Without knowing the amount of the increases due to new growth, reassessments, corporate, or residential, we cannot fully cost out what even a partial freeze of the digest could mean for our district.  We need a reasonable stop-gap that includes revenue growth to provide critical public education services to more than 50,000 students in Atlanta.

In conclusion, we again thank you for taking the time to review our feedback and appreciate the consideration of our recommendation for a balanced approach that provides at least the 6% increase in the digest on which  our FY2018 budget was approved.  We look forward to working with you to find a solution for the families of Atlanta and the students of APS.


School Board Chair, Courtney English
Superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen
Budget Commission Chair,  School Board Member At-Large, Jason Esteves

Clarification of Our Millage Rate Adoption Process and Call for Reasonable Stop Gap for Your Property Taxes

Wow! We’ve been seeing quite a lot of incorrect and misleading information about Atlanta Public Schools’ millage rate related to Fulton County tax assessments.

First, Fulton County has made it clear that recent increases in the assessment of property values are due to under-assessments over the past several years. Second, APS and our Board have absolutely no involvement in the assessment of property values.

tabletphotoHere’s what the public school system and the Board actually does in relation to this issue:

When Atlanta Public Schools develops its general operating budget each year, a major source of revenue – about 70 percent – comes from local resources, mostly property taxes. Each year, the Atlanta Board of Education considers and sets a millage rate, which currently stands at 21.74, for ad valorem taxes due to the city school district.

Even when the millage rate stays constant, the value of the tax can rise or fall due to inflation or to changes in assessed value of property. State law requires our district each year to publish assessed taxable value of all property and also calculate a “rollback” millage rate when assessed values of property leads to a significant rise in property tax revenue.

When the Board approved the FY2018 General Fund Budget on Monday, June 5, it did so based primarily on information provided by the interim Fulton County Chief Appraiser to the APS Board Budget Commission at its March 16 meeting. He projected growth of between 5% and 7%. The adopted budget made the assumption of 6% growth in the overall tax digest with NO – I repeat, NO – increase to our millage rate.

Typically, we receive the preliminary tax digest numbers by late May or early June. To date, we still don’t have the official tax digest.

To go further, here’s how the District and the Atlanta Board of Education considers and sets the millage rate each fiscal year.

  1. District receives estimated consolidated tax digest from the Fulton County Tax Commissioner’s Office. Again, we do not have the actual tax digest in hand at this time.
  2. Our CFO and the APS Budget Department then calculate the rollback rate, which is equal to the previous year’s millage rate minus the millage equivalent of the total net assessed value added by reassessments.
  3. APS, under state law, provides certain disclosures to taxpayers prior to the establishment of the annual millage rate for ad valorem tax purposes. The first disclosure – which must be published – shows the assessed taxable value of all properties in the City of Atlanta, the proposed millage rate for the current calendar year, and the assessed taxable values and millage rates for each of the immediately preceding five calendar years. The second disclosure requires APS to compute a “rollback” millage rate, and if the proposed millage rate exceeds the “rollback” rate, the district must advertise a tax increase including the rate and hold public hearings before adopting a final millage rate.

The challenge with the FY2018 general fund budget was that our CFO and our budget team have no way to determine what share of the increase is related to new property assessments (which is not included in the rollback rate) and what is due to reassessments.

Additionally, this year’s tax digest will represent Fulton County’s effort to correct and right-size its previous assessments. While other counties have seen gradual increases over the years, Fulton County has not kept up. And that has nothing to do with APS.

This has meant, however, that APS, Fulton County Schools and municipalities in the county have struggled to balance budgets with increased costs and undervalued assessments. While the Board could have increased the millage rate to fund these rising costs, it hasn’t. What has happened: The Board has recommended to hold the rate constant.

The FY2018 budget includes yet another year of austerity planning (totaling $20 million over three years) including central office budget cuts to keep up with mandatory cost increases. These include: an $8 million increase in contributions to the Teacher Retirement System; a $1.5 million increase for unfunded pension obligations; a $1.3 million increase in health rates; and $6 million in support of a state-mandated cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and other employees.

Such costs are expected to go even higher for subsequent budgets. For example, we have already been notified that for FY2019 the APS contribution for TRS will increase an additional 4% or $16 million.

Regardless of all of these pressures, APS remains committed to children and schools, all the while working to redirect existing resources to pay for our Strategic Plan priorities, which include $32 million for the Turnaround Strategy and $21.8 million in cluster, flex and signature funds in support of the charter system model. With no rollback of the millage rate, the district may also be able to implement the remaining unfunded components of transformation for the upcoming year, meet unanticipated challenges (including additional growth in the charter school calculation), and offset the use of fund balance currently recommended to balance the FY2018 budget.

Again, APS has not set a millage rate yet and does not plan to increase it.

Finally, it is still as reasonable today as it was in March when the Interim Chief Appraiser advised the district on the projected growth rate of between 5 and 7 percent.

Freezing property assessments at tax year 2016 values – as the Board of Assessors is considering at its next regular meeting on Thursday, June 15 – will only exacerbate the need to correct and right-size across the city in the out years. Public agencies have mandatory costs that must be covered, and in a city like Atlanta that is seeing growth, there should be at least some corresponding new revenue to cover these costs.

Without it, it will lead to further decline in public services that a growing city like Atlanta needs, especially while it works through gross inequities and disparities for some of its residents.

It is our hope that our leaders and officials sort out a more balanced, more measured and more reasonable stop gap until all of this can be sorted out for all of our stakeholders.