Dispatches from the District, Day Two

It’s Day Two in Atlanta Public Schools. We had such a rewarding and fun experience traveling around the district on Day One that we are out among the students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on even more Back-to-School happenings across the district. Here are my live reports for Day Two:

Day Two, 1:40 p.m., Continental Colony Elementary School (Therrell Cluster)

I believe the future President of the United States is sitting in Ms. Skipper’s second grade class at Continental Colony! Seriously!

After watching a nice activity on classroom community and responsibility in Ms. McKelvey’s second grade class, I walked next door to Ms. Skipper’s class. Her students were doing something similar, but their assignment was to draw a picture of themselves and write four words that best describe who they are.

I worked with Araya on her drawing, and drew my own self portrait. But before we left, Araya said she wanted to recite the Continental Colony school pledge. She proceeded to blow everyone away by reciting the entire pledge – more than 100 words – clearly, succinctly and without any pauses to gather her thoughts! So impressive! I’m glad District 6 School Board Member Eshe Collins was there to see it and hear it with her own eyes and ears!

Araya for President in 2056!


Day Two, 12:52 p.m., Cleveland Avenue Elementary School (South Atlanta Cluster)

I found a new buddy at Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, while sitting in on Ms. Jones’ kindergarten class, where she is assisted by a paraprofessional, Mrs. Snowden.

The class was working on identifying and writing the number three, using bright red counting chips and tiny white boards with dry erase markers. One student, Demontae, was having a little trouble. But he and I kept working at it, and working at it until finally, his “threes” began to take on the proper shape. He made my heart burst with pride when he was able to write the number twice on his own.

Demontae solidified our friendship when he asked me for a big hug before we left! Awwww! He’s such a sweetie!


Day Two, 12:03 p.m., Gideons Elementary School (Kindezi Partnership)

At Gideons, I managed to spend all of my time in Yolanda Harrell’s second grade class. I was able to put my “teacher hat” on during a math lesson where the students were learning the commutative math property.

Ms. Harrell is one of several “Turnaround” teachers at Gideons, assigned to work with the most challenged students. It is hard work, but Ms. Harrell and her co-workers are up to the task. New principal Jesse Berger and his staff are helping the school transition into becoming a full-fledged Kindezi-run school in 2017-2018. Meanwhile, great community partners like Communities In Schools, the Salvation Army and Hands On Atlanta are stepping up to help Mr. Berger and his staff with the heavy lift of changing the lives of their students for the better, through education.

I know great things are on the horizon for Gideons!

Day Two, 11:07 a.m., Centennial Academy (Conversion Charter)

Next we headed to Midtown to Centennial Academy, a conversion charter school with grades K-8.

We checked out the new technology lab and the leadership lab, a room where administrators at the school work collaboratively and do joint planning sessions. The room features large windows, so teachers and students can walk by and observe true collaboration at work.

We ended our brief tour with a visit to the “Learning Lofts,” a group of portable classrooms connected by a covered wooden walkway. The area doesn’t look like a traditional group of portables, and inside one of the seventh grade classrooms I took part in a project based learning exercise in which students formed two circles and crisscrossed their arms around each other, with the goal of “untying” the human knot they made. It was like a game of Twister, only we were standing.

But don’t worry, Centennial. As cute as the Learning Lofts are, we’re working to get the school into a temporary home at the former Bethune Elementary building. This will give Centennial time to expand its Midtown campus before moving back in.


Day Two, 10:25 a.m., Bolton Academy (North Atlanta Cluster)

As soon as we walked into Bolton Academy, we felt the love!

A group of first grade Owls from Ms.Tomkins’ class greeted me with a handmade sign that read “Look Whoooo’s Coming to Bolton Academy. Dr.Carstarphen”! How cute! They are the owls. Whoooooo! Get it?

We caught the last part of the daily Spanish lesson by Eduardo Muga in Celine Brown-Roberts’ third grade class, before he had to pack up his cart and head down the hall. Hope we can help him get his own classroom at some point … hmmmmm…putting on my thinking cap.

Later I had “una fiesta” in a Dual Language Immersion kindergarten Spanish class with Vivianne Delgado. There was dancing and movement, and nothing but Spanish. Dual Language Immersion is such a great theory for instruction! Helping our students become bilingual is awesome, especially at a school where a large percentage of the population are English language learners. It is has been a great life skill for me in my career and personal life.

What a neat little community school! Gracias, Bolton Academy!


Day Two, 9:09 a.m., Jackson Primary (North Atlanta Cluster)

As we pulled into our next stop of the Day Two tour, we were welcomed in force at Jackson Primary school by Principal Brent McBride, PTA co-presidents Erika Eaton and Dana Ugwonali, several teachers and board members Nancy Meister and Cynthia Briscoe Brown. Obviously, they were proud to show off a freshly renovated school, which brought its HVAC system into the 21st century. (The rooms still had window units and refrigerator-sized AC units from decades past!)JacksonPrimary2.jpg

While I love beautiful, well-designed buildings, I especially love dynamic teaching!

I enjoyed Kim Shield’s inventive Thumbs Up Thursday lesson, in which she used the “Up the Ladder” song to help the students learn each other’s names. (In SEL parlance, that’s a way to build relationships among our kids and help them to work together!) And I taught them the Firecracker. SSSS-Smack-Aaaahhhh!

And check out this mural from Kit Wigdale’s science class for Jackson’s K-1 gifted students. The student’s work provided an interactive way to show how anatomy and DNA works in horse breeding. They will be breaking down Ancient Rome this year complete with the Coliseum!JacksonPrimary

My favorite moment was reading with the kindergartners in the library and as one student read: “I am jumping from one vine to another in the Amazon jungle.” (There was only three actual words on the page LOL. I loved his spirit; he is SO close to reading! Keep it up!)

Throughout my visit, I could hear that catchy, healthy buzz across the school that epitomizes learning, curiosity and exploration. A quiet student is not an engaged student! We have to HEAR our kids learning.

Day Two, 7:55 a.m., Finch Elementary (Carver Cluster)

Today, we started in the southside of Atlanta with Finch Elementary School, where Principal Carol Evans and I welcomed the beautiful students in their red, blue and white outfits on the second day of school.CpBAK_JWcAERxMC

I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I grabbed something that looked like a gooey cheese blueberry-flavored burrito bar and milk from the cafeteria and ate in Wanda Vance’s classroom with her first graders. As APS followers know, I’ve been enthusiastic about our advances in school nutrition, but we need to ensure we have more hot meals. I’m not sold on breakfast in the classroom – it seems to distract our kids when instruction starts – but we have to have a solution that effectively feeds both our children’s bodies and minds.

Both Ms. Vance and teacher Yolanda Coleman opened the day with a social emotional learning (SEL) lesson about what makes a community and exciting happenings over the summer. The kids were shy at first, but some related about their new pets and visiting family and parks. We are still relatively new to teaching these concepts in our classrooms every day, so I know we will improve significantly.

As part of our Turnaround Strategy, Finch is one of 10 schools working with Rensselaerville Institute, which is providing professional learning services for principals and teachers. Along with the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), these partners are giving us the leverage to make a real difference in schools!


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