Atlanta Has Always Embraced Peaceful Civic Engagement (and so will APS)

On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 14, 2018, our country watched in shock (again) as we learned the horrifying details of a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — part of the Broward County Public School District — where, tragically, 17 students and staff lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured at the hands of a lone gunman. This day marked yet another senseless and devastating act of violence in our schools, sparking national outrage and debate about school safety and gun violence.

For us at Atlanta Public Schools and for so many other school districts around the country, this tragedy hits home and strikes at the core of everything about which we care. We believe our schools should be safe places for students to learn, explore, and engage in the world around them and for educators to teach and inspire. The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority and it’s something we take very seriously.

As many of you may know, on March 14, 2018, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, organizers around the country are calling for a National School Walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to protest government inaction on violence in schools and neighborhoods. You may have seen information on social media and on websites encouraging students, teachers, and their allies around the country to organize on that day, preferably a walkout, and demand that Congress take legislative action on keeping schools safe.

As the birthplace and school district of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta Public Schools takes seriously our responsibility to prepare our students to succeed beyond high school and to help them become well-rounded individuals equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary for actively engaging in society. And, as someone who was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, I have a personal appreciation and respect for the impact civic engagement can have on social change.

To support student engagement around a national dialogue on National School Walkout Day, our schools will work with our students on these issues and work with student leaders to develop a structured plan that will be implemented during that 17-minute timeframe. Some schools are already getting prepared for the learning experience!

I’m excited that our Teaching & Learning team is preparing age-appropriate, recommended instructional activities to support teachers’ efforts in facilitating this conversation around civic engagement and social responsibility.

It’s important that I emphasize here that any participation in any student-led protests or demonstration on March 14th at 10 a.m. is optional and we’re limiting the grade level to secondary schools. More information will be provided to our families closer to the date.

We are proactively communicating with students about the guidelines that will be in place around their participation in the non-disruptive activities (e.g. once the 17-minute activity is complete, instruction must resume and students who choose to go outside those expectations will be considered in violation of our discipline code).  It is also important for students to remember that disruptive “walkouts” are against district policy, and any student led demonstrations that have not received prior approval will result in disciplinary consequences.  Said simply, while we support peaceful organized protesting that is school sanctioned (with prior approval), we do not support disruption of school or obstruction of the school district’s mission, process or function as explained in board policy.

APS is focused on graduating every student ready for college and career. But, at the same time, we know that for our students to succeed, they must also be able to engage in the world around them. We believe that by creating opportunities for safe, structured, student-led civic engagement around a national dialogue such as this one, we are ultimately helping our students develop social and emotional learning skills and be informed residents in our democracy.


Thank You to the Sullivan Foundation and the City of Selma!


Thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate #Selma50!

I cannot begin to express how ecstatic and humble I feel. I keep telling myself, family and friends how undeserving I feel to be the first recipient of the Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson Foundation Phoenix Award. There are so many people – people who paved the path … people who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and made the march to Montgomery 50 years ago … people who are still alive and contributing … that deserve this award more than me.

Two weeks ago, I had the amazing honor and privilege to stand at the bedside of one of them: Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.


These brilliant APS students were a part of the APS/SCLC trip organized by our Curriculum and Instruction department.

At 93, Dr. Lowery, although not feeling his best, is still a firecracker, still dynamic with the wit, charm and passion about issues for which he is known. In the short time I talked with him, it was like taking a college course on leadership, civil rights and citizenship all wrapped into one.

I told him about the award and my reservations about being the first recipient when there are men and women like him still around. He gave a gentle laugh and shook his head. He said the award recognizes my passion for children.

And he told me to accept the award and live up to the award. First, he said, by engaging our students, like the beautiful young men and women from CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Atlanta International School who joined me in Selma this weekend. Dr. Lowery said you cannot let them continue on the path that they have been on and not let them be engaged about their future. Give them hope, he said.

And secondly, he said: Take that passion you have for students – don’t let the politics of Atlanta or Georgia, or anywhere else distract you from your mission to do right – and fight for our children.

I was so honored to be standing there at the Jackson House, a true touchstone of the Civil Rights movement, the humble home of Sullivan and Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson, who made their home available during the 1965 Voting Rights movement to give Civil Rights leader a safe and comfortable respite amid the struggle.

It’s a special place for me, as a Daughter of Selma. I come here, I see my parents, I see my friends from elementary, middle and high school, and I am refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded that although much has been accomplished, much still needs to be done.

I don’t have to tell you that Selma—on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, holds and will forever hold, a special, if complex, place in the American consciousness for its role in the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. But, for me, Selma has always been in my heart and mind, holding me steady, serving as my true north – the compass that has allowed my career path to complete a full circle.

My Selma upbringing paved the way for me to take on what some have labeled the most challenging school district in America. If I had not been raised, educated and employed here in Selma, I don’t think I would have been fully prepared for the kind of work required of me in education, certainly not the kind of work for a school superintendent in an urban setting.


What an incredible day. This award was such an honor. Thank you Ms. Jackson.

It helped me to tackle challenges with integrity, passion and grit that only Selma knows how to teach, courageousness in the face of adversity and recognition of realities about how much more we still have to overcome, and in some cases, do again. Selma helped me strive to build consensus and coalitions … often where there would have been none … and to understand when to lead, when to follow, and when to just tell naysayers and idle hands to get the heck out of the way.

It helped me at a very early stage of my career to determine exactly what it is I stand for and what I fight for. I live every day of my life without fear or worry because of traits of self-assurance and achievement my town and my family helped hardwire into me. I’ve invested in these traits and now use them as strengths to champion education for our APS children.

So I believe my job … the job of a community … must be to ensure that every student has access to a high quality education. With that high quality education, we have the power to break the cycle of poverty, the cycle of ignorance, the cycle of violence, the cycle of corruption. And, that happens because a high quality education also provides students with the skills to give them choices in life.

And as much as I am humbled by the award, I believe that is what I was raised to do when still a girl here in Selma, that is what Dr. Lowery told me to do.

Take my passion and fight for our children.

And I promise you now – as I promised Dr. Lowery two weeks ago – that I will fight to make things right for children and families again in APS.


A special shoutout to my BOE member Eshe Collins and our awesome bus drivers who came all the way to Selma to celebrate the city’s moment in history.


Our friends over at the Atlanta International School organized an incredible learning experience between their school and CSK Young Women’s Leadership Academy.


Looking good CSK ladies! I hope you enjoyed your weekend in my hometown.


We were fortunate to have a civil rights foot soldier in our midst. This kind woman explained to students how she marched 50 years ago…and again today.


What a fabulous museum. This house is a snapshot in time.


Students were given the history of “the boot room” in the Jackson home, then they saw the real room in person.


The tours were great! Thank you Ms. Jackson for inviting our students.


That chair…that is THE chair in THE room where MLK sat and watched President Johnson speak about the Selma marches on television. Cool!


Selma’s Mayor Evans with Madeline of Grady High School. Madeline was one of three Grady reporters who received White House Press access this weekend and covered the events.


A HUGE thank you to our fearless school leaders from Atlanta International School. You guys rock.