I See You: Social-Emotional Learning at Fain ES, Boyd ES, West End Academy and Crim Open Campus HS

Checking in on the progress of our schools doesn’t stop after Day One or even week one. I love visiting schools as often as possible and seeing first-hand how the decisions we make as leaders impact the day-to-day learning of students. It was great to see the beginnings of our social-emotional learning (SEL) work taking root in schools as early as the first week of the school year. In my opinion, social-emotional learning skills are the foundation of the academic success of our students.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

New Fain Elementary School principal Mr. Rasheen Booker works with students on a writing assignment during my visit.

You may remember that this spring the district entered into a partnership with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to administer its social-emotional learning program within Atlanta Public Schools. Our belief is that if students can develop healthy relationships with their peers and the adults in their lives, we know they will be more successful in school, work and in life.


I heard lots of great stories at West End Academy.

Over at Crim Open Campus High School, one of the first things Principal Parker did was to introduce me to her students and encourage them to tell their stories of success. Each student led me through their journey to this non-traditional high school and spoke enthusiastically about their futures.


Beautiful message over at Boyd Elementary School!

When Dr. Alonzo A. Crim, the school’s namesake held my job back in 1973 as the first African American to become schools superintendent in the South, he sought to build a system “where students would know that we care about them.”

And I really do care about our students at Crim. This is a non-traditional high school where students must interview to be accepted. Students here have chosen to attend this high school that values individuality, provides alternative scheduling and courses and offers innovative delivery to obtain class credits that can be used towards graduation.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Crim Open Campus students are SO awesome.

Principal Parker leads a diverse group of students and had great accomplishments with her recently graduated class of 2015, of which 36 fully completed Career, Technical and Agricultural Education or CTAE program requirements in graphic arts, culinary arts, engineering and technology, early childhood education, small business and construction.

And this is a very vocal group of students with plenty on their mind! I ran into a young lady who emailed me earlier this year with concerns about her education. We were able to get her issues resolved and it was great to see she was in school and ready to learn when I gave her a big hug during my visit.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I See You. I Am Here. Inspiration at West End Academy.

I met another student today for the first time who told me about his journey to Crim. He says he was an academically strong student and a pretty good athlete at his previous high school, but didn’t like going to class and knew he wasn’t living up to his potential. He chose Crim as an alternative to his traditional high school and not only is he on track to graduate on time, he has dreams of enrolling at my alma mater, Auburn.

Another student, Jamie Simon, who I met last school year, has really grown up over the summer! He’s a great guy and it was so good to see him. He’s headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production. I’m so proud of him!

That’s what I love about Crim.  Every student is truly focused on the mission of our district, to graduate ready for college and career and they show a profound amount of respect for one another and their teachers.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

Few things say love like a good grilled cheese sandwich! A special hug for this staff member who serves daily at the West End Academy.

While our students don’t always come in to school with the skills necessary to navigate academics and social situations, the good news is that research has shown us that SEL skills – which include the ability to develop good relationships, and make good decisions – can be taught.

I also visited Fain Elementary, Boyd Elementary and West End Academy, where the early implementation of SEL practices could be seen. At Fain, new principal Mr. Rasheen Booker had each teacher to post information about his or her education, accomplishments and interests outside their classroom door – allowing students and parents to know a little bit more about them before entering the room. There were also bulletin boards that told little known facts about the teachers, once again laying the groundwork for great conversations between teachers and their students which builds healthy relationships.

At Boyd, the bulletin board in one of the hallways says “We are here to be seen and heard,” a tenant of SEL in the district. Boyd has relocated this year and although they are in a temporary space while their campus undergoes renovations, there is evidence that new principal Mr. Marcus Jackson understands the importance of self-awareness and encourages teachers to listen deeply to the needs and desires of their students.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Crim Open Campus students have the flexibility to complete courses utilizing day and evening classes.

Over at West End Academy students were also eager to talk to me about how the supportive staff – from the front office to school leaders – were the reason they were seeing such success in the program. I wrote about West End Academy last October. The Academy offers online courses to juniors and seniors and allows students to work at their own pace. Principal Mobley proudly displays her success stories on almost every wall of the school and although she has been practicing the components of SEL for years at the school, she is looking forward to formally embracing the model.

This move toward changing the culture in the district is being infused into not only our schools, but our district offices as well. APS established board policies and administrative norms for the organization to abide to include practices such as putting students and schools first, respect for others, drive and embrace change, and accountability.


I met Jamie Simon last school year – what a great young man. Headed to AIU after this school year to study audio engineering and video production.

Hopefully our communities are already seeing the evidence of the changing culture through the collaborative work between the Board and myself as well as the emphasis on stakeholder input when we go out into neighborhoods and hold meetings around topics that affect our students and our schools.

As we continue our culture lift in the district, with the help of SEL, every child and every adult in our district will be seen…and heard.

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces. SEL in action!

Donyall Dickey, our new Chief of Schools Officer, helps a Boyd kindergarten student tie shoelaces and asks questions about their first week of school. SEL in action!


At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

At West End Academy I previewed online learning and tested out a Spanish lesson.

Hearing more stories from Crim students!

Hearing more stories from Crim students!


Teachers at Fain Elementary have detailed bios posted outside each of their classrooms.


Great conversation starter. Way to go Fain!

‘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!

My First Visit to West End Academy Performance Learning Center


One of the students walked me through a quiz question. It was tough. Associate Superintendent of High Schools, Timothy Gadson, had to lend a hand!

West End Academy offers online courses to 11th and 12th graders in a non-traditional setting where students drive the pace of their own learning.  West End has seen tremendous success.  Every student has an individual education plan that is tailored to meet their academic and social needs.

At West End Academy I was able to meet the leadership of Community in Schools who are key components to the success of this school because of the wrap-around services they provide. Principal Evelyn Mobley was able to quickly summarize the core design of the Academy, especially the elements of credit recovery and acceleration. To me this is what makes the school unique and a valuable support system to other high schools across the district. Students were able to participate in blended learning which has proven to be highly successful in environments where students need to make up their work and get back on track for graduation.

20141020_092445I was able to see a mix of classrooms from English language arts to math and science. In math class, I was able to engage in a refresher on synthetic division. It became very clear to me again that I’m glad to no longer be in high school! The best part was that the students were able to talk me through the course work as well as using the technology to reinforce areas where I had become rusty – and I mean really rusty. After one practice problem and some extra support from my 11th grade classmate, synthetic division was easy again.

In science I asked about labs and was told that all of the lab work actually takes place as part of the technology programming.  I would love to see hands on labs integrated back into the school.  There is no replacement for good,old-fashioned hands on learning and many students will benefit from the tactile experience of dissecting, measuring and analyzing in a lab environment.

20141020_093651 20141020_093701

20141020_100520The school believes that every student deserves five basics: a personal, one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to grow and learn a healthy start and a healthy future; and a chance to give back to peers and the community. To me that sounds like a recipe for success.

Students come to West End from all over APS’ high schools and must have completed the 10th grade with at least 12 credit hours.  Students return to their home schools to receive 20141020_092903their high school diplomas after earning enough credit hours.  West End currently serves 150 students and has a waiting list – I want to see the number of students grow.  There is so much good taking place here and all of our students who could benefit from the services should be allowed to attend.  I’ve already reached out to senior leaders to figure out how we can make this happen immediately.

Thank you Princpal Mobley for a great tour. West End Academy definitely lived up to everything I’ve been hearing from the community and Board of Education members.


BOE member Steven Lee stopped by just in time to help me with a math problem.

20141020_095357 20141020_095344 20141020_094716