I See You: Social-Emotional Learning at Fain ES, Boyd ES, West End Academy and Crim Open Campus HS

Checking in on the progress of our schools doesn’t stop after Day One or even week one. I love visiting schools as often as possible and seeing first-hand how the decisions we make as leaders impact the day-to-day learning of students. It was great to see the beginnings of our social-emotional learning (SEL) work taking root in schools as early as the first week of the school year. In my opinion, social-emotional learning skills are the foundation of the academic success of our students.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

You may remember that this spring the district entered into a partnership with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to administer its social-emotional learning program within Atlanta Public Schools. Our belief is that if students can develop healthy relationships with their peers and the adults in their lives, we know they will be more successful in school, work and in life.


I heard lots of great stories at West End Academy.

Over at Crim Open Campus High School, one of the first things Principal Parker did was to introduce me to her students and encourage them to tell their stories of success. Each student led me through their journey to this non-traditional high school and spoke enthusiastically about their futures.


Beautiful message over at Boyd Elementary School!

When Dr. Alonzo A. Crim, the school’s namesake held my job back in 1973 as the first African American to become schools superintendent in the South, he sought to build a system “where students would know that we care about them.”

And I really do care about our students at Crim. This is a non-traditional high school where students must interview to be accepted. Students here have chosen to attend this high school that values individuality, provides alternative scheduling and courses and offers innovative delivery to obtain class credits that can be used towards graduation.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Principal Parker leads a diverse group of students and had great accomplishments with her recently graduated class of 2015, of which 36 fully completed Career, Technical and Agricultural Education or CTAE program requirements in graphic arts, culinary arts, engineering and technology, early childhood education, small business and construction.

And this is a very vocal group of students with plenty on their mind! I ran into a young lady who emailed me earlier this year with concerns about her education. We were able to get her issues resolved and it was great to see she was in school and ready to learn when I gave her a big hug during my visit.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I met another student today for the first time who told me about his journey to Crim. He says he was an academically strong student and a pretty good athlete at his previous high school, but didn’t like going to class and knew he wasn’t living up to his potential. He chose Crim as an alternative to his traditional high school and not only is he on track to graduate on time, he has dreams of enrolling at my alma mater, Auburn.

Another student, Jamie Simon, who I met last school year, has really grown up over the summer! He’s a great guy and it was so good to see him. He’s headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production. I’m so proud of him!

That’s what I love about Crim.  Every student is truly focused on the mission of our district, to graduate ready for college and career and they show a profound amount of respect for one another and their teachers.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

While our students don’t always come in to school with the skills necessary to navigate academics and social situations, the good news is that research has shown us that SEL skills – which include the ability to develop good relationships, and make good decisions – can be taught.

I also visited Fain Elementary, Boyd Elementary and West End Academy, where the early implementation of SEL practices could be seen. At Fain, new principal Mr. Rasheen Booker had each teacher to post information about his or her education, accomplishments and interests outside their classroom door – allowing students and parents to know a little bit more about them before entering the room. There were also bulletin boards that told little known facts about the teachers, once again laying the groundwork for great conversations between teachers and their students which builds healthy relationships.

At Boyd, the bulletin board in one of the hallways says “We are here to be seen and heard,” a tenant of SEL in the district. Boyd has relocated this year and although they are in a temporary space while their campus undergoes renovations, there is evidence that new principal Mr. Marcus Jackson understands the importance of self-awareness and encourages teachers to listen deeply to the needs and desires of their students.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Over at West End Academy students were also eager to talk to me about how the supportive staff – from the front office to school leaders – were the reason they were seeing such success in the program. I wrote about West End Academy last October. The Academy offers online courses to juniors and seniors and allows students to work at their own pace. Principal Mobley proudly displays her success stories on almost every wall of the school and although she has been practicing the components of SEL for years at the school, she is looking forward to formally embracing the model.

This move toward changing the culture in the district is being infused into not only our schools, but our district offices as well. APS established board policies and administrative norms for the organization to abide to include practices such as putting students and schools first, respect for others, drive and embrace change, and accountability.


I met Jamie Simon last school year – what a great young man. Headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production.

Hopefully our communities are already seeing the evidence of the changing culture through the collaborative work between the Board and myself as well as the emphasis on stakeholder input when we go out into neighborhoods and hold meetings around topics that affect our students and our schools.

As we continue our culture lift in the district, with the help of SEL, every child and every adult in our district will be seen…and heard.

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces. SEL in action!

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces and asks questions about their first week of school. SEL in action!


At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

Hearing more stories from Crim students!

Hearing more stories from Crim students!


Teachers at Fain Elementary have detailed bios posted outside each of their classrooms.


Great conversation starter. Way to go Fain!

Let’s celebrate our reader leaders

Readers are leaders and April is the month we celebrate our district’s literacy leaders, our awesome APS Media Specialists!  I LOVE to read, I mean I really, really, really love reading and learning new things, so I’m excited to salute the very employees who foster that same love for the written word in our students.

Atlanta Public Schools is celebrating Library Month during the month of April as recognized by the American Association of School Librarians. National School Library Month is a time to honor school librarians and highlights the essential role strong school library programs play in transforming learning.

“Resource-rich school libraries and credentialed librarians play key roles in promoting both information literacy and reading,” says our APS Media Services Coordinator Warren Goetzel.

We have 84 media specialists in APS and Warren not only manages them, but also coordinates district wide media and literacy events such as the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, the Accelerated Reader program and the Georgia Student Media Festival. He believes that when school libraries are staffed by qualified professionals who are trained to collaborate with teachers and engage students meaningfully with information that matters in the real world, school libraries become sophisticated 21st-century learning environments that offer equal opportunities for achievement to all students.

“I am exceptionally proud of all the remarkable contributions APS media specialists make towards increasing student achievement, says Goetzel. “Our media specialists do a phenomenal job at making sure APS school media programs provide a diverse array of services and resources for the benefit of our students, teachers, and the entire learning community. “

Please join me in recognizing just a few of the many talented individuals from our Media Services Department who support APS, allowing the district to fulfill its mission to help every student graduate college and career ready.


Ms. Twana Cannon has always had a love for reading since she was a young girl growing up in the rural town of Inman, South Carolina. “I was actually a part of a Reading Bowl Team in the second grade,” she remembers.

Graduating from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, her initial intent was to become a high school English teacher. When she entered graduate school she decided to switch gears and study Library Science.  She completed her Masters in Library Science with a concentration in school media at Clark Atlanta University in 2000.  She has worked as a media clerk at Tri Cities High School and a Public Librarian and Branch Manager at Atlanta-Fulton County Library for 13 years.  She is now in her third year as an APS media specialist.

Ms. Cannon loves exposing children to the joy of reading and connecting her community to resources. “I love the freedom to create an environment that foster’s learning and achievement, said Cannon.

She feels that libraries are important, because they are heart and soul of a school and the community and provide access to information and the digital world.

Favorite Book: Children’s Book- Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.  Adult Book- Indigo by Beverly Jenkins.

Interesting Fact: I can pretty much name any tune from the 80’s if challenged to a game of “Name That Tune.”

Quote: “Once you learn to read you will be forever free” – Fredrick Douglass

Born and raised in LaGrange, Georgia, Ms. Kriste Stargell attended Clark Atlanta Ms  Stargell Media Specialist1 (2)University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Marketing.  She received her master’s degree in Business Education, her specialist degree in Instructional Technology and media training from the University of West Georgia.

Before becoming an elementary media specialist, Kristen taught high school Business Education for 10 years in APS. She has been with APS for a total of 15 years, five as a media specialist, and was voted as the 2014-2015 Teacher of The Year for Beecher Hills Elementary School.

What she loves most about her job is seeing how excited students are when checking out books. She is motivated by seeing children develop a love for reading like she did as a child. “I still have a love for reading as an adult and I want children to share in my love for books and reading,” said Stargell.

“Children can dream through books and find their passion through reading,” said Stargell.

Favorite Book:   “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt.

Interesting fact: I love to watch college football!  It is the best time of the year!

Quote: “ If you want your life to be more rewarding, you have to change the way you think.”- Oprah Winfrey

Originally from San Antonio Texas, Ms. Christine Tigue received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas State University and completed her graduate studies at Georgia State University. She has worked in education for 16 years.

tigueMs. Tigue started out as a third grade teacher at Indian Creek Elementary School in Clarkston, GA. Most of her students were refugees from war-stricken countries. We had students from Bosnia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Sudan, Somalia, and many more countries,” shared Tigue.

After two years of teaching third graders she has spent the last 14 years as a school media specialist at the high school and elementary levels. Her past schools include Henderson Mill Elementary, College Park Elementary, and Stone Mountain High School.

She is in her first year at APS as the media specialist for Hope-Hill Elementary.

Ms. Tigue says that what she loves most about her job is getting books in the hands of children and seeing them enjoy reading. She’s motivated by seeing students’ excitement over a book they’ve completed.

“Libraries are more than places that just house books,” said Tigue. “Libraries are a special place where students discover their best friends, exotic places, and can go on a great adventure.”

Favorite Book: That is like asking a mother who is her favorite child.  Some of my favorites are “Esperanza’s Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan, “Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch” by Eileen Spinelli, “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Siverstien, and “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak.

Interesting Fact: Most days I commute to work by bicycle.

Quote: “The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.” –Libba Bray

Be sure to join APS this week in honoring the important work of all of our school media specialists!