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.


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.


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.

Celebrating Black History Month: Reflecting on African-American Women and APS

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and appreciate the immeasurable impact that African-Americans have had and continue to have on our society and even on our individual lives. For me, Black History Month is something I celebrate every month because I remain inspired by the trailblazers of the African-American community who helped clear a path to opportunity for so many of us.

When I think about some of those trailblazers, I don’t have to look much further than right here at APS. The legacy and names of some of the most distinguished people in Atlanta and in American history are literally etched into the walls of many of our schools today.

Quite a few of our most visible schools – our high schools – are named after extraordinary African-American men: George Washington Carver, Alonzo Crim, Frederick Douglass, Maynard H. Jackson, Benjamin E. Mays and Booker T. Washington.

But, a number of our schools are also named after dynamic, inspiring, and innovative women who have contributed greatly to our city, state and nation. Three of these women – Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama and Jean Childs Young – carved out amazing legacies of their own, even as they worked with husbands who had international reputations as leaders. And other women – M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain and Leonora Precious Miles – changed lives at the local level as they worked to make their own communities better.

I want to shine a spotlight on these women and the impact they have had on APS and on my life as we celebrate Black History Month.

Coretta Scott King

The Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (affectionately called CSKYWLA “Sisk-key-wall-la” by students) was of course, named in honor of Mrs. King. Beyond being the wife of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King committed her own life to that of social justice and peace.

She successfully balanced motherhood while speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal and peace groups. After her husband’s assassination in 1968, Mrs. King remained committed to building and developing programs for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to the legacy of Dr. King.

Coretta carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community to almost every corner of our nation and throughout the globe, having led goodwill missions to many countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia, and she was the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard, and the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

CSKYWLA was founded in her honor in July 2010 with a singular goal – to ensure each young woman graduates from college ready to make a positive impact on the global community.

The school is now led by Principal Eulonda Washington, pictured here, and has really worked toward the mission of graduating more students.  In fact, CSKYWLA posted the second highest graduation rate for Cohort 2018 with 93.5%!  For us at APS, when we say, “CSKYWLA”, it means to be empowered by love, nonviolent social change, and scholarship. Thank you, Coretta Scott King, for your visionary leadership and for the indelible mark you’ve had on our lives.

Jean Childs Young

Our very own Jean Childs Young Middle School in the Mays Cluster was named in honor of Jean Childs Young, a stalwart of civil rights. Like her dear friend Coretta Scott King, Jean Childs Young marched with her husband, Ambassador Andrew Young, during the Civil Rights Movement, and continued her service up until she succumbed to complications from liver cancer in 1994.

Beyond civil rights, Mrs. Young was actively involved in promoting children’s rights and served in many capacities with the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Children’s Defense Fund. In 1978, Young was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as chair of the American Committee of the U.N. International Year of the Child. When her husband served as mayor of Atlanta, she became active in government and women’s voting rights, working as an active member of the League of Women Voters.

At Young Middle School, Principal Kara Stimpson, pictured left, and the entire Young community like to say “It’s a Movement!” As one of our turnaround schools, Young really has a turnaround leader and staff in place, so we expect great work in the years ahead. The school’s vision is to be a model school that prepares students to become college and career ready in order to be equipped academically and technologically to compete in a global society.

Michelle Obama

Among our living legends, few women inspire me more than the first African-American First Lady in this country, Michelle Obama. She served as First Lady from 2009 to 2017 and always stood tall in her own right, working passionately toward an even better America.

As a teenager, she recalls being inspired to follow in the footsteps of her brother and attend Princeton University, but at that time, some of her teachers tried to dissuade her from applying, warning her against setting her sights too high. Michelle not only applied to Princeton, she was accepted and majored in sociology and minored in African-American studies.

She stands as a true role model for men and women everywhere, and as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, and health. When the Peoplestown community here in Atlanta considered a new name for the former D.H. Stanton Elementary School, they chose to honor both of the Obamas with the name Barack and Michelle Obama Academy.

Our school, led by Principal Robin Christian pictured here, serves PreK through 5th grade students, and I could not be more proud to have BAMO be part of such a rich history and legacy. The school is already making amazing gains; for example, BAMO has improved its state rank on the critical College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) by 41 points in just two years!

M. Agnes Jones, Margaret Fain and Leonora Precious Miles

M. Agnes Jones, Fain, and Miles elementary schools — one each in the Washington, Douglass and Mays clusters — were named after Atlanta women who tirelessly worked to advance children’s causes and the rights of teachers. Today they are led by three passionate and dynamic educators, pictured below – Dr. Margul Woolfolk at M. Agnes Jones, Desmond Moore at Fain and Thalise Perry at Miles.

Mary Agnes Jones

Our M. Agnes Jones elementary is named after the first black supervisor in Atlanta Public Schools in 1920. Later, she led as the first female president of the Georgia Teachers and Education Association, serving from 1935-1937. She was also one of the first in APS to earn her master’s degree in education. Keeping with Mrs. Jones’ reputation for being the first, M. Agnes Jones Elementary two years ago became the very first STEM-certified school in the district!

Margaret Kennedy Fain

Fain Elementary School was named for Margaret (Kitty) Kennedy Fain, who was a community activist residing in the Adamsville Community in 1940. Due to a fire, the school was rebuilt in the early 1990s and was renovated in 2009. The school has been open longer than any other elementary school in the Adamsville Community, serving as an anchor in that neighborhood. Over the past two years, Fain Elementary has gradually decreased the percent of beginning learners as shown in our last Georgia Milestones results.

Leonora Precious Miles

Leonora Precious Miles (L.P. Miles) Elementary School began as Bethlehem Church School in 1907 with an enrollment of 73 students. In recognition of Lenora’s community efforts, the Fulton County Board of Education named the school L.P. Miles Elementary on April 16, 1967, in her honor. Today, Miles Elementary has even more of which to be proud. On the CCRPI, Miles has outperformed the state and district for progress points and closing the gap, and the school was also named a 2018 Beating the Odds School for outperforming other schools with similar demographics.

As we celebrate the impact of African-Americans this and every month, I hope you think about these and other powerful African-American women whose lives and legacies have become ingrained in our collective history. Let’s emulate their dedication to service, but most of all, let’s remember their commitment to children and their hard work to ensure that every child has access to an education that leads to a choice-filled life.


(UPDATED 5:15 p.m., Tuesday, January 29 –We are so glad to welcome all of our beloved students, teachers and colleagues back to school on Wednesday, January 30! Following our weather protocols and in coordination with the National Weather Service, Atlanta Public Schools will be open on Wednesday, January 30. All schools and District offices will be open and all after school programs, activities, and community meetings will continue as scheduled on Wednesday. We ask that parents, caregivers, and employees at APS charter schools contact their schools directly for scheduling information. I encourage everyone to continue to stay safe and warm and to exercise caution when traveling throughout the metro area. See you all tomorrow!) APS Closes Schools for Tuesday, Jan. 29, Due to Inclement Weather

District also cancels all school programs and activities, even Super Bowl-related events, in anticipation of unsafe conditions caused by latest winter storm.

As much as we value every single day of education, the safety and security of all our students and staff at Atlanta Public Schools remain among our top priorities. So when the latest winter storm threatened to drop snow and icy conditions in metro Atlanta, we acted with an abundance of caution. Schools will be closed on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Our decision aligns with city and state officials’ decisions to close their offices because of the potential for snow and ice on the roadways. Additionally, all after school programs and activities and community meetings have been cancelled. These include Super Bowl-related events scheduled with our schools and students on Tuesday.

As forecasts show better weather through the rest of the week, we anticipate welcoming our students and staff back to APS on Wednesday, Jan. 30. But we will keep our families, teachers and staff informed should we need to close additional days.

Although we will be closed, I have an assignment for our students: Take home books and other materials so you can work on homework and reading assignments while you are home. Parents, please make sure they do their work!

For APS charter schools, parents, caregivers and employees are encouraged to contact their schools director for scheduling information.

APS closely monitors the weather conditions in coordination with the National Weather Service, city and state officials and other metro Atlanta school districts. We encourage everyone to exercise caution when traveling throughout the metro area tomorrow.

As inclement weather approaches, my team works extremely hard to inform parents of our decisions as far in advance as possible. We have a set of protocols in place to notify families, staff, and our community of everything we know about the conditions and forecasts.

Remember when we are making any decisions on inclement weather, the safety of our staff is a key priority.

As we enter into this season of wintry weather, I’d like to remind our students, families, staff and others about the APS protocol for inclement weather.

You can expect updates on winter weather in a variety of APS channels. We diligently update our website, our social media channels as well as stay in close contact with our schools. You can feel confident to contact your school first if you have questions about weather-related issues. It is my goal to make sure our principals are updated with the latest information regarding our inclement weather decisions.

Now is also a great time to make sure your contact information is updated. Our main way to contact parents is through our campus portal.  Here you can update your phone number, email and communication preferences. Access the campus portal here.

Every year, I update the community on our procedures, and you can read about our process in detail in prior blog posts here and here.  You can get a good overview of our decision-making process there.  

Again, we continue to monitor the weather and will report as soon as possible on any updates. Please be safe tomorrow, and we will see our beautiful students and staff back in school again soon.

External Review of Year Two of APS Turnaround Strategy: Finds Promising Early Signs

Before we began our Journey of Transformation, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) was a school district afflicted with chronic under-performance in our schools. The district was in desperate need of a comprehensive, long-term plan designed to provide remedies that addressed past issues while at the same time creating new opportunities to remove barriers for the future.

Nearly three years ago, the Atlanta Board of Education approved the APS Turnaround Strategy that built upon our mission to graduate more children ready for college and career. This strategy implemented such interventions as tutoring, math and reading specialists, school model changes and recruitment of turnaround leaders and teachers.

As part of that strategy, we put our deepest investments into some of our lowest performing schools and collaborated with educational partners

The 2017-2018 school year marked our second full year of turnaround, and we have been evaluating the work and receiving feedback from our principals and independent researchers to make real-time adjustments to the strategy. Having passed the second year of turnaround, I wanted to provide an update of some of the results.

In summary, the results have been mixed, especially those from a recent evaluation from the independent research group Mathematica Policy Research, but there are promising early signs that our investments are making a difference.

As we review, let’s consider the most positive recent news of the APS Turnaround Strategy. First, all 17 APS turnaround schools receiving targeted or partnership support have improved over the past two years. As shown in our most recent Georgia Milestones report from the state, all of these schools decreased the percent of beginning learners, with six showing double-digit decreases.

In another important indicator – the College and Career Ready Performance Index of CCRPI – 13 of the 17 targeted and partnership schools have increased their CCRPI percentile rank after two full years of implementation. (A newly redesigned CCRPI makes comparisons difficult, but the percentile rank among Georgia schools allows us to continue making direct comparisons.)

Beyond state accountability systems and the Georgia Milestones, we wanted additional and independent evaluations of our turnaround so that we could optimize our investments in this work. Thanks to the support of a philanthropic partner, the strategy is being evaluated over a three-year period.

The external evaluation conducted by Mathematica assesses implementation, impact on participating student and adult behaviors, and the overall effectiveness of the strategy on the district.

Mathematica’s evaluations have been informative and insightful. We are using their findings to inform our ongoing efforts to improve school and student outcomes and allow us to make changes in real time.

After completing our second full year of the transformation strategy, Mathematica recently delivered its second impact study, which is available on our School Turnaround page along with the Year One report.

We will present the study during the next work session of the Atlanta Board of Education at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 4, at the Center for Learning and Leadership. I encourage the APS community and the public to attend the meeting or view it at https://livestream.com/k12aps.

In the meantime, we continue to unpack the recent findings from Mathematica. From the report, their key highlights are:

  • While our Turnaround Strategy efforts are producing improvements in math performance in targeted schools, Mathematica did not find evidence of statistically significant impacts of school-wide targeted support on other student outcomes.
  • Evaluators found little evidence that support from math and reading specialists had an impact on academic outcomes.
  • They also found no evidence that support from Communities in School improved student suspensions, attendance or academic achievement.
  • Finally, our partnership schools are also producing improvements in math performance, but other effects were mixed, varying by outcome and by partner organization.

We are pleased that the Turnaround Strategy has led to marked improvements in math performance. Mathematica noted that the limited impacts with other core subjects is a consistent result among other schools engaged in turnaround. In comparing our findings with national research and turnaround trends, they wrote:

“Despite the limited impacts of targeted supports overall, the second-year impact on math achievement is a promising sign, as many turnaround efforts fail to produce any measurable positive impacts in a comparable or even longer period. When impacts are detected, positive impacts tend to be larger in math than reading, so those measured for targeted school supports follow the trends of turnaround efforts elsewhere.”

So that offers encouragement and support for our work!

In regards to Mathematica finding little evidence of how our specialists impacted academic performance, we found from the implementation phase of their study that specialists worked with students not on their rosters and also provided curricular resources used in their small groups to teachers for classroom use. Additionally, schools reported the specialists supported teachers’ professional learning by modeling lessons and leading professional development sessions.

So it is possible that these activities could have improved student performances in both the targeted group of students and the match comparison group, causing the impacts of the specialists to be underestimated.

As part of the report, Mathematica suggested that we do a better job in capturing data to better understand which supports are most effective.

In regards to our partnership with Community in Schools (CIS), the evaluators again said the results are consistent with other recent research studies and may be partly explained by implementation challenges.

Feedback leading up to the implementation phase of the study released in June 2018 indicated the CIS site coordinators half-time presence as the main challenge to their effectiveness.  In response to this feedback targeted tier schools were each assigned a full-time CIS site coordinator for the 2018-19 school year. 

CIS is just one wraparound support provided to targeted tier schools.  Each targeted tier school is also afforded an additional wraparound position that supports students’ non-academic needs. 

Among its recommendations, they suggested that as turnaround schools show improvement, the district should plan how to extend or redirect turnaround supports so the school system can affect lasting change. Looking ahead to the 2019-2020 school year, we want to work in a smart, intentional fashion to how we can phase schools out of support when they show positive progress and how we add supports should other schools be designated as turnaround school eligible by the state.

As we move forward through the third year of School Turnaround in APS, I will continue to provide updates on our ongoing efforts to give every student in Atlanta Public Schools the educational opportunities that lead to college, careers and choice-filled lives.

With a Caring Culture, APS Develops Assistance Plan for Employees Impacted by Shutdown

Welcome back from your MLK holiday weekend! I hope you continue to be inspired by Dr. King’s commitment to social justice and the sacrifices he made to pave the way for many of us and inspire us to dedicate our lives to the service of others and in creating a “Beloved Community.”

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 (I shared these on my previous blog), and one of those steps is direct action.

Watching developments regarding the federal shutdown over the past month, you cannot help but feel empathy for the more than 800,000 federal employees who have missed one paycheck and are on the verge of missing another one.

Your heart goes out to my colleagues wondering if they can make their mortgage and rent payments this month or even continue putting food on the table without dipping deep into savings or scurrying for short-term loans.

As our Human Resources team led by Skye Duckett, Chief Human Resources Officer, and our Deputy General Counsel, Laurance Warco, looked at the effect of the shutdown on our own employees, we found that among our more than 6,000 full-time and 1,500 part-time colleagues, as many as 500 would be directly impacted by the shutdown through the employment of their spouse, partner or household member in a federal agency that is closed due to the partial government shutdown.

As a district with a mission that starts “with a caring culture,” I knew APS had to assist. I met with our HR team and got the ball rolling but that made it become a reality.

Working with Atlanta Partners for Education, we announced today a new district initiative that identifies ways in which we can help our own. I encourage everyone to find a way to assist.

We have set a goal to raise $25,000 for the Atlanta Partners for Education to assist employees with necessities during this time. Employees, community members and partners can join me and make a tax-deductible donation to APS’ crowd funding campaign through Go Fund Me. The total amount collected will be distributed through Atlanta Partners for Education to eligible employees. 

There are other resources available to employees and ways the community can assist, for example:

  • Consider setting up Meal Train accounts for employees whose families are impacted by the shutdown.
  • Drop off food items to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Families in need may visit the website where there is a list of Atlanta area resources and support.
  • Ask furloughed spouses to work as substitute teachers for the District, which would allow them to return to work as soon as the shutdown ends. Those interested may visit the APS substitute teaching website to learn more or contact APS Substitute Supervisor Angela Williams (Angela.Williams@atlanta.k12.ga.us).
  • Take advantage of APS’ employee discount program on goods and services, Sparkfly. Available only to APS employees, they can visit the Sparkfly Perks site to learn more.
  • Use APS’ Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides crisis counseling and legal/financial consultation services free of charge to APS employees.
  • Seek resources such as the Georgia Power Foundation, which recently announced a $50,000 donation to St. Vincent de Paul Georgia, a faith-based nonprofit, to help provide support to furloughed and unpaid federal workers and contractors in the state. Through the fund, impacted families can ask for assistance by submitting a request to gapowerassistancefund@svdpgeorgia.org.

Our charge is to live the APS mission every day, and so a “caring culture” starts with us. Thank you for all that you do to help our deserving colleagues affected by the shutdown bridge the gap between their paychecks.

From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope: Celebrating Dr. King’s Legacy

As we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on MLK Day, I want to take this opportunity to share with you how I will celebrate his life and legacy. 

For me, it’s deeply rooted in Dr. King’s commitment to social justice and the sacrifices he made to pave the way for many of us and inspire us to dedicate our lives to the service of others and in creating a “Beloved Community.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., attended segregated schools in Atlanta and left Booker T. Washington High School at the age of 15 to study medicine and law at Morehouse College in 1944.

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:

1. Information Gathering — To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. 

2. Education — It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.

3. Personal Commitment — Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. 

4. Discussion/Negotiation — Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. 

5. Direct Action — These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. 

6. Reconciliation — Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. 

These steps continue to motivate me in all levels of my work. 

In the spirit of Dr. King’s message of nonviolence, a growing movement dedicated to the social and emotional learning (SEL), and the academic well-being of children is reshaping learning and changing lives — and the foundation of education — across America. 

In fact, as a Commissioner for this national movement, I was honored to attend and participate in the final meeting and national release recently of the final report of the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development titled From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope. At the meeting, the commission shared this culminating report on how to improve American public education. It is an impressive report that thoroughly addresses how we can better serve our young people based on brain science and whole child development theories.

From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope asserts that our nation is at a turning point, understanding that social, emotional, and cognitive development underpins children’s academic learning. This breakthrough of understanding how people learn is fueling a growing movement to educate children as whole people, with social and emotional as well as academic needs.

In the report, we emphasize that helping students develop skills like collaboration, empathy, and perseverance, requires systemic change. It offers specific actions in research, practice, and policy to fundamentally shift how we teach children, with the understanding that the social, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of learning are mutually reinforcing rather than distinct.

The research also outlines evidence that confirms that supporting students’ social, emotional and academic development has a positive impact on their attendance, test scores, success in college and careers, and overall well-being. This approach also improves students’ feelings about school and makes schools safer.

Here are the key action steps recommended in the report:

  • Set a clear vision that broadens the definition of student success to prioritize the whole child.
  • Transform learning settings so they are safe and supportive for all young people.
  • Change instruction to teach students social, emotional, and cognitive skills; embed these skills in academics and school-wide practices.
  • Build adult expertise in child development.
  • Align resources and leverage partners in the community to address the whole child.
  • Forge closer connections between research and practice to generate useful, actionable information for educators.

Nearly 100 organizations have signed on in support of the report’s conclusions and recommendations as part of an ever-widening coalition committed to advancing the work. Drawing on input from more than 200 scientists, youth and parent groups, educators and policymakers, the report seeks to accelerate and strengthen efforts in local communities.

As the school district of Dr. King, APS takes very seriously our role to not only educate our students but to empower them to become part of an engaged citizenry. Our students learn about Dr. King’s legacy throughout the school year in lessons, activities, and events. From kindergarten through high school and through our Social Studies, U.S. History, and Language Arts curricula, our students explore not only the figures of the Civil Rights Movement, but they also look at the social, political, and cultural factors that contributed to the movement.

APS is using SEL to help our students better understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. As we prepare our students for success in college and career, SEL is teaching the skills that Dr. King embodied.

One of the rich lessons we’ve all learned from Dr. King was about equity and the equitable treatment of all mankind. That lesson hasn’t been lost on our Atlanta Board of Education or on this APS administration. I am working with our Board of Education to better understand the equity issues we face in APS and to respond to those issues effectively.

The Board’s Equity Task Force has defined equity as strategic decision-making, with the goal of remedying opportunity and learning gaps, and creating a barrier-free environment, which enables all students to graduate ready for college and career. The community’s voice on this issue is a critical part of shaping the current definition and the future work on this issue that is happening in real time.

As part of developing an equity policy for APS, we’re seeking to understand, disrupt, and dismantle patterns and structures of institutional bias that create disparities and perpetuate achievement gaps among students.

On Friday, I attended Governor Kemp’s first proclamation ceremony which he issued in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. Dr. Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. King, accepted the proclamation on behalf of the King family. In it, Governor Kemp reminds us that Dr. King was a man of great principle, who advocated peaceful social change throughout his life.

The proclamation states in part: Around the World, Georgia shines as a beacon of opportunity for individuals from all walks of life. Our international recognition is a source of tremendous pride, but Georgia’s greatest treasure is her people; and certainly, no Georgian is more worthy of recognition and celebration than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Day is truly a day of service designed to empower us, strengthen our communities, and encourage us to create solutions to our social problems. It’s the time to shine a spotlight on service as a powerful force that bridges economic and social divides – today and throughout the year. 

Whether you plan on grabbing a paintbrush, mentoring a young person, helping clean up a public space, or, like me, starting or being part of a national movement, you are helping take us from a nation at risk to a nation at hope, while we celebrate and honor Dr. King’s legacy and move closer to his vision of a “Beloved Community.”

Happy MLK Day, my be❤️d APS and Atlanta!