Mayor’s Youth Program meets Achieve Atlanta

MYPBWBIn 2001 while campaigning for mayor it was clear from people all over the city that they wanted the new mayor to engage in the reform of Atlanta Public Schools, in spite of the arrival of the newly selected superintendent. In every forum (and there were over 100) and in small groups, it was a frequent topic by concerned voters. By the November 2001 election, the new superintendent was firmly settled in the circles of power in Atlanta and they and she were committed to a formal APS school reform plan.

The plan expected the new mayor to support the various public referenda and occasional special projects. For four years I played my part, rarely engaging with either the Superintendent or the Board of Education. In 2005 during my reelection campaign, I revisited the public’s cry for mayoral involvement with public education and I announced my plan to “adopt” the graduating class of the Atlanta Public School System with the intention to assist every interested student in supporting their transition from high school to college, technical school or the workforce.

The students asked for career related summer jobs, assistance with identifying college opportunities and financial aid, and support for pursuing their dreams and those are the program components we developed. They welcomed our candid exchange of ideas and our opinions. We coached, advocated and supervised their transition planning. By fall over 400 seniors were headed to college after 8 to 10 weeks of paid summer internships in dozens of local businesses, government agencies, including the police and fire cadet programs. Some attended and graduated from healthcare certificate programs conducted at Atlanta Technical College.

We raised $1,000,000 over the summer and 100% of the funding was spent on student unmet needs from typical college fees and costs, to transportation, to laptop computers and bus and airplane transportation. It was the easiest fundraising I’ve ever done because local leaders starting with the Kendeda Foundation and Aaron Rents Chairman Charlie Loudermilk supported this innovative approach. But not all the local civic leaders supported this nontraditional, cutting edge program to support Atlanta’s neediest students. Over five years the initial $500,000 grant from Kendeda was matched over 10 times and nearly 4,000 college and technical school bound youth benefitted. Their stories are the greatest achievement of this program, I continue to get updates on the many students whose lives where touched by the Mayor’s Youth Program (MYP).

Thanks to Deborah Lum, Executive Director of AWDA, the AWDA staff and dozens of donors who supported the MYP, the new program Achieve Atlanta can build on the lessons learned and success of MYP. What fun it is to have our experimental program adopted by a new group of donors and civic leaders.

Hard Lessons to Create a Better Future

By Courtney EnglishEnglish
Educational reformer John Dewey once said: “Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

There are few institutions as important in our society as our public schools. There remains an essential compact between a community and its public schools that helped make America what it is today. And this mutual pledge demands that our schools teach every child, whether they are poor or rich, black or white, to the best of their ability. It demands that our teachers possess tools needed to be successful, and entails a guarantee to parents that their kids’ interests always come first.
That trust was broken in Atlanta when it was discovered that widespread cheating on annual state exams occurred, robbing students of promised education and learning.
That scandal and subsequent trial have been a sad, painful and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools and our community. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
As the trial ends, close observers of APS must know that efforts to restore the integrity of the system began three years ago and accelerated more recently with the election of a new board and appointment of a dynamic superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, in 2014. We are working hand-in-hand, focusing on high student outcomes to implement reforms and to ensure that a scandal like this never happens again.
We’ve set a strategic course for a new direction of improved instructional quality and systemwide efficiencies with a goal to regain the trust of our community, parents and students through hard work, integrity, transparency and leadership.
We are making progress.
A senior cabinet chief accountability office has been created, and we have built systems and procedures to ensure data integrity. It’s working to continually review recommendations to improve data monitoring and controls.
An ethics program was launched in 2011 that includes ethics advocates at each school and a mandate for all employees as a condition of employment. It also:
› Installed automatic triggers for test scores that rise or decline sharply;
› Created an anonymous hotline to report unethical behavior;
› Instituted automatic investigations of schools with unusual gains in test scores;
› Created stronger safeguards related to the handling and storage of test materials;
› Suspended incentive or bonus programs;
› Replaced 60 percent of the district’s principals.
As a result of these reforms, APS was recently recognized by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for significantly improving auditing and test security procedures.
For students who needed additional academic assistance, our district launched a comprehensive remediation program. In fact, structured remediation is now mandatory so that we can meet the specific needs of all struggling students, not just those caught up in the scandal.
Dr. Carstarphen, the board and I have made a vow that together we will create a new culture at APS, one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. This will be a culture where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.
Courtney English is chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education



Newcomers Get Political Baton

APS Board Candidates

APS Board Candidates

In 1965, the Court ruled that Atlanta had not fully integrated the school system.  In those early days, efforts were made to increase diversity and to integrate schools with limited success. As we continue to reflect and celebrate the historic March on Washington, it is a reminder of our arduous past and our ambitious future.  As a woman, I could not have been mayor of Atlanta when I was born or even when I graduated from high school or college. Today, Atlanta has seen its first woman mayor and there are several women vying for the notable distinction as Georgia’s first elected woman senator. 

After Labor Day we are likely to hear a lot more about the upcoming election and Atlanta political candidates. Atlanta School Board candidates in 2005 and 2009 were rigorously recruited to join the reform movement of the city’s public schools.  Candidates hoping to join the Board are making the rounds, raising campaign funds and friend-raising. Among the candidates are two first time candidates who have caught my attention.

Matt Westmoreland was a middle school student who attended dozens my 2001 campaign events. He asked questions (my favorite was urging my support for the Midtown Festival) and offered his volunteer support four years before he was eligible to vote.  Matt is running for school board District 3.

Though Eshé Collins is a new friend, the Spelman alum has a passion for community engagement and development that is evidenced in her civic service. She is an attorney and a former Atlanta Public Schools teacher running for the Atlanta School Board, District 6 seat.

Both of these candidates worked hard in high school and college, they love the city enough to dedicate their time and resources to pursuing public service. If elected they will be role models for students not much younger than they are.  As the elections approach, I encourage you to take a look at their websites, read their literature and listen to what they have to say.

Passing the baton of leadership and public service to committed, smart young people is part of the legacy we can leave to the city we love. They are running because they care and because they are committed to good government, honesty in government and smart government.

Yes Cheating is Awful!

justiceYes cheating is awful. And so is conviction before a fair trial. I believe every accused person deserves a fair trial under a set of laws that promises to be just and balanced. I don’t support public hangings. It is barbaric. Never have and never will. I didn’t in the horrendous Nichols and Johnston murder cases though some of my political advisors thought I could improve my voter favorability if I did.  I didn’t then and I won’t now. The eagerness to convict someone cannot take precedence over our demand and respect for the fundamental legal principle that everyone who is charged has a right to a fair trial with competent representation.

Some 50 plus years ago in grade school, I learned about America’s judicial systems and principles of law and my parents reinforced these principles throughout my childhood. Frequently Ruth, my mom, said, “everything that glitters isn’t gold.” Reminding me to think about the circumstances and situation instead of its appearance. My father’s life was full of challenges and a spectacular recovery from alcoholism (that is how he described it) and as a Pennsylvania State Court judge he never wavered in his teaching that,” under the law everyone in America deserves a fair trial and competent representation. And everyone charged with wrongdoing or a crime is not guilty”. These early lessons in discernment stick with me today.  My parents still expect me to act according to these principles and to stand up for them as fundamental values in my life.

As hard as it may be to hold true to these principles now——these are precisely the times that test our commitment to our values. I worry about these principles whenever young or poor people are charged with crimes because I know how few legal resources they have to defend themselves and how dogged the prosecution process can be. Even if they are cleared in a court of law, some will face financial ruin.  Our system of justice isn’t perfect and requires checks and balances to mitigate against its imperfections.

[Read more…]

An Oasis in the Desert—Mr. Romney Meet A 47% Family

In a recently discovered Mitt Romney video he characterized 47 percent of Americans as people who “believe that they are victims” who would never take personal responsibility for their lives, the hard working American families I know defy Romney’s description.

Mr. Romney, let me introduce you to the Canty family here in Atlanta. The Cantys’ are Nandi, a Spelman College graduate, her husband Leslie, their 13-year old daughter, Ellise and her 2-year old sister Jaya. The Canty family is looking forward to a long awaited economic recovery but until then they are taking responsibility for providing their daughter with what they believe is her best possible chance to succeed. For them that means a quality education in a boarding school some 1700 miles away from home.

Ellise was a student at the Coretta Scott King Academy for Girls when I visited last October 11th on the national Day of the Girl celebration. A few weeks later her mother emailed me because she heard I was a fencer. Her daughter had been interested in the sport for a while but she didn’t know how to introduce it to her. I was happy to make the introduction and welcome her to the Atlanta Fencers’ Club and she began her lessons at a reduced fee because her mom was unemployed. Ellise had been applying to boarding schools around the country and had been rejected by a few so she was starting to get discouraged. But this not a story about fencing or rejection, it is a story about a family’s commitment and personal responsibility to open the window of the world to their child.

Nandi Canty’s email to me: “I have been meaning to write you and tell you the good news. The last couple of months have been unexpectedly crazy around here. It must seem like we just dropped off the face of the earth but a lot has been going on.  We finally received word that Ellise has been accepted into boarding school. She will be attending Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona. She is very excited. It’s a great little international boarding school. They are the top boarding school in the country offering an IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum. We have been blessed. Because of her academic record, the school is providing nearly 74% of the cost.  We had no idea where the remainder would come from but it’s working out.

I think when we last spoke I wasn’t working. Well, about two months ago I took a position as a case manager at a private high school for nontraditional students. It is a part-time position and the money is not very good. But I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy the difference I’m able to make in these young people’s lives. So it’s been good. The bad part is that with me now working my husband has to work in the evenings, so we have no way to get her to fencing. We own one car. The good news is that the boarding school has a fencing program. Hopefully, they will still have it this year. She definitely wants to continue the sport. Fencing has been a great experience for her. I definitely watched her come out of her comfort zone to try to embrace something new. I think that will be a great preface for where she is headed. She will have so many opportunities for new experiences there. Fencing has given her the courage to do it.

Ellise has a flair for creative writing and started a Facebook blog to update her family and friends while she is away at school—– A Chronicle of the life and times of Ellise Canty at Verde Valley School, truly a Diva in the Desert. Here is one of her latest post.

Ellise: “Sorry I haven’t been posting recently. I have been really busy. Time here is going by so fast. This was mid-term week. I just got back my science midterm. I made a 99%! It was the second highest grade in my science teacher’s first and second classes. In math, I got a 90% on my class presentation. Again, it was the second highest out of both the math1/freshman class and math 2 class. I’m still trying to figure out who beat me! In English, I am doing very well. My teacher commented that I am very organized and consistent in getting my assignments in. She recently graded one of my creative writing assignments and commented that I did an excellent job. She said I am natural storyteller. She’s looking forward to reading more of my writing. In History, my presentation on Obamacare went really well. My teacher commented that it was one of the best of the class. I have recently started a blog about the history of the United States and China relations. I’ll share the link with you guys later.”

Mr. Romney, whether parents are in the 99% or the 47%, most are hard-working, some are two parent homes, they aren’t “victims” and many are just trying their best under difficult economic circumstances to provide for their families, make sacrifices for their children and find support and strength in their families and friends—-not in the government.

They are taking responsibility——Mr. Romney meet the Cantys.


Beverly Isom

Blogging While Blue


Atlanta Charter School Debate Heats Up

Talk of charter schools will heat up, as the November Georgia General Elections get closer because the ballot will include a referendum question about the State Board of Education’s authority to grant charters. In the meantime, there is a debate brewing in Atlanta about the Charles Drew Charter School. The East Lake Community has written an open letter to their School Board representative.

Here is the link to the letter.

The Atlanta Public Schools granted Drew its first charter a dozen years ago. Since the 1990’s APS has granted other charters. Drew is located in the East Lake Community.

Thank You Beverly Hall-Atlanta Schools Are Better Today

As the imminent departure of Atlanta Public School Superintendent Beverly Hall draws near and I reflect on her 12-year tenure here, I am reminded of my early years in Atlanta. There is no question that Beverly Hall invited and embraced a broad coalition of community input and support that has greatly benefited Atlanta students. Today there are some 400 partners who support APS, that input has been significant in the progress of the district.

Back in the early days, it seemed the city was abuzz with anticipation of the possibilities and emerging opportunities for African Americans to fully participate in leadership roles in the public and private sector. Sure there was tension and fear but as a newcomer to the city it was exciting to me to witness the engagement of Atlantans from all walks of life in debates about public policy, politics, and business.

People were eager to volunteer and join forces to work on every imaginable public policy issue that warranted action. My earliest civic engagement focused on public access and public funding for the arts. I remember when the community came together in 1974 to lobby the City Council to budget $60,000 for the first-time ever arts grants. The Atlanta Symphony’s renowned artistic director Robert Shaw, the High Museum’s Gudmund Vigtel, sat shoulder to shoulder with art collectors Paul Jones, Dr. Otis Hammonds, scholar Dr. Richard Long, Mayor Jackson’s aide Michael Lomax, gallery owners Annabelle Illien and Crystal Britton, civic leaders like David Goldwasser, Isabelle Watkins and George Howell and dozens of artists including Alice Lovelace, John Riddle, Barbara Sullivan and Vince Anthony. For months this group hashed out plans for building a strong cross section of “believers” – people who set aside their differences, their specific art passions, race, gender, and place of birth to plan for the future arts and culture focus of the city.

During Dr. Hall’s tenure as superintendent there have been notable improvements in APS. First among them is her invitation to the broader community to partner with the schools. She knew she would need the business community, parents, public officials, non-profit organizations and civic groups to tackle the challenges that the schools faced. Many contributed to the success of Atlanta’s students over the last 12 years.

Some highlights:
· A district record $129 million in college scholarships earned by graduates in 2010, which is up from $9 million in 2000
· $160 million invested in APS by national and local philanthropic groups
· An approximate 30 point increase in district wide graduation rate
· A total of $1 billion invested in constructing and renovating state-of-the-art schools; Atlanta Public Schools has built 17 new schools and renovated more than 60 others, thanks to taxpayer support

In the old days, respect for one another, the skill of negotiating compromises, developing consensus and the humility we gained in the process in those meetings bound a hundred or so of us together as cheerleaders for each other and opened my eyes to what this city could accomplish.

As Beverly Hall prepares to leave, I think when she came to Atlanta she also saw the potential of what could be accomplished in a city that was committed to working together. She knew she couldn’t do it alone and she reached out to the entire community.  It is also fair to say that she has seen victory and defeat.  Despite the serious challenges during the last two years, in my opinion the victories far outnumber the defeats.

As she packs her bags for her final day as superintendent, thank you Beverly Hall for your leadership and service to Atlanta. She leaves the school district significantly better than she found it.