Today was a Good Day

Ending my day the way it began…with our drivers at the bus depot.

depot2For a multitude of reasons, today was a great day.  It was nice to end my first APS Day One at the Metropolitan Bus Depot with our student’s second teacher, our bus drivers.  The depot was bustling with drivers returning from their routes – and it was such a hot day.

The Metropolitan Bus Depot is the main hub for APS drivers, supervisors and dispatch personnel.  The site houses almost half of the 402 buses in the transportation fleet. 

depotlargeAPS added 13 new buses that operate on green diesel technology to its fleet this summer. The 72-passenger, Bluebird air-conditioned buses have been added to all quadrants of the school zone.

Drivers and bus monitors – thank you for carefully getting our students to and from school today and thank you for taking such pride in your work. A big thank you to our mechanics who take great care of our fleet.

I appreciate you.

Have a Question? The APS Command Center has Answers.

commandcenterThe APS Command Center is open this week from 6:00am until 6:00pm

My next stop takes me to the APS Command Center.  APS employees are standing by to answer questions, take suggestions and hear ‘wins’ this week in the district’s Command Center.  Feel free to call us and tell us how we can improve, as well as tell us what we are doing right.  We appreciate your feedback.

About the Command Center:  The APS Command Center operates Monday thru Friday during the first week of school.  APS employees take calls from parents and employees and problem solve back-to-school issues around transportation, facilities and logistics.  Over 1,000 calls are expected to come in this week to the Center.

The Command Center can be reached by calling 404-802-3500. 

Peyton Forest Receives a Great Day One Gift from Comcast!

Comcast 4Comcast 2

Fourth and fifth grade students (and the superintendent) at Peyton Forest Elementary couldn’t believe their ears today.  Did the Comcast Essentials representative say “everyone gets a free laptop at their school?”  Really?  Why yes, yes he did.  Guess what?  They will also receive six months of free internet as well.  All of this is a part of the back-to-school event hosted today at our southwest Atlanta school.

While I didn’t get to tour the entire school, I’ve heard about how Peyton Forest students were ‘caught being smart’ during a trip this past school year to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  Take a look at THIS photo of  Peyton Forest students featured in the AJC. 

460 students attend Peyton Forest.  Students typically then enroll in Young Middle School followed by Mays High School.

The school also boasts a KaBOOM! Playground that complements the school’s surrounding forest and creek, and features an interactive nature trail, outdoor classrooms and a butterfly and bird habitat. 

I have to go back and spend more time with the school team and the students. It was a wonderful event with even the first lady in attendance and other elected officials and community members.

I appreciate all the effort Board Member Steven Lee put into bringing all of us together to get one of our community’s in need more access to the internet and to bridge the digital divine for more APS families.

Thank you to our speakers Dr. Tonya Steele, First Lady Sandra Deal, Mr. David L. Cohen and Mr. Andy Macke for inspiring the Peyton Forest students.

It was also great to see our Board of Education members again, including Eshe Collins who represents this community, along with City Council Chair Ceasar Mitchell.


Thomasville Heights Elementary is Ready for Day One

I met the ‘street team’ behind the back to school campaign at Thomasville Elementary

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!  Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes! Eyes and ears and mouth and nose… Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes! Yes, we played that song/exercise game while waiting for the restroom. We all practiced our hand and eye coordination – in other words, learning was taking place in nooks and corners of the school even when students would have otherwise been standing idle.

Thomasville principal Cynthia Jewell and her teaching staff are recognizable in the Thomasville community.  They spent the week prior to the start of school canvassing the neighborhoods surrounding the school. They go door-to-door encouraging students to register and attend school on Day One. The principal was out in the neighborhood today as well, tracking down students who did not show up to find out where they were and if they were in school somewhere else.

I’m not surprised by their extra efforts on the attendance campaign. This school, Thomasville Heights Elementary, hosted “A Night Under The Stars,” a father-daughter dance to promote family support for the students.

I did help in a classroom where our youngest students worked on handwriting and how to spell their names. This too helps with hand-eye coordination – something we unfortunately have moved away from in public schools (…don’t get me started on spelling – that’s for another blog).

While touring the school I did notice that the original building design is not the best structure for what today’s schools need and the building does need facility improvement. I will be working with the principal and operations staff to discuss our options to make those improvements.

Thomasville Heights Elementary serves grades Pre-K thru 5 in south Atlanta.  It is a feeder school in the Carver High School cluster. Thomasville has 350 students with almost 100% qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  Recent CRCT scores show growth in the areas of reading and English language arts.

Fun Fact: Fifth grade students recently learned about the Dewey Decimal Classification System and made a great video to explain their findings. 

Well wishes for the school year!

The Benteen Lunch Bunch

I enjoyed making friends during lunch at Benteen Elementary

On the menu today at Benteen was grilled cheese sandwiches, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, pears, apples and green beans.  The school, like all APS schools, also had a salad bar. I look forward to working with food and nutrition leadership and department to improve the quality and number of food options for our students and staff.

Frederick Wilson Benteen Elementary School has been a part of the APS family and southeast Atlanta community for over 80 years.  Students participate in activities such as the rigorous Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, SEC Youth Football Clinic, the Fresh Fruit and Veggie Program and Book Character Dress Up Day.  The school has a tremendous amount of support from parents and local business partners thanks to the work of Principal McKeever and her staff.

Benteen teacher Jason Paggett was named a “Symetra Hero in the Classroom” last school year during a surprise school assembly.  Paggett was one of 16 teachers in Georgia honored at the Georgia Dome for educational excellence during the 2013 NFL season. 

In March, students participated in their first Wax Museum project.  Dressed as historical figures, students would ‘come to life’ when touched, and give details about their character.  The school also planted a vegetable garden earlier this year.

Benteen has 260 students (but the building capacity is much larger). The school was originally only 9 classrooms, a library, auditorium and cafeteria which served 250 students.  It was rebuilt after a fire in 1956. Today, the school challenges each of its students to read 25 books or more during the school year.  They use the Accelerated Reader program to chart success.  Some students read 75 books last year!

We were joined by Board member Leslie Grant – for a few of the other schools – who has been with us most of the morning.  Thanks Leslie for supporting our Day One work.

The school has a robust Twitter feed.  Follow them at @benteenes.

I Hugged a Panda!

Parkside Elementary is located near Zoo Atlanta in the heart of Grant Park.

Parkside Elementary School recently celebrated its 10th year of teaching and learning.  A 21st century school with vibrant technology, students not only participate in a robust academic day, they also enjoy an after school experience that includes classes in dance, golf, karate, piano, science, soccer, tennis and theatre. The PE teacher is also a rock star grant writer who raised over $100,000 to improve the quality of options for students such as stationary bikes, roller skates and a new garden!

Students in Ms. Andrews’ 3rd grade class told me that their teacher was “super helpful” and that she already made them laugh.  One student, Sydney, had a pretty good idea of what I did for the district and helped the class understand the job of the superintendent.  The students were joyful, inquisitive and asked great questions. 

Earlier this year, before an audience of more than 50,000 music fans, the Parkside Elementary chorus performed at the Georgia Dome with South Carolina State University’s ‘Marching 101’ during the Honda Battle of the Bands.  They sang “Dry Your Tears, Africa” in an African dialect in a tribute to the late South African President  Nelson Mandela. Parkside serves over 550 students. 

It is one of the first schools in APS to have Promethean Boards in every classroom. Parkside students have been to outer space! Well, almost. Students and teachers participated in NASA’s education activity known as Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) in 2012.  They made contact via video and radio with crew members aboard the International Space Station.

Thank you, Ms. Sims, for an outstanding visit and tour. She has been in the district for some time and was a former middle school teacher – like me! Our Associate Superintendent Danielle Battle was the principal here from 2002-2008 and joined us today to celebrate the ongoing good work of this school! What a wonderful little school family with great energy!

Hi-Five to the Students & Staff at Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School

I enjoyed the hands-on approach of this dynamic school community.


Today was meatless Mondays at ANCS and the tomatoes from the garden were INCREDIBLE.  I am not surprised because this school has gardens, a cistern and their very own chef who is also a parent! I say YES to the veggie lasagna! (I shared my tray with everyone on the school bus tour.) ANCS welcomes David Bradley as the school’s new Chef and Nutrition Director.  During the summer Chef Bradley treated teachers and staff to lunch which included ingredients from the school’s garden. 

ANCS is a K-8 charter school located in the Grant Park/Ormewood Park neighborhoods.  Operating on two campuses, the school’s teaching philosophy encourages hands-on learning, with students placed squarely at the center of all learning.  Whole child development is at the heart of their philosophy for child development.

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s Grants to Green Program awarded a $260,330 grant to ANCS earlier this year.  The school plans to use the grant, plus matching funds, to complete facilities projects around the campus.

Last school year, ANCS exceeded all of its charter accountability goals on the CRCT and writing tests, with every student at the Middle School Campus meeting or exceeding on the CRCT in the area of Reading. 

The elementary campus occupies the old APS Slaton Elementary which opened in 1907.  Slaton was named after Major William Franklin Slaton, the second superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.

What I love about the school is that a former teacher then instructional coach has become the principal and is in her fourth year. Thank you, Ms. Zelski, for your outstanding leadership. The  school was fully in the throes of team development and exercise and instruction!

I look forward to my next visit and seeing the other campus too!

Have a great school year!

Good Morning Price Middle School!

Price Middle School students were excited about the new school year.

Thank you Price Middle School for being our first middle school visit for the day! Luther Judson Price Middle School is the home of the mighty Wildcats!  The school has a strong alumni community and great partnerships with IBM and the French Consulate of Atlanta. I met Dr. Evelyn Smith from the Class of 1965, back when the school was serving high school students. Price first opened in 1954 and was known for producing top scholars and athletes.    

Price Middle is now part of the Carver High School Cluster and serves 300 students in south Atlanta.  This year we will be working hard to strengthen its relationship with the entire cluster so that it is a strong middle school in this dynamic cluster.

Mr. Hale is the new principal and had things off to great start! He plans to continue the French learning experiences for the students. Last summer, after a year-long friendship with their French peers over Skype, students at Price Middle School were excited to visit their French classmates at College de Haut Penoy in Nancy-Metz, France.  The study abroad experience was the culmination of their French language study for the school year.

I enjoyed walking into the classrooms and seeing supportive teachers who were getting to know their students.  We are looking forward to a fantastic year at Price in a safe and loving environment.

Next stop – Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School.



Get On The Bus!

I’m kicking off the first day of school with a bus ride to Bethune Elementary School.

I am so excited that I was finally able to visit Bethune Elementary School. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary is a part of the Vine City community, located near the Atlanta University Center and across from the Georgia World Congress Center. 

Last school year, Bethune partnered with radio personality Derrick Boazman, who brought the REAL Men Read program to the school.  More than 40 successful men from the Atlanta community visited Bethune to read and mentor students.  The mentors shared details about their careers in architecture, engineering, law, professional boxing and transportation with students.

This year, for the first day of school, we partnered with the Georgia Aquarium and Deepo (who looks exactly like Dora from Finding Nemo) and Captain Planet from the Captain Planet Foundation to welcome the students and their families as students entered the school. Attendance is very important all over the district and Bethune is a school where we need to dramatically increase attendance here at the beginning of the school year. Please promote good attendance every day!!!

I was able to interview the new Bethune principal,  Ms. Burnette, in the spring and recommend her. She is also very excited to join the Bethune team.  Did you know that before she became a teacher and principal, she served in the United States Airforce?  Thank you for your service to our country and welcome to Bethune Principal Burnette!

Thank you to all of the school board members who worked hard with us to get this school year off to a good start. While I know it was really hard to do, some were able to postpone the start of their day to help us at Bethune. It was great to see Board Chair English and Board Members Esteves, Briscoe-Brown and Amos there this morning!

Fast Facts:  Bethune has 550 students and their mascot is the Eagle. I was able to read the Eagle Pledge with Principal Burnette at the start of the school day.

Fun Fact:  The earliest residents of Vine City were immigrants from France, Germany and Ireland.  In 1967, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family moved to Vine City at 234 Sunset Ave.   

I will keep checking in with Bethune as we work with the school community to further promote attendance.

Finally, as a reminder to all parents, caregivers  and visitors to school today, please do not block the parking and streets or leave your cars unattended. It is important that our buses stay on time today.

Off to Price Middle School – Home of the Wildcats!

Rise and Shine. Let’s Go Back to School!

My first day of school begins with a trip to the Lakewood Bus Depot.

For those students who ride the bus, once they leave home, our APS drivers are the second “teacher” of the day after their parents. Sometimes the ride on the bus can set the tone for the whole day for our students – so getting off to a good start is essential. By visiting the Lakewood Bus Depot this morning, I was able to complete my visits to our bus depots. I visited Metropolitan Bus Depot before the start of the school year and met many bus monitors, bus mechanics, bus drivers, bus supervisors and dispatchers as they spent a couple of days practicing routes. We want our drivers to create environments that are safe, welcoming and respectful by modeling that behavior toward our parents, caregivers and students as we start and end the school day.

You will know our APS bus drivers by their maroon uniforms. The drivers I met were ready to go – I even ran into a former bus driver from one of my former districts! We were both excited to be together again in APS. Buses were already headed out as early as 5:30 in the morning. I was able to speak to the drivers through the radio and wish them well on their day.

I’ll be learning more about the bus depots. This one is in need of major facility improvements. 

I’m headed to Magnolia Park school bus stop in Vine City to ride with students to Bethune ES.

About Lakewood:  The Lakewood Bus Depot is located behind the district’s recently renovated Lakewood football stadium.  The depot houses a little over half of the 402 buses in the transportation fleet. 

In the News:  Last summer, the APS transportation department was featured in the Georgia School Bus Magazine, the official publication of the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation. 

What’s New: Mr. John Franklin joined the district this summer as the new director of transportation.  Prior to working with APS, Franklin managed transportation for the nation’s eighth largest school district. 

Fast Facts:  APS buses will travel 21,904 miles per day, transporting 22,000 students to and from school. 

Fun Fact:  The area where the Lakewood Bus Depot now sits was once home to a popular fair that housed a circus big top, a carousel, a racetrack and a wooden roller coaster.