Three opinion pieces in the AJC – Meria Carstarphen, Ed Johnson and Maureen Downey – Part 1

August 2, 2014

The Atlanta Journal Constitution published three opinion pieces today and the authors include Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, business consultant and former Board of Education candidate Ed Johnson and AJC Get Schooled blog author Maureen Downey.

All three are a must read in their entirety as APS is about to start a new school year this coming Monday, August 4th.

Cartarphen HeadshotThe following is part one of a three-part series and contains some excerpts from Superintendent Carstarphen opinion piece titled “Building on strengths to better APS” (behind pay wall):

APS has been a system where pockets of academic excellence exist coupled with persistent challenges in the graduation and dropout rates.

How do we change our organizational culture so that the needs of children are the top priority? How do we address everyone’s hopes, fears and expectations about this system? How do we bring out the best in ourselves as adults so that we can bring out the best in our students?

In APS, we’re going to move from focusing on what’s wrong to what’s strong. Our goal is to become a culture where students and staff are engaged, supported and encouraged. This strength-based approach transitions from a culture of testing — which can be punitive and narrowly focused on weaknesses — to one that emphasizes the abilities and interests of the whole child.

…across APS this year, we will build an academic and human resource success plan driven by our strengths.

One of our emerging strengths is that we have been able to inspire, support and graduate more students, many of whom are still the first in their families to graduate from high school..

…we continue to implement a 30-60-90 day action plan to attack a number of challenges — big and small — from getting all classrooms cleaned and teachers and principals hired to improving our internal operational systems.

…Approximately 5,000 of our students do not show up or are not in class receiving instruction on Day One. A day without instruction might as well be a day absent, and research tells us that absences — as few as one or two a month — add up to hurt achievement.

…the job of educating all students in APS is a heavy lift, but I’m encouraged by the strength I’ve seen throughout Atlanta. As a school community, if we work together to get into good trouble and build on our strengths, we will overcome the most insurmountable challenges. We will become a strong system of strong schools with strong students.

The focus on strengths reminds me of a post I did last summer at the beginning of the Board of Education election titled “A Simple Question for BOE Candidates” in which I asked the question, What does the Atlanta Public School system do really well? An excerpt from that post,

I was surprised at how difficult the candidates and incumbents found this question to be. While they tend to be focused on what is wrong, knowing what is working in APS is also extremely important.

Why?

… If you know what is working… resources can be directed to areas of greater need. Additionally, if APS is performing a function very well, then the organization can begin considering how to leverage the strength and extend it into others areas of the organization.

It appears that Carstarphen is looking for and finding the strengths in APS which she can build on to achieve a higher level of success. In my opinion, she is on the right track.

[Note – I will publish a review of the other two opinion pieces published by the AJC in upcoming posts and the “Round-Up of APS Headlines from the Past Week” will come after that.]

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Carstarphen issues update on back to school readiness

August 1, 2014

APS-firstday_Post_side1Atlanta Public School Superintendent Carstarphen issued an update this morning at Talk Up APS on the status of preparations for the first day of school on August 4th. In the update, she continued to focus on the concept that it,

 “is not only the first day of school; it’s the first day of instruction. We’re relying on you to join the Atlanta Public Schools Day One: Be There campaign by attending school on the first day and every school day afterward.

She also reminded everyone that the district is holding open houses today at high schools (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.), middle schools (3 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and elementary schools (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). In addition, Carstarphen updated the status of seven key items necessary to get ready for Day One, including:

  • Hiring New Teachers – 310 new teachers hired with only 23 positions remaining vacant.
  • Hired New Principals – 22 newly appointed school principals to fill the ranks of a total of 81 school principals
  • Inspected Buses, Practiced Bus Routes and Updating Bus Schedules – bus drivers practiced routes, completed over 1,100 maintenance and repair orders, and passed more than 600 state-mandated safety inspections.
  • Creating Master Schedules for Studentsevery registered elementary, middle and high school student will have a schedule and homeroom assignment on the first day.
  • Delivered School Building Suppliessupplied all schools with toiletries (bath tissue, paper towels and hand soap).
  • Delivered Textbooks and Other Instructional Resources – there will be a delay in receiving some textbooks, which are scheduled to arrive during the first quarter of the 2014-15 school year. Teachers are moving toward hard copies of state-approved educational materials and curriculum units that are newer, higher quality, more detailed and easier for students to take back and forth to school. Teachers will use textbooks as supplemental—but not the main—resources.
  • Equipping Our School Campuses – an effort is being made to provide air conditioning on Day One.  Not all schools will have fully operational systems and, in the interim, APS will deploy spot coolers and dehumidifiers as soon as possible. All furniture has been provided to each school.

Carstarphens’s entire statement can be seen below and at Talk Up APS.

Superintendent Carstarphen gives APS community anupdate on back to school readiness

A message from superintendent Meria Carstarphen

Dear Students and Families of Atlanta Public Schools,

We’re only a few days away from the first day of the 2014-15 academic year! We want to make sure you know that Monday, August 4 is not only the first day of school; it’s the first day of instruction. We’re relying on you to join the Atlanta Public Schools Day One: Be There campaign by attending school on the first day and every school day afterward. As we count down to August 4, please be aware of two important matters:

  • Our back-to-school districtwide open houses
  • Our around-the-clock effort to get schools and classrooms ready for Day One

 

Upcoming districtwide open houses and other back-to-school events

You’re invited to attend an open house at your local school on Friday, August 1. At the open house, you will be able to meet your principal and some of your child’s teachers, as well as learn about your school’s unique features and programs for students. Open house times are as follows:

  • High schools: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Middle schools: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Elementary schools: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In addition, on August 1 and August 2, school employees, members of the Atlanta Board of Education and community partners will host several back-to-school events throughout the city. For a complete list of events, please visit atlantapublicschools.us/dayone.

Status of our efforts to be Day One ready

To make sure our schools are Day One ready, we’ve identified close to 10,000 back-to-school tasks.

So far, we’ve completed nearly 70 percent—more than 7,700 tasks—compared to the 65 percent of tasks completed by this time last year. We’ve made progress, but we still have much more ground to cover. Professionals in our schools and offices have been working together every day, including weekends, to track and troubleshoot challenges as they arise. Listed below is the status of our work in the seven key areas that many parents and employees have brought to our attention:

Atlanta Public Schools

Day One Update – As of July 31, 2014

Hiring New Teachers                                                                                                      

  • We’ve hired 310 teachers who are new to the system.
  • As of today, out of our 3,200 teaching positions, 23 positions—under 1 percent—remain vacant. Principals want the best talent, so they continue to interview candidates for the open position.
  • Our human resources department has updated its process for attracting qualified substitute teachers. Therefore, for positions that may remain unfilled, we will make sure a qualified substitute serves the classroom on a temporary basis. 

Hired New Principals                                                                                                      

  • We’ve hired 22 school principals.
  • We’re pleased to report that we’ve filled all of our principal positions. In all, 81 principals serve in our schools.                                                                               

Inspected Buses, Practiced Bus Routes and Updating Bus Schedules                             

  • We believe in safety first and have completed more than 1,100 maintenance and repair orders, and passed more than 600 state-mandated safety inspections on our buses.
  • In an effort to reduce our environmental impact, we’ve added 13 new green diesel buses to our fleet, bringing our total number of green technology buses to 30 and the grand total number of buses in our fleet to more than 400.
  • We’re updating our bus route schedules. Earlier this week, all of our bus drivers practiced their updated routes and made any necessary adjustments. Students and parents will be able to view the schedules online or pick up a hard copy at the open house that will be held at every school on Friday, August 1.
  • We’re exploring enhancements to our parent notification system to allow families to be alerted when their child’s bus is late. This messaging feature will be activated later this school year.    

Creating Master Schedules for Students                                                                          

  • This year, every registered elementary, middle and high school student will begin Day One with a schedule and homeroom assignment.
  • Students who register late may experience a slight delay in getting their final class assignments, yet all students will begin learning on the first day of school. 

Delivered School Building Supplies

  • We’ve supplied all schools with toiletries (bath tissue, paper towels and hand soap

Delivering Textbooks and Other Instructional Resources

  •  Some classrooms will experience a delay in receiving textbooks, which are scheduled to arrive during the first quarter of the 2014-15 school year.
  • We want parents to know that across Atlanta Public Schools, our teachers are moving away from relying on textbooks, which become outdated quickly and may not align with the new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards. Instead, teachers are moving toward hard copies of state-approved educational materials and curriculum units that are newer, higher quality, more detailed and easier for students to take back and forth to school. Our teachers will use textbooks as supplemental—but not the main—resources.
  • To ensure that students have the information they need to complete homework and learning activities outside the classroom, teachers will provide worksheets, class notes, sample problems, websites and other instructional resources for students.

Equipping Our School Campuses

  • We are working diligently to ensure that all of our schools have air conditioning on Day One.  As of today, we are aware that some schools have air conditioning units that have malfunctioned. In a few cases, the units can be repaired quickly; however, in other cases, repair delays may occur because we need to order and await the delivery of specialized mechanical parts. So that our schools are at a comfortable temperature for students and staff, teams have already been alerted to service the units or deploy spot coolers and dehumidifiers as soon as possible.
  • We’ve equipped all schools with the desks, chairs and other furniture our students and teachers need for instruction.
  • Landscaping for all schools will continue to occur over the next two weeks.

In the next few days, I will share another update with you. You have my commitment to be open and honest about where we stand in getting our schools ready for teaching and learning. We are working to make sure our schools are safe, supportive environments that nurture the greatness that exists in every child.

Day One: Be There. See you August 4!

Sincerely,

Meria J. Carstarphen

 


APS provides a “Day One: Be There” Tip Sheet – lots of useful information

July 26, 2014

APS-firstday_Post_side1APS Communications issued a “Day One” Tip Sheet with a summary of many of the items parents need to know in advance of the start of school on August 4th.  The Tip Sheet includes information about the attendance campaign, registration, immunization, school open houses, new principals, new charter schools, new testing, facilities, transportation, nutrition, the function of the new Ombudsman position and more. The following is the Tip Sheet as published by APS (emphasis added):

Day One: Be There. Campaign to get kids in school:

  • More than 5,000 students are absent from school on Day One from APS. Superintendent Carstarphen has launched, Day One: Be There., an attendance campaign aimed at getting kids registered and in class on August 4. For a list of back-to-school events visit, www.atlantapublicschools.us/dayone

Day One: Be There. Registration Drive:

  • Friday, August 1, 2014   9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (All APS traditional schools)

District-wide Open Houses:

  • Friday, August 1, 2014(All APS traditional schools) – High Schools 1-3 p.m.; Middle Schools 3-5 p.m. and Elementary Schools 5-7 p.m.

District Facts:

  • Approximately 50,000 students are projected to enroll for the 2014-15 school year.
  • APS has 107 learning sites.

APS has hired 22 new principals:

  • Tracie Astin – South Atlanta H.S. of Computer Animation & Design
  • Jesse Berger – Gideons E.S.
  • Betsy Bockman – Inman M.S.
  • Tony Lamair Burks II – Douglass H.S.
  • Amia Burnette – Bethune E.S.
  • Charlotte Davis – South Atlanta H.S. of Law & Social Justice
  • Curtis Douglass – North Atlanta H.S.
  • Patricia Ford – South Atlanta H.S. of Health & Medical Sciences
  • Richard Fowler – Mays H.S.
  • Woodbridge Greene Jr. – Sutton M.S.
  • Timothy Guiney – Grady H.S.
  • Marcus Jackson – Carver H.S. of Health Sciences & Research
  • Josie Love – Carver H.S. of Technology
  • Laryn Nelson – Young M.S.
  • Camisha Perry – Deerwood Academy
  • Thalise Perry – Miles E.S.
  • Dawn Parker – Crim Open Campus H.S.
  • Shelly Powell – Therrell H.S.
  • Kara Stimpson – Brandon E.S.
  • Cheryl Twyman – Fickett E.S.
  • Mario Watkins – Bunche M.S.
  • Tasharah Wilson – Washington H.S.

New Charter Schools:

  • Centennial Elementary School has become the first K-8 conversion charter school in the district. Centennial Academy will serve students in grades K-6 during the 2014-15 school year, and add a grade each year until grade 8. The academy’s revamped curriculum will include more project-based learning and extensive professional development, with an instructional focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
  • Drew Charter High School students will move from their temporary location at Kennedy Middle School to their permanent, newly constructed facility at 301 East Lake Blvd., SE 30317.
  • KIPP WAYS will open a primary school, serving kindergarteners in 2014, and add a grade each year thereafter.
  • The Atlanta Classical Academy will open as a new APS charter school, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Evaluation, Testing and Accountability:

  • For the 2014-15 school year, the state of Georgia will no longer use the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) to test students’ knowledge in reading, English/language arts, math, science, and social studies. The Georgia Milestones Assessment System, known as Georgia Milestones, will replace the CRCT, as well as the CRCT-M, the End of Course Test (EOCT) and the writing assessment administered to third, fifth, and eighth graders at APS.
  • The Gifted and Talented program will assess students only during the month of October.  Parent, teacher, and student data referrals are due October 3, 2014.  Students determined eligible will participate during the 2014-2015 school year. APS will launch the Gifted High School Redesign Program. Newly designed gifted delivery models for high school students will include mentorship, internship, resource seminars, and directed studies.

High School Administration:

  • Booker T. Washington High School will transition from three small schools to one comprehensive high school with one principal. The school is also celebrating its 90th anniversary educating high school students in the city of Atlanta.
  • D.M. Therrell High School will operate with one principal to supervise all three schools.

Information Technology:

  • Atlanta Public School students in grades 3-12 will now have access to a secure Microsoft Outlook email account through the APS student portal –My Back Pack. Students will use their APS email to share digital notebooks and collaborate with teachers and other APS students.  The Division of Information Technology is excited to bring 21st century tools to students in Atlanta Public Schools.  Parents will be given the opportunity to opt-out of student email if needed.
  • The Atlanta Virtual Academy (AVA) is increasing the number of courses available online from 12 to 44 courses this fall. For the first time, APS students can take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, gifted honors and world languages courses through AVA

School Closures/Relocations or Construction Projects:

  • Bunche Middle School – Students and staff will remain at their temporary relocation site, the former Archer H.S. facility, until renovations and additions are completed at Bunche M.S. in the summer of 2016. The Archer facility is located at 2250 Perry Blvd. N.W. Atlanta, GA 30318.
  • Coan Middle School – Coan M.S. will close and merge with M.L. King, Jr. M.S. The merged school will be temporarily housed at the original Coan M.S. facility until modifications to the existing M.L. King, Jr. M.S. campus are completed in the summer of 2016. On August 4, 2014, students and staff of the merged M.L. King, Jr. M.S. will report to 1550 Hosea Williams Dr. N.E., Atlanta, GA 30317.
  • Kennedy Middle School – Per the board’s approval in May 2012, Kennedy M.S. will complete its final phase of closing at the end of the 2013-14 school year. On August 4, 2014, students and staff from all grade levels will report to Brown M.S. located at 765 Peeples St., Atlanta, GA 30310.
  • King Middle School – Coan M.S. will close and merge with M.L. King, Jr. M.S. The merged school will be temporarily housed at the original Coan M.S. facility until modifications to the existing M.L. King, Jr. M.S. campus are completed in the summer of 2016. On August 4, 2014, students and staff of the merged M.L. King, Jr. M.S. will report to 1550 Hosea Williams Dr. N.E., Atlanta, GA 30317.
  • Mary Lin Elementary School – Students and staff will remain at Mary Lin E.S. while the school continues to undergo a phased renovation and addition. Mary Lin E.S. is located at 586 Candler Park Dr. N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307.
  • E. Rivers Elementary School – Students and staff will remain at their temporary site, the former Sutton M.S. facility, until the construction of the new E. Rivers E.S. facility is completed December 2014. On August 4, 2014, students and staff will report to 4360 Powers Ferry Road, N.W., Atlanta, GA 30327.
  • South Metro – South Metro will consolidate with North Metro, which is located at the former Oglethorpe E.S. site. On August 4, 2014, students served by both externally operated programs will report to the facility located at 601 Beckwith St. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30314.
  • Sylvan Hills Middle School – Students and staff will remain at their temporary site, the former Parks M.S. facility, until the construction of the new Sylvan Hills M.S. is completed in the summer of 2016. On August 4, 2014, students and staff will report to 1090 Windsor St. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30310.

In addition to the new construction and renovation projects, carbon monoxide detectors are being installed in all APS schools – only district in the state of Georgia.

New Ombudsman Position:

APS has created an ombudsman’s office to address student, parent and community issues. The district ombudsman serves as an independent and confidential resource, providing assistance in resolving problems, complaints, conflicts and other school-related issues.

Nutrition Department:

  • APS will implement the Community Eligibility Provision (formerly called Community Eligibility Option program) for free meal reimbursements during the 2014-15 school year.  In its second year, 57 elementary middle and high school sites will offer breakfast, lunch and snack each day, at no charge to all students. By participating in the program, APS eliminates distributing and processing meal applications and reduces administrative and printing costs at those 57 schools.  Families also benefit by automatically being eligible for free meals for their children who are enrolled at the participating schools.

Transportation Department:

  • The APS Transportation Department will conduct a practice run for bus routes on Tuesday, July 29 beginning at 6 a.m. It is important for motorists to know that bus drivers will run their routes in real time, making stops, dropping bus arms and opening doors on the busy streets of Atlanta during morning and evening rush hours. New bell start time for North Atlanta H.S. is 8:45 a.m. – all other high schools start at 8:30 a.m.
  • Forrest Hill Academy students will continue to receive MARTA cards to ride to the East Point MARTA rail station. APS will provide roundtrip shuttle service from the station to the school.
  • APS has added 13 new buses that operate on green diesel technology to its fleet. The 72-passenger, Bluebird buses are also air conditioned and will be added in all quadrants of the school zone.

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