Day and Night at North Atlanta High School

IMG_2549

Enjoying the NAHS nightlife with BOE members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Nancy Meister who represent the North Atlanta cluster.

Whenever I find a school, program, or any place where things seem to be working well in APS, I want to immerse myself in their process so that I can glean how we can apply that lift and success to other schools in our district.

As a part of my back-to-school tour, I decided to spend a little time in the North Atlanta High School (NAHS) cluster this month. Parents always come up to me and gush about their NAHS cluster experience. They talk about their time at one of the cluster elementary schools such as historic E. Rivers or Garden Hills, then their experience at the cluster’s sole middle school—Sutton, and the pride that comes with becoming an NAHS Warrior. Often times, parents have attended the same schools that their kids now attend. This cluster is a place where thoughtful planning around the priorities of a cluster is working – and has been working for some time – so I was excited to learn more as we enter into APS’ second year of cluster planning in the district.

The property contains a small lake - stunning views!

The property contains a small lake – stunning views!

NAHS is a vibrant, diverse, Title I school with equally diverse feeder schools, all coming together ultimately for their International Baccalaureate high school experience. The school’s renovation was still a big conversation when I arrived a year ago and since Atlanta is a city that values sustainability, I was not surprised that our schools and buildings also reflect a desire to re-use, recycle and renovate with a purpose.

For instance, Beecher Hills Elementary in southwest Atlanta recently saw the addition of the city’s Beltline Southwest Connector Trail, which is a part of a 33-mile network of Atlanta Beltline trails. And over at Springdale Park Elementary, which feeds into the Grady cluster, great effort was taken during renovations to preserve the historical elements of two homes – merging them with new school buildings and obtaining the coveted LEED Gold certification, making them one of Georgia’s first green schools.

But still, one of the most unique school buildings here in APS, and in the nation, was once a corporate office complex housing 5,000 IBM employees – and that would be North Atlanta High.

What a view!

What a view!

A few years ago, after extensive renovations, North Atlanta High School students began attending classes in what was once an old office building, originally built in 1977 and this month students started their third school year in the re-purposed building.

When I arrived on campus, it was a Friday night and everyone was preparing for the first football game of the school year, NAHS vs. Lovett School. Board of Education member Nancy Meister gave me a cool, night-time tour of NAHS and wow, was it a beautiful sight. Check out our ‘reflection’ selfie photo below.

IMG_2559

Cool shot, right?

This school is 11 stories tall with a small lake (double wow). Appropriately, the school’s newspaper is called “11 Stories” and I had the opportunity to be interviewed by budding NAHS journalists (insert video link if available).

IMG_2560

Good luck Anna! I can’t wait to hear about your Hong Kong University studies.

Oh – and a quick shout-out to a former NAHS journalist! I hope to continue to follow the academic career of recent graduate and NAHS STAR student Anna Gustafson who is headed to the University of Hong Kong this fall to study journalism. You may remember her photo from my blog about our Georgia Scholars earlier this spring. Anna, who was born in London, speaks both French and Chinese and is a really well rounded student with plenty of talents. The intensity of the school’s film/tv and writing programs, coupled with the International Baccalaureate focus (NAHS was the first school in the southeast to receive the IB designation over 20 years ago), prepared her for this unique post-high school experience. Anna represents so many of our students who are thinking globally about their futures – with that in mind, it is important that we continue to develop clusters that support students in a way that will allow them, even encourage them, to take both traditional and non-traditional pathways for college and career after graduation.

IMG_2550Board member Meister took me down to the field and the school was buzzing as parents launched a ‘Football and Food Trucks’ tailgating event leading up to the game. I had a chance to meet more students, teachers and parents on the sidelines until the game ended in a 14-14 tie.

The following evening I volunteered at “Black Silver & Red Hot Jazz.” This event is organized by the North Atlanta High School Foundation and supports the North Atlanta High School community.  The night’s theme was set in the Roaring 1920s and part of my volunteer prep involved studying up on the time-period and participating in character. So cool. It was a well thought out event and a great way to interact with parents in the cluster and hear their wishes and desires as well as stories of success in APS.

Jazz

Black Silver & Red Hot Jazz was a big hit with supporters of NAHS! Thanks Ms. Meister!

The following Monday I returned to the campus to visit with principal Curtis Douglass and hear more of his vision around the future of the school. One thing that stood out to me is that I saw art everywhere. Principal Douglass is not only focusing on the school from an operational and academic view, but also using aesthetics to build an entire experience for students.

20150817_083256

Principal Douglass told me about last year’s senior prank. I asked if I could participate this school year!

It was so exciting to see the infusion of student-created art into all of the spaces in the school. From the stairwells to the hallways and even over the water fountains, Principal Douglass has done a great job of utilizing what could have been drab, blank walls and giving them color and life. On all 11 stories, he wants to tell…a story, using original art, historical photographs and other unique pieces. He says that when students walk down the hallway, he wants them to learn something about the school – and in turn something about themselves and their classmates.

20150817_090735

Art is everywhere at NAHS.

20150817_090332

The student created artwork is stellar at NAHS.

A big thank you to the students and staff who were patient with me as I popped up at various events. I see what you’re doing over in the NAHS cluster – and I like what I see.

20150817_085921

I paid a visit to a film and tv class. NAHS offers IB level flim and video classes through the CTAE program.

IMG_2552

Meister, me and NAHS PTSA co-president, Dawnitra Quigley. Great job with the football and foodtrucks event!

IMG_2561

Principal Robin Robbins of D.H. Stanton has a daughter here at NAHS! Look closely, you can see her cheering in the background…right between our heads 🙂

20150817_090439

Ms. Irving strikes a pose in the NAHS dance studio.


20150817_090306 20150817_090350 20150817_090645 20150817_090730 20150817_090745 20150817_090830 20150817_084834 20150817_083601

Running with the Jags and Strutting in the EAV!

WelcomeCrossCountryJagsTuesday, after school, I was able to have my first cross country training experience at Jackson High School with the Jaguars! Let me tell you, these kids work hard! Our run started at the school’s athletic field, wound through the historic Grant Park neighborhood and over into Grant Park, near the Atlanta Zoo. There were hills, asphalt, grass and plenty of hot sun. Like I said, these kids and their coach Ms. Robinson, work hard.

Thanks for running with me Olivia!

Thanks for running with me Olivia!

But it was a great experience – I love seeing our students outside of the classroom – I even ran into one of my Student Advisory Council members Olivia. Not only is she super smart with great ideas about how to make the district better for her fellow students, but she’s also a great runner (and standout Lady Jags soccer player as well). It was hot, hot, hot out there but the kids kept going and made me proud…I, however, had to give up on the fourth hill of the run! It was just too much!

After catching a ride back to the school (could not run back on the concrete with shin splints), I saw that the Football team was practicing on the field just as I was arriving back to the school and, well, you can imagine what happened next. Before I knew it I was in a helmet, in a three-point stance and running down the field. I have so much respect for our student-athletes and it is always fun to spend a little time in their world. A big thank you to the Jackson football team for letting me crash their practice!

MJHSFBall4

First game for these fellas is Friday night. Good luck!

MJHSFBall2

MJHSFBall3
My visit was a great chance to keep my commitment to running and also to prepare for the upcoming East Atlanta Village (EAV) Runfest. My former Associate Superintendent and now principal of Burgess-Peterson Elementary, David White, encouraged me to join this 5K and not only did I sign up, but so did about 100 of my fellow APS co-workers. We had our first practice last week at Piedmont Park and I can’t wait to see everyone again tonight for practice number two. We will typically meet on Thursday evenings at 8pm and Saturday mornings at 8:30am.Everyone in the group isn’t a runner and that is fine by me – we are encouraging employees to walk, strut, jog and run their way to good health.

Just like with our students, I also enjoy seeing APS employees outside of the office and outside of their schools.  An important part of building a school district is building a sense of community. Strong schools are built by strong people who know that not only are they valued for the work they produce, but also for their natural talents, abilities and interests. An hour or so a week together outside of “work” goes a long way toward building a positive culture inside our schools.

Team APS!

Go Team APS!

EAVRun1

Check out our APS team participating in stretching and warm down aerobics! And, yes, I taught aerobics after school during my teacher days so we do step on the steps of the Oval!

The EAV Runfest is September 26, 2015 and is the kickoff to the annual EAV Strut.

Learn more about Runfest here: http://www.runeav.com/

Learn more about the EAV Strut here: http://eastatlantastrut.com/

I hope to see some of you September 26 when our APS team takes over the EAV!

Ccountry-002

MJHSFBall1

So Sweet (and Smart) at CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy!

csk8Last week, my back-to-school drop in visit with the ladies of Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) was so much fun! At the helm of the recently merged, all girls’ middle and high school is new principal Erin Barksdale.
She and her team gifted me with a super smart looking t-shirt that was too cute and oh-so stylish! Outlined with the words “Smart is the New Pretty,” it captures the playful and positive, yet academic vibe at CSKYWLA.
CSK5Once I was decked out in my new tee, it was time for the tour. Joined by Board members Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Eshe’ Collins, I entered a chemistry lab where students were engaged in a lesson on the chemistry behind making ice cream.  I loved science when I was in school and this type of engaging lesson is right up my alley because it is hands-on and it involves food.  Who doesn’t love ice cream? The lesson provided opportunities for the students to explore the properties of salt, ice, chemical reactions and the changing states of matter, all while working towards the goal of tasting the dessert. At the conclusion of the lesson, it was evident that the students had not only learned a lot about the chemical process, but were challenged while having fun.  We all had the opportunity to sample the ice cream and the girls even had the opportunity to customize their work with pink sugar and candy sprinkles. CLICK HERE to try a similar experiment at home!
CSK4Next up was the Army ROTC classroom where students had just received their SAT word list. I decided to help the students learn their vocabulary words by creating a “game” out of their guessing the meaning of the word. Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Eshe’ Collins helped give the students hints and I let them know when they had gotten the correct definition of the word.   We were having so much fun that we didn’t want to leave but it was time for the next stop on our back-to-school visits.
I don’t remember words like anachronistic, querulous and surreptitious being on my SAT, but they are all fair game now days and I want our students to be well prepared!
For those of you with students who will take the SAT this year, I’m including a few important links below:
CLICK HERE to register for upcoming SAT exams.
CLICK HERE to view the SAT ‘Question of the Day.’
CLICK HERE to obtain a fee waiver for the SAT exam.
CLICK HERE to learn more about FREE SAT online practice with Khan Academy.
Thanks CSKYWLA for giving me such a sweet start to my school year!
CSK2 csk6

The Cool Kids of Continental Colony Elementary School

Principal Rowe used some of his 'flex' dollars to hire a full time technology instructor. The tech lab was my first stop during this visit.

Principal Rowe used some of his ‘flex’ dollars to hire a full time technology instructor. The tech lab was my first stop during this visit.

Principal Frederico Rowe over at Continental Colony is doing a great job. He’s leading the school for the third year – with a new assistant principal by his side, APS veteran Dr. Sarah Haynes.  And he’s embraced cluster planning in the district, which will help him to continue to build strong schools.

I’ve blogged before about the application APS submitted this spring to the state for a Charter System Operating Model. This contract, or “charter,” with the state will allow more decisions to be made at the school level by principals, teachers and staff – all of who are closer to students and know the specific needs of their schools best.

Students working in math labBeginning this year, our APS principals like Mr. Rowe had the opportunity to use flexible spending, which is a hallmark of the new operating model and cluster planning. Our current budget, approved this spring by the Board of Education, includes a re-allocation of flexible dollars to enable principals to have the authority and flexibility to match their budgets with needs of their schools. Mr. Rowe is an excellent example of how flexible spending can work and work well. This is how he spent his flexible dollars:

  • Maintained band and added offerings for Grade 2-5
  • Hired staff to support a K-5 Technology Lab
  • Hired staff to support a K-5 Mathematics Lab Teacher
  • Hired staff to support the Writing across the Curriculum program
  • Increased SST allotment to full-time
  • Purchased universal screener for Reading and Math
  • Increased the substitute budget for additional professional learning for teachers
A full time math instructor is a win for students at Continental Colony Elementary.

A full time math instructor is a win for students at Continental Colony Elementary.

I had the chance to see Principal Rowe’s choices in action in the mathematics lab last week, led by math teacher Mr. Akins. The entire class was using the website Kahoot to play a math game and I was paired with young Mr. Tyheim Vargas. It was great to watch the kids use their math skills in a competitive way…and as we battled to move up on the board, I can tell you, the competition was real! I love it when kids compete to be smart and we, as a district, can provide them with the space and the support to think, grow and learn.

Take a look at that gorgeous playground!

Take a look at that gorgeous playground!

Oh, and I had a chance to see the new playground as well! The black and red color scheme matches the school colors perfectly and after the kids participate in a little safety instruction next week, they will begin using the new play space.

Happy New Year Continental Colony! Enjoy your school year.

Library

The media center was ready to receive students on Day One! What a great collection of books.

Students in tech lab

Students were all smiles on the third day of the 2015-2016 school year.

Math lab 3

Board member Eshe’ Collins joined me in the math lab and participated in our intense math competition.

Kahoot lesson

Kahoot was a hit with the students. This program is used in many APS classrooms. You can sign up for a free account at https://getkahoot.com/.

Henderson2

Ms. Henderson, better known as “Grandma”, has served as a dedicated volunteer at Continental Colony for 13 years. Four of her grandchildren have also attended Continental Colony.

At board with student

It’s the tech lab, but we decided to do a little math! The lesson was based on the district’s approved budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

IMG_8897 (1)

A big thank you to our Operations team for getting playgrounds installed all over the district in time for the first day of school.

Greeting (2)

We always arrive bearing gifts for our dedicated staff!

Welcome sign

Welcome back Panthers!

Welcome Back Perkerson Elementary Students and Staff!

20150807_074545

I had a chance to check out the texts being used in our dual immersion program at Perkerson.

It is so important that when our students leave APS that they are be able to not only graduate college and career ready, but also ready to compete globally when they enter the workforce. Learning a second or third language, I believe, is the key to a young adult becoming invaluable in the global marktetplace.

My first school visit on the third day of school was to Perkerson Elementary School in the Carver cluster where Ms. Astin is the school’s new principal. Perkerson houses one of four Spanish Dual Immersion programs found in Atlanta Public Schools. The goal of the program is for students to become bilingual and biliterate in Spanish by the end of their fifth grade year. Perkerson and D.H. Stanton Elementary, (which I visited on Day One) were among the first schools in the state to receive a $15,000 grant to implement the Georgia Dual Immersion Program. New this year to Dual Immersion are E. Rivers Elementary and Garden Hills Elementary.

20150807_073113

Mr. Jimenez is a great new addition to Perkerson.

I had an opportunity to visit several classrooms, including that of Mr. Jimenez who is new to the school this year and teaches dual immersion, 2nd grade. I noticed that his supplies were a little low in his classroom, so I’m looking into getting him more Spanish supplies asap!

I stopped by Ms. McGruder’s first grade class – it looks and feels like a spa! Take a look at my photo of her tranquil reading space. So creative!

Nadya Charles, who teaches our youngest dual immersion learners shared some of the learning materials she’s using in her classroom this year. I’m interested in expanding her classroom library to include more Spanish reading materials for students that are struggling or really new to the language.

It was a great visit – The building was spotless, the teachers were smiling and kids were excited about learning.  I appreciate Board of Education member Eshe’ Collins joining me on my visit! Welcome back Perkerson Elementary School!

CLICK HERE to learn more about Spanish Dual Immersion programs in APS!

20150807_074331

Take a deep breath in and exhale! What a wonderful, relaxing classroom.

20150807_071729 20150807_071808

A Day to Play at Cascade Elementary School

photo 1 (2)

Three Cheers for Back to School!!!

I was laser focused on getting to the playground when I visited Cascade Elementary. Over the summer, Cascade was one of eleven elementary schools that received brand new playgrounds in Atlanta Public Schools! Sitting on the backside of the school, surrounded by gorgeous greenery, the play space feels a little like an oasis – a cool place where kids can run, laugh, swing and slide. And boy did we play!

photo 2 (6)

This new equipment is fun – a little different – but tons of fun!

Now look, I must admit, these new-fangled playgrounds are very, very, very different from the ones we all grew up with – they are definitely much safer! But they are still fun – as evidenced by my photos with the students and Board of Education member Eshe’ Collins.  We had so much fun.

We took time to visit the school’s new math lab. All students, Grades K-5 attend the math lab once a week for 45 minutes. The math lab instructor is focused on numbers and operations for the first 9 weeks and we saw students using lots of different math software such as IXL where students must obtain a 90% for credit, Study Island, First In Math and other fun websites. The school also has an interventionist that pulls students daily from grades K-5 in small group (no more than 7) to work with students who need additional assistance.

photo 2 (7)I tried to join in on the fun in the math lab, but I’m going to tell you, working on the school’s new ActivTable was a bit of a challenge for me. If you haven’t seen them, ActivTables are basically a digital white board, or Promethean board, that lies flat and has a touch screen similar to the iPad.  Up to six students can work on it at the same time.  A cool new use of technology, but I need just a wee bit more time to figure it all out. No worries – I am certain we have plenty of fifth graders who can help me out!

Great to see you Cascade Elementary! Enjoy your year.

photo 4 (5)

Cascade1

What fun staff!

photo 1 (1)

Thank you Dr. Battle for joining me on this visit – and for playing on the new playground!

cascade photo 1 (5)

M. Agnes Jones Elementary is Serious about S.T.E.M.

20150806_091057I was looking forward to my trip to visit principal Woolfolk and her students and staff at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School today. I had heard about their new Innovation Station inspired by Georgia Tech, which included robotics, tinkering and 3D printers.

The Washington High School cluster of schools, of which Jones is a part, has chosen a S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) theme for all of the schools that feed into Washington High.

Poised to implement STEM in 2015-2016, Ms. Woolfolk and the principals of the Washington Cluster attended Georgia Tech Innovation Studio with the Westside Parent Group in June of 2015.  Ms. Woolfolk was thoroughly inspired by the possibilities for M. Agnes Jones.  Using flexible spending dollars allocated during the most recent APS budgeting season, she launched a science lab, tinkering lab, and purchased a true robot, Ramsey.

She has also garnered support of Georgia State University and was recently awarded a $10,000 Innovation Planning Grant by the Georgia Office Student Achievement.

20150806_090509
The trip was everything I hoped for, (actually I would have been happy seeing this level of learning on day 22 of school as opposed to day 2)! I watched students demonstrate their knowledge in the area of robotics and engineering, all in the first 15 minutes I was in the building. It was incredible! If they are working at this level on day two – the rest of the school year is filled with so much hope and promise.

Take a look at the photos below – these students are finding the fun in S.T.E.M.

Happy new school year Jones Elementary!

20150806_090730

image1 (1)

Ramsey the Robot is coming…stay tuned!

20150806_090529

Jones now has a full-time, dedicated S.T.E.M. teacher!

20150806_090942