Rolling Through the District for Day One

Welcome to SY18-19!

This morning, like thousands of students within Atlanta Public Schools, my team and I boarded one of our school buses (shout out to our driver, Mr. Rapley!) with excitement and anticipation for a long but wonderful day ahead! It’s Day One of the 2018-2019 school year!

As part of our DAY ONE tradition, we will visit students, teachers, administrators, support staff and the community to report on Back-to-School happenings across the district. Throughout Day One, we will share our journey in real time on this blog and on twitter (@CarstarphenMJ and @APSUpdate). Follow along with the #APSFIRSTDAY hashtag.

4:40 p.m. – Mays High School Football Practice (Mays Cluster)

This fall, hundreds of our student athletes will finish their school day at practice. So what better way to end our DAY ONE tour than with one of our amazing sports teams!

The #aMAYSing football players of Mays High School let me spend a little time with them as they prepared for a grueling season to bring home the W — their seniors want to secure a THIRD consecutive region championship for the school and beloved coaches, especially Coach Resty Beadles!

The Raiders are getting ready for a big season! They are the first APS team EVER to compete in the famous Corky Kell Classic. They’ll compete against Norcross High School on Saturday, August 18 at 8:45 pm at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. BE THERE! They’ll also compete in the first annual Cam Newton C1N Georgia vs. Alabama Showcase against Phenix City on Saturday, August 25 at 8:00 pm at Lakewood Stadium.

Last year, 22 seniors from the class of 2018 earned college football scholarships. I can’t wait to see what happens this season on and off of the field!

It’s been a long day, but one full of excitement and hopefulness that the DAY ONE joy for learning that I witnessed from students and educators will continue throughout the  school year.

In the words of Robert Frost, “We have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.”

Thank you APS for a fantastic Day One! #APSFIRSTDAY

3:45 p.m. – Bunche Middle School (Therrell Cluster)


As we neared the end of the day, I made a quick stop at Bunche Middle School to say hello to its new principal, Octavius Harris. Mr. Harris is a longtime member of the Charger family, having taught mathematics at Bunche from 2006 to 2012.

 For the past four academic years, Mr. Harris served as assistant principal at APS’ D.M. Therrell High School, where he decreased freshman cohort suspensions by 11 percent, developed a mathematics program to increase student enrollment in accelerated mathematics, and created an after-school program to engage Athletes in Technology and Mathematics (ATM).

I made it just in time to say a quick hello before school let out…and get a few hugs from my favorite autism teachers on site!

I look forward to seeing the implementation of his vision at Bunche Middle!


2:50 p.m. – Crawford W. Long Middle School (South Atlanta Cluster)

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is the signature program in the South Atlanta Cluster, and Long Middle School was the perfect place to see STEM curriculum in action! We visited the school’s science lab, and we stopped by the new 21st Century Media Center, where we saw STEM interactive kits.DjiiDqcU0AAMtgL

However, technology isn’t reserved for the classroom.  At Long Middle School, technology is also used to collect data to create effective action plans for the betterment of our students.

In a first for Atlanta Public Schools, the American School Counselor Association recognized Long Middle School for delivering a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program in an exemplary educational environment. It was my honor to take a selfie with the award-winning counselors of Long Middle School.

Principal Lisa Hill, a proud product of APS, has her building pumped for the new year!


2:00 p.m. – Perkerson Elementary School (Carver Cluster) 

1Our eighth stop of the day is a school where all the educators are  superheroes: Perkerson Elementary School. Together, students and parents, are going to put Perkerson on the map!

According to the recent Georgia Milestones results, 4th grade ELA is up 10 percentage points in proficient and above since last year.

As we toured the school with Principal Tony Ford,  I was able to see so many wonderful changes! The media center has gone from terrible to terrific! Now it’s more bright and spacious! A great place to read and learn especially on the new “oodle” stools! The cafeteria has been redone as well! It even has curtains with cute little bows made by the recently retired Ms. Huey, a former teacher of the year in APS! She woke up early this morning to come back to Perkerson to volunteer and help with Day One! Now that’s Perkerson Pride!

After walking through the renovation sites, we spent time with Ms. Burchfield’s 5th grade class where I saw one of my favorite students, Ralphie Long! His cool classmates are the top cats of the school – Jaguars! These wildcats are smart and focused! I can tell that they’re going to have a great year!

I’m so excited about what’s happening at Perkerson!



1:00 p.m. – Benteen Elementary School (Jackson Cluster)

We were greeted at Benteen by the Dazzling Divas cheerleading squad! Even on a rainy day they had big time Benteen spirit! Such a fun way to start the visit!

After getting energized with the cheerleaders, we dropped in on the school’s first dual immersion class. This year, Principal Andrew Lovett and the Benteen team are launching the Dual Language Immersion program, where students will spend half of their day learning in Spanish. APS has the distinction of being the only school district in Georgia to offer world language opportunities in ALL schools. The kindergartners I met today will be fluent readers and writers in Spanish in 5 years! How cool is that?!DjiEXt0VAAAFV5a.jpg

I was happy to see bilingualism displayed throughout the building, as we made our rounds to the various DAY ONE selfie stations.

According to the recent Georgia Milestones results, 5th grade science is up 8 percentage points in proficient and above since last year. ELA achievement across grades 3-5 increased over 6 percentage points in proficient and above since last year.

Dr. Andrew Lovett is an absolute gem, and his school, staff and students are reflections of that!

The Bulldogs are ready for the year ahead!


Noon – Mary Lin Elementary School (Grady Cluster)

We headed over to Mary Lin Elementary School for our midday DAY ONE visit, and we were captivated by the school’s new outdoor murals.  That play space has come a looooooong way since my first-year post renovation. We laughed (but I really wanted to cry) recalling all the trauma and drama getting school open that year and all the work that still needed to be done. BUT, TODAY you would never know how far the school facility has come! IT’S GORGEOUS and just keeps getting more beautiful as more finishing touches are added.

6For example, acclaimed Atlanta-based muralist Kyle Brooks created the colorful display of rockets, birds, a crooked smiling tree, a janky-legged cat and giant chicken totems in just 7 short days during the summer. He said he wanted to paint characters that would inspire Mary Lin students to create funny names and stories. I think Mr. Brooks would be pleased to see just how creative and brilliant our Mary Lin students are. According to recent Georgia Milestones results, 56% of 5th graders scored distinguished (THE highest achievement level) in math.

I also enjoyed the space mural in the hall courtesy of Hands on Atlanta! It’s sooooooo beautiful!!

Principal Sharyn Briscoe took us on her annual post-lunch snack tour to distribute goodies to teachers. This also involved me trying to explain my job, our district, and how it all works with various grade levels. I even got in a few selfies with students and staff, saw familiar faces (Hey! Coach Hicks!) and met 41 year old Cecil, a turtle, in Mrs. Guthrie’s 1st grade class. Cecil was a gift to Mrs. Guthrie from her dad (a former science teacher) when she was 10! So cool!

Under the leadership of Principal Briscoe, Mary Lin will be taking off to the stars again this year!



10:40 a.m. – E. Rivers Elementary School (North Atlanta Cluster)

When you visit the Georgia Department of Education Healthy Schools Award recipient, E. Rivers Elementary School, be prepared to exercise your body and mind!

Outside the school, the scuttle centered around new STEM lab but that had to wait so we could meet the newbies! Pre-K was lining up for lunch so we kicked off the visit by giving Day One stickers to the adorable pre-K babies and checking in on how they were feeling. First day of school for them can have a few tears but not today…all smiles from these new students!

Next, we went to the media center to check out the adorable layout of the library and the LEGO Wall. It’s super cool! Media Specialist Ms. Paula Boston surprised us with a LEGO #APSFIRSTDAY in honor of us trending on Twitter!

We continued to Ms. Arango’s 1st grade dual immersion class, and brushed up on our Spanish! Muchas Gracias, Sra. Arango’s class!

Principal John Waller is very excited about the new STEM LAB. The learning continued as Ms. Sanders explained how students will cycle through and learn more about the scientific process in the lab. I got a crash course learning about the scientific method, the inquiry process, and variables. They’re definitely going to learn a lot and have fun doing so!

Several students across the campus were putting their brains to action via Tab2Read – an  APS initiative where first and second graders receive tablets loaded with literary learning-based apps and e-books . Although, I didn’t get the chance to actually join in on the fun, I know the students will enjoy brushing up on their sight words using the tablets.

According to recent Georgia Milestones results, over half (51%) of  the 5th graders scored proficient and above in social studies last year, which is up over 17 percentage points since last year. ROAR!

I’m amped to see what’s ahead for the Lions this year!

We refueled with a hot, nutritious meal. On the elementary menu today: Back-2-School BBQ! I joined some of my  new 5th grade BFFs to eat baked beans, corn on the cob, broccoli cheese casserole, BBQ chicken, apple slices and chocolate milk. My lunch companions from Mr. Hulsing’s 5th were great conversationalists!

I met a student, Isaiah Inyang, in the lunch line. He read 27 books over the summer and each book had over 100 pages. Now that makes THIS superintendent very happy! Just one example of the amazing students at E. Rivers.

Shout out to principal Dr. John Waller and new business manager Kimberly Bowser (she’s been promoted) and their team for being such gracious hosts!



9:35 a.m. – Booker T. Washington High School (Washington Cluster)

Can’t go to Booker T. Washington High School without getting a picture of the iconic statue  of the school’s namesake out front!MC photo.jpg

“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” – Booker T. Washington

Rich in history, under the leadership of Principal Dr. Tasharah Wilson, Washington High School has an equally rich legacy of outstanding graduates such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lena Horne. Alumni who go above and beyond for their communities and inspire those following behind them including our own school board member, Byron Amos. Today’s students are also proud to be Bulldogs. Proud to call a school with 94 years of history their own.

DjhWKyQUwAAtpsyThese new student faces grace the halls. For instance, the new ESOL students met with their teacher to go over supports and schedules for the new school year. There’s also a new dedicated 9th grade hall to help with bridging from middle school to high school.

As we visited the Fine Arts department,  we saw a gorgeous mural created for the National Black Arts Festival by students and visual art instructor, Sachi Richardson. So talented!

Next we visited Sean Freeman’s dance class. He had students doing a creative ice breaker to help teach communication, concentration,  and focus…of which I apparently have none because I messed up every time! LOL!

I’m proud of the the Bulldogs for the achievements made over the last four school years. According to recent Georgia Milestones results, for example, American Literature increased 14 percentage points in proficient and above. I’m excited to see what’s ahead.

The Bulldogs are already off to a great start! They showed up and showed out!


8:45 a.m. – Boyd Elementary School (Douglass Cluster)

Joi Kilpatrick, a second year principal, welcomed us with open arms and pump up music with help from V103’s DJ and star Greg Street at our second school stop for DAY ONE – Boyd Elementary School – located in the Douglass Cluster.

The Boyd Bobcats are clearly ready to start the year right!

IMG_2755.JPGWe got a firsthand look at Boyd’s new STEM garden and renovated facility. I am excited about the new STEM program launching this year!

We also stopped by the Parent Orientation to greet families and saw V103’s Greg Street,  help Boyd get the year started right!

Then we visited Ms. Cohen’s third grade class. She’s a ballet dancer and the school’s teacher of the year! Almost all students said that they were always happy…that’s gotta be a blessing for her!DjhKIefV4AEKYVO.jpg

Mrs. Forte’s and Mr. McKinney’s combined 4th grade class was learning about routines and expectations for behavior. She teaches ELA and he covers science and math.  Their students taught us how to proudly read the Bobcat Pledge. This school year will be about being your “Boyd Best” — Be Brilliant, Be Exceptional, Be Studious, Be Timely! I think they’re ready!

Way to go Boyd!


7:30 a.m. – Peyton Forest Elementary School (Mays Cluster)

What a way to start the school year! Celebrating 50 years of educating elementary students in southwest Atlanta, Peyton Forest Elementary School showed us why they are the “Greatest School on Earth!”

Principal Cynthia Gunner sent a personal invitation to the Peyton Forest school community, and they came through big time in The Big Top! Alumni returned to the school to help us greet students as they exited buses and cars and entered their circus-themed school building – complete with the ringmaster, magician, lion tamer, carnival games and clowns on stilts and more!  Djg1iMjU8AAtWtq

However, the Peyton Forest Tigers have reasons to roar on their first day. According to the recent Georgia Milestones results, their ELA achievement across grades 3-5 is up 5.8 percentage points in proficient and above since last year, and their 4th grade ELA is up over 15 percentage points in proficient and above in the past two years.

In addition to student achievement, Principal Gunner is also elated that her daughter, Payton Gunner, is a member of the winning high school team that participated in the Harvard Debate Competition this summer.

As we entered the school through bubbles, music and a circus tent, we could feel the energy parading throughout the building. Every class was thrilled to start their school year off.


(I had a yummy breakfast of chicken nuggets and waffles with chocolate milk and new Kindergarten friends! All other students had breakfast in the classroom — chicken sandwiches and bananas with juice or milk! The highlight of my morning meal was the freshly popped popcorn from a real concession stand machine!)

Peyton Forest will be a tough “act” to follow! Wow! Happy 50th Anniversary!





5:30 a.m. – APS Metropolitan Bus Depot


Welcome back to school!

We started Day One at the Metropolitan Bus Depot to meet members of our transportation team. Our transportation department, lead by Mr. John Franklin, is the “venous” system of our district, carrying our students through a network of roads, streets, and interstates of veins to deliver them back and forth to the APS heart – our schools and teachers!

Our bus operators, a.k.a. our “transportation educators,” are often the first adults to greet students as they begin each school day. So, it seemed quite fitting to start our day by greeting them.

Over 400 school buses will depart from here, Lakewood Stadium and North Atlanta High School, and will travel 21,215 miles across the city to safely transport 28,000 of our beautiful students. When you think about it, that’s an amazing feat our transportation team accomplishes every single day!

Research studies from the Brookins Institute and others tell us that there are great benefits associated with students riding the bus – including the following:

  • Students who ride the bus have fewer absences. 
  • Students are 50 times more likely to arrive at school safely on a school bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends.
  • Students who ride the bus are more confident and have higher self-esteem and social skills.
  • Students who take the bus are contributing to cleaner air by doing their part to reduce pollution.
  • And students who take the bus are benefiting the community! Fewer cars means less Atlanta traffic, lower emissions, and safer roads! 

And who makes this possible for APS students  each day? 

Our safe drivin’, school supportin’, rule followin’, kid lovin’ school bus drivers!!! 

Drivers like those celebrated yesterday for being among the APS Elite Bus Drivers – drivers who have perfect attendance and remain accident free. Whether it’s 1 of the 7 drivers with over twenty years of experience or a rising star just beginning their career, we are so thankful for the work they do each day.

As a small token of appreciation, we sent them off with good wishes, healthy snacks, and Chick-Fil-A biscuits.

Now, we’re ready to visit our first school of the day! Let’s keep rollin’!

#YellowTogether #APSFIRSTDAY


Blog Signup

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.