Taking Further Steps in School Event Security


Over the last two school years, I have already seen more shooting incidents around our Atlanta school community involving children than the rest of my other two superintendency tenures combined. It’s so disheartening but it also means we have to be more proactive to protect our students, parents and staff.

As a school district, we responded last year with the “APS United We Play” education campaign, an enhanced game management for sporting events at both Grady and Lakewood stadiums. This campaign, which continues through this football season, was designed to improve safety as well as game day experiences for the participants and the fans.

Another shooting incident this past weekend in a school parking lot while innocent athletes, band students and parents were trying to make their way home after a game raised enough concern for the board and me that we are increasing our safety and security measures for the rest of the season.

Throughout the district, our kids and families should never worry about being safe at school or at a school-sponsored event … during the school day or at any time. Further, our children shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder when they are in their communities.

I cannot express enough my gratitude to the staff and parents who rallied around the kids at Mays to ensure that they were protected and safe. But these incidents show that we must be a school district that stretches harder to be leaders who will protect its children. Because of the world we live in, we must take even more precautions.

We only have so much in resources, so we have created a real-time, stop-gap approach for more security until we complete budgeting for Fiscal Year 2018. These are our additional steps:

  1. We will assign security to our teams and bands to and from games both at our own stadiums and outside of the district for away games.
  2. We will provide security coverage at school parking lots for when the teams and bands return. The officers will remain until everyone has left the property safely.
  3. We will provide coverage for parents and caregivers waiting for their children at the school parking lots.

We will find a way to manage the costs of the additional security to support the real-time adjustments necessary to cover the costs.

There are many community ills that extend beyond our school properties and spill onto our schools. As such, we could, indeed, work to prevent these incidents through proactive efforts. We may have the opportunity to be so when we have our budget conversations on unfunded components of transformation.

It’s something we must consider, and I look forward to identifying ways to ensure stronger safety and security investments as we prepare for FY18.



Achieve Atlanta: $20M for APS scholarships! This kind of investment will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.

I am thrilled about an incredible new partnership for our district with Achieve Atlanta, an organization spearheaded by The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.  This initiative will dramatically increase the number of APS students graduating from high school and then entering and successfully graduating from colleges and technical schools.  Their $20 million investment in our students is beautiful, bold and aggressive. I truly believe that this is the kind of investment that will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.  This type of partnership is exactly what our students need and deserve.

Achieve Atlanta will bring partners to APS who will provide college counseling support to our students. These counselors will work in conjunction with our APS high school counselors beginning in ninth grade, show them how college is actually accessible and help them secure scholarships.

Achieve will also help with gap scholarships so that APS students have fewer financial barriers to access college.

This week Achieve Atlanta named Tina Fernandez, a former bilingual elementary school teacher and law professor, as executive director of the organization.  While serving with the University of Texas School of Law, Ms. Fernandez launched a Pro Bono Program that helped deliver legal services to low-income individuals.  She is currently a partner at Bellwether Education Partners.

I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Fernandez in Austin and I am excited to see her bring her passion for education to Atlanta.  I’d like to thank our Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan, who served on the search committee.

Earlier this year, Dr. Timothy Gadson, our APS Associate Superintendent of High Schools and I were able to see this type of programming in action during a site visit to Denver, Colorado to visit the Denver Scholarship Foundation.  I was joined by the team of people who have really made this partnership happen for the students of Atlanta – Lizzy Smith and Russ Hardin with the Woodruff and Whitehead Foundations and Lesley Grady and Alicia Philipp with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

I think that this partnership will go a long way towards ensuring that kids who historically have not been able to access college have the academic, financial and emotional supports to not only get into college but complete college.  Our APS counselors do a heroic job of getting kids into college but their case loads are enormous and Achieve will help ensure more students have access to the counseling they need to identify the right college for them.

As they thoughtfully and carefully prepared this initiative, the folks over at Achieve Atlanta commissioned a research study around issues and opportunities for improving college access and completion for APS students.  Click HERE to read the full study, but their results tell us that:

  • Atlanta’s students are not receiving high quality consistent advising while in high school that prepares them for post-secondary education;
  • Too many students are not enrolling in college;
  • Many APS graduates do not graduate from college due to emotional, academic and financial barriers; and
  • Atlanta’s nonprofit and civic community organizations are not responding to students needs in a holistic manner.

Our students will participate in the following Achieve Atlanta signature programs:

Achieve College – external advisors are placed in APS high schools to ensure students receive early access to information and assistance to create career goals, apply for college and financial aid and gain experiences that expose them to postsecondary options. Advisors will work in tandem with school counselors and other professionals.

Achieve Graduation — Advisors from post-secondary institutions to provide intensive counseling to students enrolled in APS.

Achieve Atlanta Scholarship and Achieve Atlanta Micro Grants – Last dollar financial assistance to students who have unmet financial needs for college, as well as responsive grants for unexpected needs that arise throughout a student’s college experience.

This partnership helps to support our ability to execute on our mission and vision.

We hear all the time about the students who would have gone to college and completed their degree if they had just had a tiny bit more financial assistance, a better understanding of the application process or an advisor they could trust once on campus.  Achieve Atlanta will make sure we have less of those stories here in Atlanta.

Thank you Achieve Atlanta for your generous donation of time, talents and financial support.

Today is a Very Special Day: Our New Partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology


Take a look at our celebration ‘selfie.’

Today is a very special day.

A few moments ago I was standing at a podium, surrounded by students attending the historical Booker. T. Washington High School campus, and I found myself very emotional as I begin to speak about the gift the district received from the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Dr. Bud Peterson, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his wife, Val, joined me our school board members and APS educators to make the announcement.  Georgia Tech brought with them a contingent of scientists and professionals from the school. This announcement was just that big!!!

Beginning today Atlanta’s students – no matter where they live or the size of their household income – will have the opportunity to receive a world-class, top-notch, first-rate, awesome college education at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech is offering ALL APS Vals and Sals an opportunity to go to college for free.  This is indeed a groundbreaking partnership. And on behalf of the students, staff , parents and board members of APS, I want to express our deepest gratitude to Georgia Tech.

Let me clarify: Whether or not that val or sal comes from Washington High, South Atlanta High, North Atlanta High or all points in between, the admissions office at Georgia Tech will have paperwork with our students’ names on it.


Thank you Bud Peterson and Georgia Tech! Today was a great day.

Georgia Tech is already a strong partner in our schools; its professionals tutor our students, sponsor robotics programs and provide other meaningful forms of direct support to our schools. And about 60 of our graduates currently attend the school; some of them are on scholarship. Georgia Tech has a global reputation of excellence in research and innovation. Georgia Tech believes the students of Atlanta Public Schools deserve a place on its campus.

As background, Atlanta Public Schools graduates droves of students – many of whom are in 2014 still the first in their families to receive a high school education. This past May, our graduates left APS armed with 100 million dollars in scholarship earnings. The bad news is that far too many of our graduates come back home without a college degree. For every 100 students in Atlanta Public Schools, 59 graduate on time in four years. By our best estimates, of those 59 graduates, 35 enroll in college the next year. Of those 35 college enrollees, only 17 remain in college the very next year.

Tech3The experts give tons of answers to explain the reason college students don’t cross the finish line – from experiencing personal difficulties, such as being homesick or having to comfort a family member who’s ill to finding it too difficult to adjust to life on a college campus. However, at the top of the list of reasons college students don’t graduate is

1. they’re underprepared,


2. they’re underfinanced.

Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Tech are standing together. Team APS is working hard to make sure more of our students are truly college prepared and ready. Team Georgia Tech is working hard to ease the cost of college. To go to Georgia Tech, you need about $9,000 a year if you’re a Georgia resident ($28,000 if you’re not) – and that’s only for tuition. To cover your tuition plus fees, books, housing, meals and more, you need about $25,000 in your pocket if you’re a Georgia resident ($44,000 if you’re not). College is an expensive investment but offers a huge return! The great news is that if you are a val or sal you can go to Georgia Tech for free at a great university!

Tech1Just know that we are working to find ways for EVERY APS grad  to receive a college scholarship to college. There’s much work to be done and we look forward to achieving this goal with our community for our students!