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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Board 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.
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.
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.
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.