In 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.