Day and Night at North Atlanta High School


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


Art is everywhere at NAHS.


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.


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


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


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 🙂


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

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SHOUT OUT to Our Awesome Students and Staff!


EAT, SLEEP, RUN!  That was the Maynard Jackson Lady Jaguar track & field team motto this season, running all the way through the finish line to capture the 2015 GHSA Class AAA State Championship.  Marking the first state title for the school’s athletic program since 1990 when then Southside High School Lasers won the state title in basketball, these young ladies have made history!

I was a door prize! During pre-planning this year, Dr. Margarent McKenzie, our coordinator of World Languages and ESOL, had a little fun and offered me up as a door prize to teachers attending planning sessions. I love connecting with our teachers every chance I get – and I had a pleasure of spending time recently with our two winners.  From World Languages, Erica Pereira, Spanish teacher at BEST Academy High School and in ESOL, Ms. Timothea Cokley, an ESOL teacher at West Manor Elementary.  I REALLY enjoyed their classes – and appreciate their dedication to teaching English to our young learners and Spanish to students who will use the language for the rest of their lives.

I have to give a HUGE congratulations to a very special kid, Carter Lewis Guensler for being selected as the 2015 State PAGE STAR student. Valedictorian of Grady High page FOUNDATION GRADY STAR STUDENT School’s class of 2015, Carter was selected among 27 PAGE STAR student region finalists. Fourteen of which received a 2400 score on the SAT and all were in the top 10 percent or top 10 of their class.  Carter’s impressive grades and perfect SAT score earned him the school’s STAR student nomination and the opportunity to select Mr. Lee Pope as the school’s STAR teacher.  Mr. Pope is the Grady Social Studies department chair as well as instructor of Advanced Placement European history and theater.  AT&T Georgia presented Carter with a $5,000 scholarship and Lee Pope will receive a $2,500 cash award from the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation.

North Atlanta Golf

After an impressive season, the North Atlanta High School golf team is headed to the state championship tournament, Saturday May 18, 2015.  They’ve played in eight tournaments finishing second three times, third three times and have five wins with no losses in match play.  The girls soccer team also made it to the state championship this month.  Way to go!  Jackson said that playing in the state championship this year is an incredible feeling considering the youthfulness of their team. The team’s starting six is comprised of two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.  Young and talented, they’ve been making some noise over the last couple of seasons and are looking to bring home a championship!

mutual award3

Shout out to APS! Atlanta Public Schools was awarded the 2014 Mutual of America Community Partnership Award Honorable Mention. The award was given to the district for the role it played in the revitalization of the East Lake Community and for being an outstanding example of leadership in the facilitation of partnerships.

North Atlanta Golf Team headed to the State Championship

After an impressive season, the North Atlanta High School golf team is headed to the state championship tournament, Saturday, May 18!

They’ve played in eight tournaments finishing second three times, third three times and have five wins with no losses in match play.  I wanted to check in with Coach Sarden to see how he feels about the upcoming tournament.

Coach Sarden is confident in his team as they are plenty prepared from practice and tournament play.

“In youth we learn, in age we understand,” he constantly reminds his players.

“I try to give them a little understanding about the game. A lot of golf is mental,” said Sarden.

“I ask them to take one shot at a time and visualize it going down the fairway.”

Visualizing bringing a championship title home, junior golf player Jackson Perkins said they are going out there with something to prove. “No one is really giving us a shot. So were going to go out there, fire at some pins and see if we can make some history.”

Jackson said that playing in the state championship this year is an incredible feeling considering the youthfulness of their team. The team’s starting six is comprised of two juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.

Young and talented, they’ve made some noise over the last couple of seasons.

Sophomore, Winston Meshad finished second in the State Championship last year shooting a four under par and has won several other honors for outstanding play in other tournaments.

Andrew Taylor showed up big last year to post a score that helped North Atlanta place in the top four in the state championship tournament.

Jackson Perkins has put up some good numbers, but it’s his leadership and attitude that Coach Sarden admires the most.

Jackson expressed what he loved about playing golf. “I love the team atmosphere and everyone playing for each other. Not just yourself,” he said. “It’s a family thing.”

Golf, like many other sports, translates into the classroom well— requiring patience, discipline, thinking skills and composure. Coach Sarden said that the term student-athletes truly embodies their commitment to the classroom; sharing that his girls golf team has a perfect 4.0 GPA.

He is confident in his players’ ability to win a state title. He reminds them to be committed to doing their best every time out. “If we do that, we win,” said Sarden.

“I believe we can win the state championship.”

The state championship tournament is Saturday May 18, 2015 at the GHSA State Championship Courses.  Best wishes, I hope you bring home a win!

For more information about the state championship event, visit

GADOE Announces 2015 Georgia Scholars

Georgia Scholar Anna Gustafson at Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Star Student Awards Ceremony

Georgia Scholar Anna Gustafson at the Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Star Student Awards Ceremony

Our high schools are full of talented students doing amazing work not only in their classrooms, but also in their communities.  Last week, the Georgia Department of Education recognized eight Atlanta Public Schools graduating seniors as 2015 Georgia Scholars.  They join 175 other Georgia 12th graders who have also achieved excellence in their academic life as well as their community life.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods made the announcement and said, “I want to congratulate our 2015 Georgia Scholars.  In addition to academic success, I believe we have to teach our students about life and the importance of soft skills. These students have shown that they possess both, and I am confident we will be hearing much more about these students’ accomplishments in the near future.”

Who are these students? According to the Georgia Department of Education:“…students eligible for Georgia Scholar recognition are high school seniors who exhibit excellence in all phases of school life, in community activities, and in the home. Georgia Scholars are students who have carried exemplary course loads during the four years of high school; who performed excellently in all courses; who successfully participated in interscholastic events at their schools and in their communities; and who have assumed active roles in extracurricular activities sponsored by their schools.”

Wow! These are some pretty awesome kids.  Congratulations!

Georgia Scholar Program Winners

D.M. Therrell High

Mya Green

Grady High

Lucy Lombardo

North Atlanta High

Tyler Ball

North Atlanta High

Anna Gustafson

North Atlanta High

Richie McClure

North Atlanta High

Spencer Shelton

North Atlanta High

Paul Spiegl

North Atlanta High

Chaz Torres

‘Shout Out’ to our great students, teachers and schools

There are a lot of GREAT things happening in our district. Each month I give “shout outs” to students, staff and volunteers who are helping us with our mission to have every APS student graduate ready for college and career.  There is SO MUCH good happening in APS, this may become a weekly blog post!

Let’s give a shout out to:

Rivers Elementary School for rallying more than 100 student walkers and their families, including dogs and strollers, for Georgia Walk to School Day. Some families walked three miles one way! What a great way to inspire community and fitness!

-West End Acadeym B  Devalle

Brijida Del’valle of West End Academy! She was chosen by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and the Center for Civil and Human Rights for the center’s first Youth Activism Fellowship. This fellowship gives metro-Atlanta teenagers the opportunity to explore the intersection of culture, community, and human rights with a particular emphasis on human rights leadership.  Students are chosen based on their leadership qualities. Way to lead Brijida!


Aleigha Henderson-Rosser executive director, Information Services and her Atlanta Virtual Academy team for offering our APS high school students free test preparation services as they prepare for college entrance exams.


North Atlanta High School for excelling in leadership, arts and athletics!


The North Atlanta High School JROTC Leadership Team placed first out of 521 teams in the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl Level II competition and have advanced to level III.   They were one of 40 leadership teams chosen to advance to Washington, DC for the Level III National Leadership Bowl, June 26-30, 2015.


The North Atlanta High School Concert, Symphonic and Philharmonic Orchestras each received Straight Superior Ratings at the Georgia Music Educators Association’s Large Group Performance Evaluation.

North Atlanta’s swim team finished 7th overall in the state!

Keep up the good work NAHS!

West Manor Elementary 5th grade student Kendall Smith. Kendall has been named a Ben Carson Scholar and will receive a $1,000 scholarship. This is the second year in a row that West Manor has produced a Carson Scholar. Congratulations Kendell!


Beecher Hills Elementary for fostering an atmosphere of parent engagement. The school’s PTA President, Antwan McKee received the 2015 Georgia Parent Leadership award. How awesome is that?

Early College pre-engineering student, Taylor Dalton of Maynard Jackson High School. She received a cash award from Mr. Rod Batiste of Fast Track Atlanta for her group’s t-shirt design in the Small Business Project contest. Taylor was the Chief Operating Officer for her group. The Maynard Jackson-NASP FAST Track Program is a nine-month program that allows students to explore different careers, learn about starting a business and prepares the student to be successful in all of their endeavours!  Congrats Taylor!

APS students that placed in the High School Innovation Weekend 2015 challenge. Senior executives from Coca-Cola invited students to create solutions to address the challenge of inspiring the next generation of teens to connect and engage, with Coca- Cola in mind. The students were split into teams with students from different high schools.  APS students whose team placed first in the challenge were Tyrhonda Stinson and Rakim Woods of Maynard Jackson High School.  APS students whose team placed second were Dominique Pope, Juaqueair Johnson and DeAndre Green of Maynard Jackson High School and Brandon Sykes of Drew Charter School. Great Job!


The Mays girls basketball team for winning their region championship and making it all the way to the State Championship game for the first time since 2003! Awesome job ladies. What a great way to represent your school and community.

Way to go APS! Keep up the great work!

West Point Hosts LEADS Conference for APS Students

DSC_0119Last Friday, 171 APS middle and high school students attended a Leadership, Ethics, and Diversity in STEM “LEADS” Conference at North Atlanta High School, hosted by the United States Military Academy at West Point.  The guest speaker for the conference was our very own Dr. Timothy Gadson, associate superintendent of High Schools!  During the event, students broke into small groups where they interacted with West Point cadets.  APS middle school students attended STEM robotic sessions while high-schoolers and cadets discussed ethical decision making.  At the end of the day, the conference was treated to several funny yet poignant skits about how today’s teenagers face ethical dilemmas.

Lt. Col. Anthony Johnson, Math Dept. Director at West Point, stated “for every
unemployed American, there are two unfilled STEM jobs due to the lack of qualified applicants.”  Johnson then went on to say “West Point’s goal is to broaden an under-represented urban pool of potential employees by introducing them to STEM and leadership.”  Lt. Gen. Bob Caslen, West Point’s Superintendent, views this as a “win-win” partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, hoping to interest students in West Point.  For many that don’t know, the United States Military Academy annually ranks amongst the top five public colleges nationwide – and is free to attend.  Graduates serve in the Army for four years as an officer.  After their four-year service obligation, many West Point graduates go on to land six-figure engineering jobs on par with their Ivy League counterparts. DSC_0149Our students had a great time last Friday.  Hopefully they learned a little bit about ethics, STEM, and what it’s like to be a West Point cadet.

My 100th blog post – Hooray for learning!

There are at least a hundred reasons to get excited about the great things happening in APS. What is the best way for me to celebrate my 100th blog posting? By celebrating our students of course!

Take a look at a few awesome highlights from around the district.

Two North Atlanta video broadcast students, Jada Jackson and Joy Longely spent today on the set of the daytime show, Atlanta & Co. with television hosts Rashan Ali and Christine Pullara. They were able to go behind the scenes and were encouraged to dream big, network and give back. These students were chosen to cover APS football games as a part of a mentorship program with Atlanta Football Insider.


Photo from Thomasville Heights Twitter feed


It is important to keep our kids physically active on a daily basis. Check out this group of Thomasville Heights students exercising in Coach Rambo’s physical education class. Way to keep our kids moving!

Photo from Perkerson Elementary's Facebook page

Photo from Perkerson Elementary’s Facebook page

Perkerson scholars learn about conservation and protecting the environment as they work with Trees Atlanta to plant 50 trees, including the ceremonial tree at their school. Their efforts help to launch TOTO USA’s Urban Greenways project.  The initiative is to improve children’s well-being by planting 250 trees on the streets that lead to schools. Way to keep our communities beautiful!

Photo from Mr. Foster's Twitter feed

Photo from Mr. Foster’s Twitter feed

Technology department chair Terry Foster and students at Carver School of Technology work to refine their programming skills using EV3 Robots in the GAETT (Geniuses Achieving Excellence through Technology) after-school program. Mr. Foster along with Instructional Coach Christina Rogers were able to implement this program from the Google Rise Award they received earlier this year. Thank you Google for supporting our schools!


Photo from Kipp Strive Primary Facebook page

The Kipp Strive Primary flag football team did an amazing job this year. They finished the season undefeated and took home the first place trophy. Their Facebook post says “ ‘Like’ this post for the hardest working scholar athletes in Atlanta.” Way to work hard KSP!

Photo from Inman Middle School Twitter feed

Photo from Inman Middle School Twitter feed

Seventh graders in Ms. Vaughn’s science class at Inman Middle School get creative with their project about the human body. The students were learning how the different parts of the body work together to keep the body at homeostasis. Look at that great work!

‘Shout Out’ to our great students, teachers and schools

There are a lot of GREAT things happening in our district.  Each month I will give “shout outs” to students, staff and volunteers who are helping us achieve excellence in Atlanta Public Schools.

Let’s give a shout out to…

The 38 North Atlanta High School students who competed against students from 17 other high schools in the Embracing Differences-Students Draw the Line Against Prejudice contest. They made a clean sweep walking away with all three awards for the high school category. Congratulations to the three student winners: Erin Jimison, Maggie Richardson,  and Allie Barbone.

Our ten Posse finalists at Benjamin E. Mays and Maynard Jackson high schools. Congrats Maria Gallo-Blanco, Jamiah Shoemake, Nia Carter, Lena Adams, Angel Gabriel, Keairra Brown, Danielle Simmons, Selema Gonzalez, Kennedi Brantley, and Atia Butts!

Posse finalist from Mays High School.

Posse finalists from Mays High School.

Maynard Jackson High School students Cecilia Cole and Selema Gonzalez who earned Superior ratings for their solos at the Georgia Music Educators Association Festival.  They performed Italian Arias and operatic solos, for an adjudicator for the coveted top rating.

Henry W. Grady High School’s debate team, “The Grady Jesters” which competed in the Saint James School Speech and Debate Tournament in Montgomery, Ala. winning the award for Overall Sweepstakes Champions!

B.E.S.T Academy High School students, Tyler Bivens and Kaleb Anderson! Both have been selected to intern with the Atlanta Hawks for three months!  This opportunity will provide these students with some very valuable experiences.

Way to go APS! Keep up the great work.

Eight APS Schools Named 2014 Reward Schools by the Georgia Department of Education

The Georgia Department of Education has announced the 2014 Reward Schools.  Eight APS schools earned Reward designations this year.
A Highest-Performing School is among the five percent of the state’s Title I schools with the highest absolute performance, over three years, for the “all students” group on the statewide assessments. A school may not be classified as a Highest-Performing School if it has been identified as a Priority, Focus, or Alert School.
A Highest-Progress School is among the 10 percent of the state’s Title I schools making the most progress in improving the performance of the “all students” group over three years on the statewide assessments. A school may not be classified as a High-Progress school if it has been identified as a Priority, Focus, or Alert School.
making the list this year.  
In a release earlier today, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge said “The schools on this list represent some of the finest efforts being put forth in Georgia education.  The educators, parents, students, and communities who came together to move these schools forward should take great pride in the results.”
I agree.  The 2014 APS Reward Schools are:
Highest Performing
  • Charles Drew Charter School
  • Inman Middle School
  • KIPP Strive Academy
  • West Manor Elementary School
Highest Progress
  • North Atlanta High School
  • Perkerson Elementary School
  • Scott Elementary School
New to the list this year are KIPP VISION, North Atlanta High School, Perkerson Elementary School and Scott Elementary School.  
Former Rewards List Schools (2012 and 2013)
Highest Performing & Highest Progress
Early College High School at Carver  (2012, 2013)
Highest Progress
Booker T. Washington  – Early College Small School  (2013)
South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School   (2012)
The Best Academy at Benjamin S. Carson (2012)
Washington High School (2012)  

This is our moment to climb!


Not only is this little girl beautiful, but she has perfect attendance! We want kids to show up on the first day and every day after that!

Yesterday was the Big 10—our 10-year anniversary for our annual State of the Schools address. Almost every year since 2004, the citizens of Atlanta have come together for a public conversation about the state and fate of our schools. We held two events, one in the morning at North Atlanta High School and the other last night at Douglass High School.  This was my first state of the schools in Atlanta, (it also happens to be my 10th week on the job), and I want to say thank you to everyone who came out to hear the address in person, those of you who caught the highlights on my Twitter feed and those who watched via livestream.



Thanks for the great introduction Jose!


I especially want to thank our student participants from both State of the Schools events. Jose Rodriguez Lopez introduced me at North Atlanta High. Mr. Lopez has dreams of becoming a Tony Award winning actor – and judging from his command of the stage, I believe he could easily realize that dream.  Another talented student, Bethany Bell, gave the best rendition of the national anthem ever, (trust me – I’ve heard many, many school district renditions of the national anthem and this one was phenomenal).

StateofSchoolsBethanyBellOver at Douglass High School, Lamarius Minor helped me warm up the crowd! Lamarius is a young actor who plans to attend Full Sail University and pursue a career in entertainment.  We were able to get a glimpse of his improvisational skills as he led the entire audience in “the wave” to celebrate 10 Douglass High School seniors who have qualified for the Move on When Ready Program, which means they will be starting college this January. Yes…I said college!


So far, we’ve had 25,425 students with perfect attendance since the first day of school! Several attended our State of the Schools as our special guests.

I was also excited to honor another great group of students last night – those who have had perfect attendance since the first day of school.  We randomly selected 80 students with perfect attendance and asked them to join us for our State of the Schools event.  We heard our first lady, Michelle Obama, say Monday at Washington High School: Attendance matters.  In APS, we have students—especially at the high school level—who miss one day every two weeks. That adds up to one month of missed instruction every year. Over five years, it adds up to about half a school year of missed instruction. If students miss school, they can’t learn. If students miss school, they will not be ready for the new Georgia Milestones test, a much harder test that is replacing the CRCT and EOCT this year.

To help our students get to school, we launched an attendance campaign called Day One: Be There. Our preliminary numbers show that approximately 1,650 more students showed up to school on the first day this year compared to last year.

Thank you to Chick-fil-A, Dollar General, the Georgia Aquarium, Macy’s, Six Flags and Stone Mountain Park, The Zeist Foundation and The Buckhead Church donating treats to kids this school year for their perfect attendance. I can’t say it enough…attendance matters.


Ms. Coleman, Ms. McIntyre, Ms. Romenesko, Ms. Smith and Ms. Twyman are part of a team of about 12 APS teachers across various core subjects and grade levels who passed our rigorous selection process to earn the title as a demonstration classroom teacher.

The State of the Schools wasn’t the only great idea born 10 years ago. We are also celebrating our 10th anniversary of the Cultural Experience Project, a wonderful partnership with the city of Atlanta and dozens of cultural and arts venues, which provides every APS student with at least one free field trip to a local arts venue every year.

And no one should forget that almost 10 years ago, the New Schools at Carver reopened its doors as a college-prep campus with a new academic attitude to transform from being one of the lowest performing high schools in Georgia to a campus today of four small schools, one of which—Carver Early College—is the highest performing high school in Atlanta and was named this week by Newsweek Magazine as one of the highest performing in the NATION!


The NAHS orchestra sounded incredible!

Our students– from the members of the school orchestra who performed as I entered the building, to the student chefs on duty at our food stations and JROTC members who opened each event– inspire me even more. They remind me that in order to have a much longer list of accomplishments 10 years from now, we will need to have a good and gritty—determined, brave, courageous and realistic—conversation about our children, our charge and our changes. Real change doesn’t happen by accident; it will happen because we apologetically plan for it, and we accelerate our work tenfold.

I want a district filled with people who love being around children and will encourage their talents.

So who are our children? For every child we are fortunate to serve in our school system…

  • One in 10 is classified as gifted and talented.
  • One in 10 has special needs.
  • Nearly eight in 10 qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
  • 5 out of 10 attend our community schools while 1.5 out of 10 attend our charter schools.

Our board members are parents, alumni, former educators and community advocates, and they care deeply about children.

But our children are more than statistics. They have their own hopes and dreams. They are planning for their futures. As a former teacher, I came prepared for class last night with an important assignment for everyone. I asked each audience member to summon their inner child. I asked them to think back to the tender age of 10 when their very survival depended on the adults around them—at home, at school, in their neighborhoods.

It was important for everyone to take a moment to remember that we serve approximately 50,000 children across 106 learning sites and programs. Our children have hopes and dreams, and they depend on us for protection, support, motivation and inspiration. We have a collective responsibility to serve each of them.

So what is the state of our schools? There is enough institutional knowledge and there is enough evidence to conclude that a lot of good and growth has occurred in our school system over the past 10 years. At the same time, it’s no secret that we’ve suffered some setback.

During the past decade, we’ve declared everything in our the state of our schools  events. From we are growing every day, and making steady, incremental progress—to the state of APS is solid, the mountain top is in sight, and APS is becoming a model urban school district. We’ve also said that APS is poised to succeed, and the system is moving in the right direction.

Instead of making another declaration about the state of APS, I just want all of us to get to work. In some ways, our vital signs are excellent. In other ways, we’re in recovery mode.  I’ve met good people, great people, who have been here and are coming here because they want to see the system recover. With all that is in the past, I remain very hopeful. We’re going to work long and hard to be a bunch of big people working with little people to make them the best big people we could ever imagine becoming.

Yesterday I gave a big shout-out to the members of the Atlanta Board of Education. Serving on this current board are six newly-elected members and three re-elected members. We’ve participated in two board retreats together. In the first retreat in April, I hadn’t officially started the job, but I could feel the pressure under which board members served.

Board members had concerns – from making sure parents had bus schedules and the buses would be running on time by the first day of school to addressing the needs of student groups and families who feel completely disenfranchised from the school process. The bottom line message I heard was, “You’re in transition, but you need to get fixin’!”

Fast forward to the board’s second retreat, which happened in August. By that time, we were able to catch our breath because we had a more successful Day One—not perfect but much better than in previous years. Therefore, we could switch our attention toward long-range planning and developing the charge for the district—that is, our mission and vision. The mission is what we do every day. The vision is our aspirational view of where we want to go as an organization.

Using input from various stakeholders, we developed the draft charge for APS:

  • Mission: Through a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every APS student will be ready for college and career.
  • Vision: A high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators work to inspire, parents are engaged, and the community has trust in the district.

In addition, we maintained the “4Es” as the principles and core values that will guide our actions:

  • Excellence … in everything we do
  • Equity … in the distribution of district resources
  • Ethics … to protect our integrity
  • Engagement … with our community

Together we’ve created a strategy logic map or, more simply, a change strategy that identifies the four big buckets of our work: academic program, talent strategy, systems work and culture.

In the area of academics, math keeps me up at night, and I know I’m not alone.  On July 23, 2014, The New York Times published an article entitled “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” Writer Elizabeth Green says we stink because our country has been math reform happy without any good system for helping teachers learn to teach the new reforms. Like other states, Georgia has implemented different math curricula over the years. Therefore, our strategy for attacking math—and all content areas in APS—begins with implementing standards-based learning in every classroom and ends with ensuring our teachers are consistent in the methods they use to deliver instruction. Some of the best teaching I’ve ever seen in my life has been right here in APS. To be honest, the reverse is also true, and we’re going to fix that. This year, we’re going to do more to implement best practices from exemplary APS schools and classrooms with high-quality teachers.

When it comes to our employees, we need to set a new standard for how we recruit, attract, retain, promote and support the very best talent at every single level of Atlanta Public Schools. Our families deserve the best bus drivers, custodians, nutrition team, principals, administrative assistants, teachers – everyone. We need to hire people who not only can do their jobs well, but also love children. As part of our talent strategy, we’re investing in something called strengths-based professional development, a national, proven training program that helps develop employees’ strengths so that they can develop the strengths in those they serve, who for all of us, ultimately, are our students.

We still have a great deal of work to do at APS around our systems and processes. From our HR systems to our student information management systems, our teachers, our principals, and our central office staff are not positioned today to make good decisions that are grounded in accurate data.  We must fix this.  We also must implement the discipline to allocate resources in a way that is aligned to our strategic direction to ensure that our students’ needs are appropriately prioritized.

The fourth and final category in our change strategy is culture. Changing our culture is the most important area of our work. A caring culture of trust and collaboration in the workplace prevents our best talent from leaving the district. A caring culture of trust and collaboration in the classroom prevents a child from dropping out. It’s all connected. Our aim is for APS to be a system where every school builds on each student’s strengths and every teacher make each student excited about the future. This is the core of our change strategy.

As we align the strategic priorities moving forward, we have a critical decision ahead of us. We need to select a new school system operating model and flexibility option. Will Atlanta Public Schools be an IE2 system (Investing in Educational Excellence System), a charter system, or a status-quo/non-waiver system?  It depends on the level of flexibility or exemptions we want from state law, the kind of innovation we want to undertake, and the additional accountability measures we want to meet. It depends on how much we as a community decide to shift decision making from the central office to the schools. It depends on the direction in which we want to go based on our mission and vision and hopes and dreams, and which option will help us get there for our children.

Contrary to suspicions, I have not settled on any one option. I’m still learning and listening. This Saturday, Sept.13, we are hosting a School System Flexibility Options Workshop at Maynard Jackson High School.  There are two sessions – the first is from 9am until 11am and the second is from 1pm until 3pm.  Please make plans to attend.  We’re all in this together.

Our children are depending on all of us to keep pulling together to make sure we as a city invest in them. From building more quality early childhood learning opportunities and providing stronger wraparound services to making college more affordable by creating more scholarships programs, we need to do what it takes to work together to put the needs of children first. Our children must be our #1 focus … every day and always.

Again, thank you, everyone, for coming out, tuning in to our livestream or following us on social media last night, and for supporting our children, our charge and our changes in Atlanta Public Schools.


Missed the address?  Watch here:


APS culinary students serve guests before the event at Douglass High School.


Thank you Lamarius Minor of Douglass High for your energy and talent.


We need to hire people who not only can do their jobs well, but also love children. All of these employees serve as examples of what is good in APS.


Thanks for joining us for the 10th annual State of the Schools address!