We ‘made up our mind’ to celebrate literacy and Dr. Seuss’ birthday!

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Burgess-Peterson students were eager to sing Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss.

I hugged a cuddly Lorax who wore slippers, not boots. Took selfies with Things that were tiny and cute. I grappled with friends over a fish, dog or yent. All in all, I can say, my day was well spent.

OK, OK, so I’m not Dr. Seuss or a writer anywhere near the genius that is Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s real name), but I did have a blast celebrating the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day today by reading Seuss’ newest book, What Pet Should I Get? to early learners at Burgess-Peterson Academy, Wesley International and KIPP Strive Primary! Read Across America Day is an annual, nationwide event that promotes literacy while celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

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A warm welcome from Wesley International students!

What Pet Should I Get? tells the story of a brother and sister (the same kids featured in the beloved One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish), who are having a tough time deciding on a new pet while visiting a pet store. The manuscript was only discovered in the last few years and published in 2015, 50 years after it was originally written (that is so cool).  True to form, there is a deeper message embedded in the story that goes beyond choosing a pet. The story reminds readers that choices are powerful, and when given the opportunity, they should make wise decisions. All of the kids agreed that their favorite line in the book was, “Make up your mind!”

A big Seussical shout-out to principal David White at Burgess; Lakeesha Ramdhanie, lower school dean at KIPP Strive Primary Academy; and teacher (and friend), Tracy Trammell at Wesley International, for giving me the opportunity to be spontaneous and silly with their students. Today was our day!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” –Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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KIPP Strive Primary students asked great questions today.

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APS Advances Strategy for Transformation

When I unveiled the APS Turnaround Strategy during the State of the District last October, I explained that because of the longstanding, multi-generational educational needs of our students and a looming, high-stakes potential takeover Opportunity School District, we did not have time to waste. I also expressed that we would move with deliberate speed in a way that would not always be popular or comfortable, but always essential or even critical.

We’ve been working on transforming APS for months: the Day One: Be There attendance campaign, our remediation and enrichment initiative for students affected by CRCT cheating, the launch of a college-access and scholarship partnership with Achieve Atlanta, and the establishment of a College and Career Academy with Atlanta Technical College to name a few. We have embraced a Charter System District model and cluster planning that will mean investments in signature programs for each cluster that creates pathways from kindergarten to graduation.

But we have to do more … because we are a district performing far below the potential of our kids.

Being only weeks into the implementation of our Turnaround Strategy (I invite you to go here to learn more about it), I already have much to report. In addition to the acceleration of the roll-out of social and emotional learning in schools, we have made progress in recruiting turnaround principals and teachers, and providing targeted professional learning for teachers. We are also launching high-impact tutoring in targeted schools immediately as well as a Spring Break Academy this April.

Last semester, we announced a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to solicit interested and qualified education partners who can provide turnaround services, intervention, and supports to dramatically improve student achievement in the short and long term.

At the Feb. 1 meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education, we will present three potential education partners who emerged as finalists to support turnaround work. The Rensselaerville Institute’s School Turnaround program, a nonprofit leadership development initiative designed to assist principals to achieve rapid improvement at low-achieving schools, submitted a proposal to support schools and leaders across the district. The other partners are non-profit organizations with track records of strong student achievement and have submitted proposals to work with schools in the Carver Cluster.

Purpose Built Schools, an arm of Purpose Built Communities and a partner organization with Charles R. Drew Charter School, has proposed to operate Thomasville Heights and Slater elementary schools, Price Middle School and Carver High School. The Kindezi Schools, which runs two successful charter schools in Atlanta, has offered to operate Gideons Elementary School. While both organizations are current charter operators, APS, through this RFQ process, is only considering partnerships that would involve Kindezi and/or Purpose Built Schools serving neighborhood schools with traditional attendance boundaries, not charter schools.

We will spend the next five weeks exploring the big ideas proposed by these partners, and we will do so through community meetings and open houses.

But there are other changes that must occur in the near future and this involves the operating models of some schools in our district. Let me stress first: We do not take the matter of operating model changes lightly. Therefore, we conducted a thorough analysis that considered:

We filtered all considerations through the guiding principles of our Turnaround Strategy. And as a result, I will recommend the following plan to the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 1, for action at its March 7 meeting:

  • Merge Grove Park Intermediate with Woodson Primary in the Douglass Cluster

During the 2012 redistricting process, Woodson Primary School was created as a K-2 site, serving the same attendance zone as Grove Park Intermediate School, which has 3rd through 5th grades. Grove Park’s three-year CCRPI average is 46.5, the third lowest in the district, while Woodson’s 2014 CCRPI is 83.2. Both schools are significantly under-enrolled and need renovations. To ensure stronger alignment between the primary and intermediate program, the schools will consolidate on the Grove Park campus at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

I am pleased to announce that I plan to recommend Dr. Susan Crim McClendon, a veteran APS administrator with a strong track record of performance including her work at Woodson Primary, as the principal of the new merged school.

A proposed Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) could provide as much as $18.5 million for renovations at Grove Park. The vacated Woodson site will be considered for a possible early childhood center.

  • Close Bethune Elementary and open a new innovative K-8 STEM academy at Kennedy Middle in the Washington Cluster

Ever since Kennedy Middle closed during a 2012 redistricting process, the community has asked APS to find ways to repurpose the building and leverage the asset as part of the community’s redevelopment efforts. We hope to use as much as $2 million from current SPLOST funds for facility improvements to the Kennedy building this summer and then – contingent upon SPLOST 2017 funding – another $10 million for a larger scale renovation. The community will be encouraged to participate in a planning process for the new academy including setting the vision for the school, identifying potential STEM partners and ultimately naming the new academy.

I will be recommending Dr. Diamond Jack as the new principal for this STEM school. She has built a strong foundation for STEM as principal of Venetian Hills Elementary and has experience as a middle school math and science teacher as well.

Reopening the school – under the guidance of a turnaround leader with STEM experience – will address Bethune’s three-year CCRPI average of 42.1, the second lowest in the district. Additionally, a new school – starting as a K-5 and adding a middle grade a year in subsequent years – would meet current academic needs and the anticipated growth of the Westside.

  • Merge Connally Elementary with Venetian Hills Elementary in the Washington Cluster

For the new school year, students from both schools would attend classes at Connally, following building improvements this summer. Connally has the third lowest three-year CCRPI average (46.5) in the district; Venetian Hills’ 2014 CCRPI is 76.8. Both schools have very low enrollment numbers and require significant renovations.

I recently appointed Lincoln Woods, an APS veteran and southwest Atlanta native, as principal of Connally, and he has made great strides in rebuilding the culture of the school and building strong partnerships. I’m confident that he will continue his success in a merged school.

About $23.5 million in SPLOST 2017 has been budgeted for a full-scale Connally renovation to serve the merged student population. The Venetian Hills site is also being considered for an early childhood center.

We remain committed to including families, communities and staff in the operating model changes and the education partnership selection process, and we will implement this work in an open, transparent manner. We have scheduled a series of conversations with our stakeholders over the next several weeks to share more about the Turnaround Strategy, proposed school changes and education partners. You can learn more about those sessions here; and I encourage all of you to attend and participate.

Change is never easy. But we must do what is best for students and our mission to prepare each and every one of them for graduation and college/career.

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.

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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!

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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.

Supreme Douglass High teacher headed to the Supreme Court

douglassCongratulations to Frederick Douglass High School teacher Jameka Fields! Ms. Fields is one of 60 civic education teachers selected to attend the Supreme Court Summer Institute.  The Institute will give Ms. Fields the chance to study Supreme Court cases and learn how she can bring innovative teaching techniques back to her classroom.  She will have a chance to visit the Court, attend decisions and also rub elbows with Supreme Court lawyers, reporters and other educators while she’s there.  This Institute is co-sponsored by Street Law, Inc. and the Supreme Court Historical Society.  I can’t wait to hear about her adventure.  Way to go Ms. Fields!

The Heroes of Heritage Academy

imagejpeg_0Teachers were the celebrated superheroes during Teacher Appreciation Week at Heritage Academy and the students and school leaders were celebrating with special costumes, themed days and teacher toolkit gifts from our partners at Newell Rubbermaid.

I spent time last week handing out toolkits, filled with essential classroom supplies, and getting to know more about the students and staff at Heritage.  I really wanted to know more about their improvement in one particular content area…math.

Principal Trennis Harvey was excited to tell me about his school’s academic journey.  He said that a couple of years ago he took a hard look at the ability of the students in his school and how they were performing in core content areas.  He had long and thoughtful conversations with his teachers and realized that the area in need of immediate attention was math.  Students were arriving at the school deficient in their math skills and teachers were unable to teach the standards at grade level because students 20150506_085857didn’t have the prerequisite skills necessary to succeed.  So Principal Harvey set out to make a change. The entire Heritage Academy now works on basic math skills every single day beginning at 8:00am until 8:30am. The focus is on the building blocks of math. The steps that often stump students when they move on to higher math skills in the middle grades.


The results have been noticeable.  Heritage Academy grew 28 percentage points (from 54% to 82%) in math proficiency from 2012 to 2014, the largest growth of any elementary school in the district.  I visited several classrooms where fantastic math instruction was indeed taking place.  From fourth graders working on order of operations to younger students understanding the value of money, students in every single classroom were on task and excited about learning.  As we handed out gifts to teachers, I took a moment to work with one kindergarten class on patterns and helped another young student add with her coins. I love being inside of our schools!

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Oh, and the school was immaculate. I had the pleasure of meeting the school’s custodian, Mr. Brown, and I tell you – we need more folks like him in APS. The school looked good, smelled good and felt inviting because of all of his hard work.

Thanks Heritage Academy for welcoming me and keep up the phenomenal work!

Congrats to our Gates Millennium Scholars

Atlanta Public Schools is proud to announce 17 students from the class of 2015 have been named Gates Millennium Scholars!

Gates Scholars receive full financial support for the cost of their college education as well as graduate school funding in the areas of mathematics, public health, science, library science, and engineering and computer science education.  It is a rigorous application process that requires students to not only excel academically but also write multiple lengthy essays.  Nationally, more than 50,000 students applied for the scholarship this year and out of 1,000 chosen, seventeen belong to APS!  I am so proud.

The program was established in 1999 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

Congratulations to the following students:

 


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  • Jahre Aquart
  • Amadou Bah

 


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  • Samuel Evans
  • Daniel Minor
  • Noren Merritt

 

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  • Katrina Burch

 

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  • William Smith
  • Imani Taylor
  • Mikaela Gay

 

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  • Alexis Cohen

 

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  • Diamond Davis
  • Precious Blalock
  • Jorden Favors

 

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  • Triquanna Carter
  • Breanna Rice
  • Antwarn Sanders

 

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  • Angelo Matos

 

Our Kids Have Heart: APS Competes in the 2015 Special Olympics State Indoor Winter Games

Congratulations to our APS Special Olympic athletes that participated in the State Indoor Winter Games last weekend!

Richard Hannor from Carver competed in singles bowling and brought home the gold medal!  He encountered some really tough competition, but rolled enough strikes and spares to come out in first place.  His coach is Janis Richards of Carver Science & Technology. Way to bowl, Richard!    Special Olympian RH Bowler

We had two unified Special Olympic basketball teams that competed as well. Games were held at the Smyrna Community Center in Cobb County. Coached by Head Coach Lisa Olgebsy, Special Education Teacher at North Atlanta High and Assistant Coach Nicholas Hill, Special Education Paraprofessional at North Atlanta High, these teams had an awesome showing at this year’s Winter Games.

They faced tough competition going up against teams from Gwinnett, Forsyth and Carrollton.  After a long weekend, both of our teams placed—bringing home the bronze and the silver!  Way to play ball!    Silver Team Pic

Atlanta Public Schools has been participating in the unified basketball competition for four years.  Each team is comprised of an equal number of athletes with a disability and athletes without a disability.

On the basketball teams this year, ten Special Olympians from Maynard Jackson, Booker T. Washington, North Atlanta, Carver, and Therrell earned a spot on a team through competitive tryouts. Additionally, ten general education athletic partners were selected from North Atlanta High School by the team coaches.

Bronze Team PicThis type of competition gives our Special Olympic athletes possessing high athletic skills the opportunity to participate and gain the life skills that team sports teaches.

According to Coach Oglesby, the players room, eat, and play together for the entire weekend; each bringing their own unique skills and qualities to the team. She says the wonderful thing about unified sports is that any classifications such as disabled or non-disabled fades away and all that remains is a team that plays together with a lot of heart and with one goal in mind, which is to win.

Please mark your calendars for April 1, 2015 and come out and support our kids as they participate in Special Olympics Track & Field at Lakewood Stadium at 10:30 a.m.

Visit our website for a complete schedule of APS Special Olympics events.