news
blogs

Cultivating Excellence: Exploring Strengths and Opportunities in School Climate for redefinED atlanta’s Portfolio of Schools

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) is an organization that collaborates with state education agencies, school districts, and community-based organizations to build partnerships designed for exponential impact. The TNTP team designs and researches to answer the most pressing questions around the state of education today. The analysis of collected data uncovers insights for school leaders and delivers key takeaways in digestible, compelling, and action-oriented formats.

This Spring, redefinED atlanta piloted an initiative using TNTP Instructional Culture Insight Surveys to better understand the climate of the newest schools in our portfolio. The following glows (strengths) and grows (opportunities) came out of the survey and reflect the voices of school staff and families from:

  • Liberation Academy
  • Miles Ahead Charter School
  • PEACE Academy
  • Sankofa Montessori
  • The Anchor School

A total of 49 teachers and 260 families participated in this pilot. 

GLOWS

Teacher perceptions at redefinED atlanta’s portfolio schools fell above the national average in 11 out of 16 domains, with 4 domains falling above the national top-quartile of schools (Workload, Career Progression, Teacher Compensation, Hiring Process).

Teacher survey highlights:

  • 89% of Teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Leaders at my school value all aspects of my identity (e.g., gender, race, culture, ability, sexual identity, learning differences).”
  • 84% of Teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Families at my school regularly receive useful updates about their student’s progress.”
  • 77% of Teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “My school leaders articulate a clear, overarching vision that drives priorities, goals, and decision-making within the school.”


Family perceptions at redefinED atlanta’s portfolio schools fell above the national average in ALL 8 surveyed domains.
The highest Family domain scores were for the Value of Feedback, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and School Leadership.

Family survey item-level highlights:

  • 99% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “My child’s school is welcoming to students and families of all identities.”
  • 96% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel welcome at my child’s school.”
  • 95% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “School leaders care about my child’s success.”
  • 90% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Leaders at my child’s school value my feedback.”
  • 90% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “There is someone at my child’s school with whom I feel comfortable sharing my concerns.”
  • Only 6% of Families agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “If I could send my child to another school, I would.”


GROWS

Teacher perceptions at redefinED atlanta’s portfolio schools fell below the national average in only 5 out of 16 domains: Peer Culture, School Operations, Observation and Feedback, Academic Opportunity, and Instructional Planning for Student Growth.

Some of the lower teacher perceptions were about instructional leadership. These insights highlight an opportunity for redefinED to expand investments into mid-level talent pipelines, strengthening school leader development and teacher retention and promotion.

  • 36% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “An instructional leader at my school or network regularly reviews student work from my classes.”
  • 44% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “At my school, I have seen someone model lessons where students are doing the majority of the thinking.”
  • 50% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I regularly discuss feedback about my teaching with an instructional leader at my school.” 
  • 51% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Teachers at my school share a common vision of what effective teaching looks like.”


Family perceptions at redefinED atlanta’s portfolio schools were lowest in the Rigor in the Classroom and Trusting Relationships with Teachers domains. However, both scores were still well above the national average.

Some of the lower Family perceptions were in the following areas. As you can see, participating schools in our portfolio have opportunities to grow but already perform well compared to national benchmarks, especially for schools in their first year of operation.

  • 72% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I receive enough communication from my child’s teachers about my child’s progress.” 
  • 73% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Non-academic services at my child’s school, such as buses and school meals, are well managed.” 
  • 74% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “My child’s school schedules events at times that are convenient.” 
  • 75% of teachers strongly agreed with the statement, “My child completes writing assignments in multiple subjects (not just in Language Arts).”

The TNTP survey has provided valuable insights into the instructional and cultural landscape of the schools that are part of redefinED’s portfolio. The glowing feedback from both teachers and families underscores our schools’ commitment to inclusivity, clear vision, and engagement. While celebrating these strengths, the identified growth areas signal opportunities for further development, particularly in enhancing instructional leadership, fostering trusting relationships, and ensuring academic rigor.

Through continued collaboration and targeted investments, redefinED atlanta remains poised to support these schools in their growth, empowering them to thrive and deliver exceptional educational experiences for their students and families. We intend to scale the TNTP Instructional Culture Insight Surveys to our larger network of school partners in APS, Clayton County, and South Cobb. We will focus our coaching and technical assistance on analysis and growth in the noted areas.

redefinED atlanta Announces Executive Director Transition

Angira Sceusi Named New Executive Director After Ed Chang Steps Down in Fall 2024 

redefinED atlanta, a public education nonprofit that engages communities, advocates for equity, and funds critical work to drive systemic level improvement in K-12 public education for students and families, today announced that its Executive Director Ed Chang, will step down later this year, but will remain in an advisory role through December 2024. Chosen to succeed Chang as the nonprofit’s new executive director in the fall is redefinED atlanta’s current Vice President and Chief of Staff Angira Sceusi.  

redefinED atlanta is the culmination of a series of gatherings in 2015 that included Chang and many of Atlanta’s education champions seeking to promote positive, equitable, and lasting change within Atlanta’s schools and districts. In 2016, redefinED atlanta was created with Chang as founding executive director. Sceusi joined as the second employee not long after its launch. Since then, the organization has grown to 13 staff members and has expanded its focus to include Clayton, Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Prior to starting redefinED, Chang was a physical therapist before entering the education profession as a seventh-grade science teacher in 2001. He spent five years teaching at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Southeast Atlanta before founding KIPP STRIVE Academy in 2009. Afterward, Chang continued his service in the education field by coaching and advising on strategies for school leaders and districts nationwide. 

During his time with redefinED atlanta, Chang was honored as a Civic Diversity Champion in Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2021 Diversity Equity & Inclusion Awards and has been recognized as an education leader in the 2022 and 2023 Atlanta Magazine Power 500.

“We are so grateful to Ed for all his contributions over the last eight years and for building the infrastructure to take a long view of what education can look like in our city,” said Ayana Gabriel, redefinED atlanta board chair and vice president of Community Impact with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “His leadership and vision have enabled the organization to accomplish so much and prepare for the future.”  

Continued Gabriel, “We are very excited about Angira taking the helm later this year. As a champion for children, she brings a wealth of education and management experience, having previously served as a teacher and district leader. There’s no one better aligned to lead redefinED in its next chapter.” 

Before joining redefinED atlanta, Sceusi served as Director of Finance and Director of Talent Initiatives at YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, a school district representing almost 20,000 students. She also previously worked as a high school math and computer science teacher in the Houston Independent School District, where she earned a United States Congressional Recognition for her work in STEM teaching. 

Sceusi began her career as a financial analyst and spent 10 years in energy finance. She co-led Royal Bank of Canada’s U.S. oil and gas origination business before entering the education profession. Sceusi holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in information systems management from Carnegie Mellon University. 

She also holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems at Yale University. Sceusi serves on the board of Horizons Atlanta, the board of her local neighborhood association, a member of the Junior League of Atlanta and a graduate of Leadership Buckhead. 

“I am so proud of the progress that has been accomplished and the momentum that has been created since we established redefinED atlanta. It has been a privilege to lead redefinED atlanta these past eight years,” said Chang.  “Angira’s experience in both the education space and the business world – paired with her passion for our community – makes her uniquely positioned to broaden redefinED’s impact in the years ahead. I’m thrilled to see what the future holds.”  

About redefinED atlanta:

Every student in Atlanta needs access to a great K-12 public education. Together with parents, educators, community leaders and philanthropists, redefinED atlanta is transforming metro Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has opportunity, well-being and self-determination. For more information, please visit www.redefinEDatlanta.org.

redefinED atlanta Launches Clayton County Grant Advisory Council To Support Its Efforts To Address Clayton County School District’s Most Pressing Education Needs

 redefinED atlanta, a public education nonprofit that engages communities, advocates for equity, and funds critical work to drive systemic level improvement in K-12 public education for students and families, today announced the nine members of its Clayton County Grant Advisory Council. The council was chosen to partner with redefinED atlanta to advise the nonprofit about current Clayton County initiatives and organizations supporting public schools and their family and community engagement in the district as it expands into Clayton County. 

“Philanthropy tends to focus on the City of Atlanta, and we have recognized that some of the greatest needs and deepest inequities in public education are in our neighboring counties,” said Ed Chang, executive director for redefinED atlanta. “ Still, the same level of support and resources don’t necessarily match the existing needs. With the increasing percentage of families with children transitioning to the area, those existing challenges are only increasing, and we would like to do our part to help.”

Factors such as affordable housing and displacement have impacted families throughout greater Atlanta, by shifting where they live, and send their children to school. Throughout 2023, redefinED atlanta engaged with families and community members in Clayton County to learn more about their desires for children’s K-12 public education.

In September 2023, redefinED atlanta solicited nominations for the Clayton County Grant Advisory Council from the community at large. Parents and caregivers with students attending Clayton County Public Schools and community advocates for public education were priority nominees.

Nominees were asked to complete an application, redefinED atlanta conducted interviews, and the final nine-member council was selected in December 2023.  

One nominee from each of Clayton County’s nine school districts was selected to participate in the council from January 2024 to June 2024. Each member represents a diverse voice in the Clayton community who is passionate about serving their community and is committed to education equity.

The council will partner with redefinED atlanta staff to grant $100,000 in Clayton County to grow family and community engagement efforts to support public schools. 

redefinED atlanta’s 2024 Clayton County Grant Advisory Council Includes:

  • Crystal Perry, District 1
  • Crystal Dolympio, District 2
  • Rochelle Dennis, District 3
  • Kenya Hartry, District 4
  • Shavawn Simmons, District 5
  • Kaysie Lazzaro, District 6
  • Brenda Gutierrez, District 7
  • Sandy Allen-White, District 8
  • Akilah Williams, District 9

“Community is the heartbeat of our work at redefinED atlanta,” said Adah Pittman-DeLancey, vice president of community impact strategy for redefinED atlanta. “As an organization that funds critical work to drive equity in education, we are committed to listening and partnering with community members to inform our work to create lasting impacts for diverse communities.”   

To learn more about the Clayton County Grant Advisory Council, visit https://redefinedatlanta.org/claytoncouncil/.  

About redefinED atlanta:

Every student in Atlanta needs access to a great K-12 public education. Together with parents, educators, community leaders and philanthropists, redefinED atlanta is transforming metro Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has opportunity, well-being and self-determination. For more information, please visit www.redefinEDatlanta.org.

redefinED atlanta ARISE Fellow Champions for Equitable Education

Advancing Education Advocacy

There are many reasons why people get involved in improving public education. The draw is professional and personal for Kristen Silton, a member of the first group of redefinED atlanta Reimagining & Innovating for Schools Everywhere (A.R.I.S.E.) fellows. 

As the Alliance Theatre’s head of Education Advancement, she explains how the organization’s programming supports school children. “There is a literacy crisis in Atlanta with only about one-third of our 3rd graders reading at grade level, and the U.S. Surgeon General has declared a youth mental health crisis across the country,” says Ms. Silton. “Our programs help mitigate both. Arts and cultural activities enrich communities and are proven to increase resilience, perspectives of tolerance, standardized test scores, and reduce behavioral infractions and absences.” 

With three kids at Parkside Elementary, Ms. Silton also works for change at her local neighborhood school. After two years as an active member of the school’s PTA, she is starting as the co-president, serving a two-year term structured so that one president’s incoming year overlaps the other president’s outgoing year. Even if she hadn’t been part of the A.R.I.S.E. fellowship program, Ms. Silton likely would have pursued a leadership role in the PTA. Still, the fellowship experience has changed how she’s approaching the role.

A Wider Perspective

The A.R.I.S.E. fellowship gives participants context and connections as they learn about the history of Atlanta Public Schools (APS), student achievement trends, and opportunities for partnerships and funding that support community-driven solutions. Participants also articulate their goals and roles as advocates for great K-12 public education. 

Ms. Silton explains that if you’re just involved as a parent with kids, you only see part of the puzzle. “I now bring a perspective from outside the community to how we function as a PTA. I bring an equity focus, that we’re here to serve all students. I also have a better understanding of what the school board and superintendent do. I can help keep things in perspective for other people, especially those who come from a background of privilege about things that do and don’t matter in the grand scheme.”

Parkside’s PTA focuses on school-wide initiatives that support the students and the school community. “We provide a big organizational lift, enhancing what the school is already doing.” Ms. Silton says. “We put on free community events for all students, supporting everyone having access rather than trying to raise money at events.” Some of their activities include movie night, family dances, teacher appreciation, yoga before school, a school garden and community projects like creating a school mural.

More Connected Momentum

The biggest takeaway from the fellowship that Ms. Silton applies at Alliance Theatre and as co-president of Parkside Elementary’s PTA is the importance of not operating in silos. For example, during the fellowship, she focused on literacy work in the Douglass Cluster. “It’s not where my kids are, and I learned a lot and made so many connections that benefit my advocacy overall,” she says. 

She also learned about APS’s Goals and Guardrails, which helped her understand the why behind decisions. “I met key people from city councils to school boards to large nonprofits in the metro Atlanta area,” Ms. Silton says. “I saw how all the different groups work together and gained insights on advocating for not just my children but all children.”

Another epiphany involved the concept of public charter schools. “They were designed to try new things and then bring that learning back to the public school system,” she says, adding that in practice this potential is not being fully realized in Atlanta.

redefinED atlanta grows and participates in coalitions to address intersectional issues that create barriers for student performance and negatively impact students and families. With more advocates having these kinds of realizations, momentum for coordinated progress increases. Ms. Silton imagines the A.R.I.S.E. fellowship continuing and the impact of all those people with knowledge and connections to those working on the ground in schools. “They are selecting the second-year class,” she says. “There’s a goal for alumni of the program to connect for years to come to create a giant cohort of education advocates.”

Families Can Handle the Truth – If They Know It

Earlier this year, Learning Heroes, a national organization focused on parent-teacher relationships released stunning data. 

Across the country, their research found that 90 percent of parents believe their children are reading and doing math at or above grade level. That would be great – if it was true. In reality, 26 percent of eighth-graders are proficient or above in math, and 31 percent are proficient or above in reading and writing. 

This disconnect is present in Georgia, too. Statewide, most students are not reading, writing, or doing math at grade level. We believe that if parents knew the reality of their children’s academic performance, they’d be asking questions, demanding support, and calling for change. 

The fact of the matter is that schools and districts are not sharing hard truths about how much – or how little – children are learning. Sometimes, we’ve been guilty of not being forthright enough, too.

We’ve been thinking a lot about this topic since 2023 Georgia Milestones state test scores came out this summer. The results are a mixed bag. Whether you’re looking for good news or bad news, there’s something in the results for you. But only sharing one side without the other is disingenuous. Parents deserve to know the full truth, now more than ever. 

Students across the country did not learn as much in the two years following COVID-19 school closures. In response, the federal government devoted an unprecedented amount of federal funding to do something about it. Overall, the government is spending nearly $190 billion nationwide, including just over $200 million for Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

To what extent schools’ use of those funds is helping students to get back on track is vitally important information for parents – and taxpayers – to know. 

The latest state test results show that students at traditional APS district schools held their own, and then some. Whereas the percentage of students in grades 3-8 who are proficient or above in math fell 5.8 points statewide between 2019 and 2023, it only fell 4.7 points in these APS-led neighborhood schools. That’s a notable difference, significant both statistically and historically – APS is not always a step ahead of the state.

Yet in absolute terms, students in these schools – like students in most schools – are struggling. Even though their scores fell less than students statewide, they still fell, and they’re still far too  low. In this group of schools that performed better than others across the state, just 29.8 percent of students are proficient or above in math. In reading and writing, it’s 33.8 percent.

This fact bears repeating. Even among the APS schools that did better – with students’ performance not slipping as much during the pandemic – only about one in three students can do math, reading, or writing on grade level.

What’s more, gaps persist among students from different economic backgrounds. For the seven schools in this group where less than 10 percent of students qualify as low-income, the average scale score in math actually increased from 2019 to 2023. For the 13 schools in this group where more than 70 percent of students qualify as income, the average scale score in math fell by 8.3 points. 

All of these factors fed our surprise when the APS press release on the state test scores came out this summer with a headline that read, in part, “Students Show Growth, Gains.” 

It’s true that students performed slightly better in the 2022-23 school year than they did during the 2021-22 school year. It’s also true that the 2021-22 school year was still significantly impacted by the pandemic, creating an apples-to-oranges comparison. We believe the fairer point of reference for the 2023 scores is 2019, before the pandemic. By that measure, the 2023 scores don’t look nearly so positive. 

This was particularly the case at schools that predominantly teach the most underserved students. At Hollis Innovation Academy, for instance, a K-8 traditional district school where nearly all students come from low-income homes, the percentage of students proficient or above in math fell from 19.6 in 2019 to just 3.6 in 2023.

Whereas charter schools have in the past been a bright spot among city students, particularly students who live in poverty, this trend did not hold true for all APS charters this year or last year.

What we know is that from between 2019 and 2023, the scores for students at two of our historically higher performing APS charter networks, Kindezi Schools and KIPP Metro Atlanta, dropped dramatically. At Kindezi, the students started and ended higher but fell further. In math, the percentage of students on grade level or above fell from 41.7 to 15.8. At KIPP, the percentage of students at grade level or above fell from 37.5 to 13.7 in math. 

It’s important to not paint with too broad a brush and lump all charter schools, or all traditional district schools, together. 

For example, Ethos Classical Charter School is a newer school, one whose application was denied twice by APS before being approved by the state. It doesn’t have test scores from 2019. But while serving a similar population of students to Kindezi and KIPP schools, Ethos significantly outpaced its peers. Their results are between 9 and 17 points higher than the APS averages, with 42 percent of students at or above grade level in reading and writing and 46 percent proficient or above in math. 

At the same time, Perkerson Elementary, a traditional district school led by APS, improved from 2019 to 2023. In reading and writing, the percentage of students achieving at grade level more than doubled from 12.4 to 26.2 In math, the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency or higher increased from 17.7 to 20.1. 

Now, our focus is on determining what we can learn from these bright spots and how we – as an education-focused nonprofit, as well as the school district and its charter partners – will respond to these challenges. Parents have a right to know how their children are progressing. Residents deserve to know about the district’s pandemic recovery plan and what these scores say about how APS is spending that $200 million. Voters must demand to know what the 10 candidates running for the five open Board seats will do differently and how the district will hold itself accountable to its own Goals & Guardrails policy to drive urgent change for students and schools. 

We’re left with questions. Will we interrogate the underlying reasons for this performance? Will we expand the freedom and flexibility that schools need to adjust, be innovative, and make changes to best meet the needs of their community? Will we show up to vote in November? 

This is no time for perky press releases or blog posts. Students are struggling, and schools owe parents and voters a bold plan for how they will bring dramatic improvement to all of our city’s public schools. 

 

By Ed Chang, executive director, redefinED atlanta, and Angira Sceusi, vice president-chief of staff, redefinED atlanta

redefinED statement on Tapestry Charter School

A message from redefinED atlanta:

By voting to deny Tapestry Public Charter School’s petition to replicate their educational model via a 6-12 campus in Atlanta Public Schools on September 5, 2023, the Atlanta Board of Education chose to ignore the widely demonstrated need for more inclusive, individualized learning environments for neurodivergent students. Seeing the Board turn down a school that would have served so many students with special needs was deeply concerning, especially considering the 650 “intent to enroll” signatures from eligible students and families.

The Board framed their unanimous decision to deny Tapestry’s petition as a delay, not a final denial. But after far too many delays, and extensive evidence that the school would serve a diverse population, hundreds of families have now been publicly denied a great option when their kids need it.

The Board made the wrong decision in September and for the sake of our children, they should fix their mistake by voting yes for Tapestry this June as the once again seek approval to replicate in APS.

About Tapestry

Vision & Mission:

Tapestry provides a rigorous and enriching education for a neurodiverse student body in grades 6-12, thereby creating an inclusive, innovative, and replicable academic model.

The mission of Tapestry Public Charter School is to offer an inclusive, individualized learning environment that is academically engaging, both for neurotypical students and those on the autism spectrum, and to create a positive school culture that empowers all students to take possession of their innate talents and become creative builders of their own futures.

Learn more about Tapestry’s academic model here.

Act Now

Let the Atlanta Board of Education know that neurodivergent and special education students deserve a school like Tapestry! Email [email protected] before their next meeting on June 3, 2024.

Last update May 8, 2024

A School to Celebrate

Founder Ebony Payne Brown shares the inspiring journey of opening PEACE Academy.

On Aug. 7, 2023, PEACE Academy welcomed students into the building for the first time. The only state charter-approved public school in Georgia with a culturally inclusive curriculum, this milestone marks the culmination of an enormous, inspired and coordinated effort on behalf of students.

Founder Ebony Payne Brown describes some of the pivotal moments, starting from the beginning when she worked with the Georgia Charter Schools Association’s Charter Incubator program, a competitive year-long endeavor that recruits and trains leaders to start public charter schools in the state. “I didn’t have funding, and I had a full-time job,” she says. “We had to be resourceful, working with community members and volunteers.”  

One of the biggest tasks was securing the place where their students would thrive. Many grants explicitly state that they cannot be used for funding facilities, so the assistance from redefineED atlanta was instrumental for understanding the commercial real estate market, finding an old warehouse to renovate and hiring architectural and construction teams. redefinED atlanta believes developing new schools and investing in district initiatives will transform Atlanta into a city where every child attends a great public school. 

An Environment that Increases Learning Capacity

After successfully navigating through the many complexities, PEACE Academy is now delivering on its vision. A daily cultural studies class focuses on intentional cultural immersion that helps students appreciate their heritage and the world as a rich and beautiful place with diverse and beautiful people. Monthly real-world questions offer opportunities for exploration and problem-solving. Related field experiences give students exposure to community organizations, educational pathways and potential careers. The curriculum also includes twenty-first-century skills like coding. In addition, reading and literacy underpin everything, along with opportunities for family involvement. 

“So many Black and brown students have a hard time finding a school in their area that is high performing and that accepts their cultural identity. If you remove your identity as you step into school, it’s a weight, and it lowers your brain capacity,” says Ms. Payne Brown. “We want students to show up as they are, celebrating everyone who comes into the building, with their capacity to learn enlarged.” 

The school’s three educational pillars include being culturally responsive, inquiry-based, and community-centered. “Many traditional schools are based on memorizing versus having field experiences and learning how to develop your own solutions,” Ms. Payne Brown says. “We want our students to build critical thinking skills and enter fields and careers that emphasize those skills.”

Bringing a Dream to Fruition

Ms. Payne Brown emphasizes how necessary early funding and support were to achieving this dream when the school was nothing but an idea. “I 100% could not have done this without funding from organizations like redefinED atlanta,” she says. “To receive a grant for planning, a grant for the opening year, all before data or results, believing in me and my leadership made the journey possible.” Having opportunities for professional development and attending conferences also made a huge difference. 

Early support helped expand and fine-tune the vision through visits to schools around the globe with High Tech High and the Georgia Charter Schools Association incubator program. “In Washington, D.C., I visited a school that had the most collective style of learning I’ve ever seen, with a morning meeting and students leading so much of the work,” Ms. Payne Brown says. “And there was an inquiry-based model in San Diego where the level of autonomy and creativity blew my mind and changed my image of what students could do in terms of projects.”

She also mentions the critical role of the incubator cohort. “It’s extremely helpful to have multiple partners along on this journey who are also opening schools, to have regular meetings, share what we are doing and bounce ideas off of each other.” 

Now that the school is open, what’s next? Ms. Payne Brown notes that while they are now fully staffed, her position includes both principal and executive director, overseeing the curriculum and fundraising. She would like to see those responsibilities divided into two positions. “We also want to get to a point where we have so much interest that we have to consider opening another school to provide even more families with an innovative public school option like ours,” she says. “But shorter-term, we want every child to finish this year feeling they have grown and have a place that loves them and cares about their educational experience.”

Giving Families More Choices

redefinED atlanta believes that developing new schools and investing in equity-driven district initiatives will transform Atlanta into a city where every child can attend a great public school. This August, thanks to several new innovative schools opening across metro Atlanta, our region’s K-8 families have more educational options for their children. With the opening of Miles Ahead Charter School, years of visioning and community collaboration have come to fruition.

“The hopes that I have for my son Miles, I want for everyone’s child,” says Founder and Head of Schools Kolt Bloxson. “In some of our first community meetings, hearing the same comments and questions, I realized I was not the only parent wanting another option. So, I took it upon myself to do something about it for my child and all children to give choice and voice to my community.”

The school’s mission — to provide all students with the social and academic achievements necessary to help realize their potential for local impact and global change — grew out of those early conversations. Starting in 2019, more than 300 community members gathered and imagined the school’s graduates and what kind of education would equip them for the 21st century. 

An Innovative and Supportive Structure

“Our model re-envisions the workload for teachers and students,” says Ms. Bloxson. “The mission lives in three areas, the way students learn, the master schedule and the way we support teachers.” 

Multi-disciplinary, project-based learning supports deeper student engagement. Class periods are extended with fewer transitions so that students and teachers can take learning further and become content area experts. A weekly expedition day where students go on field trips or do coding or meet field scientists gives students more varied learning experiences while at the same time allowing classroom teachers a whole day for planning. 

“Overwhelmingly, our families want our students to be equipped for the future,” says Ms. Bloxson. “They want their students to have access to jobs that include technical skills, to understand computer science, to have the ethics of being a globally, digitally connected citizen, to graduate having had explicit instruction to prepare them for the world.”

In addition to ensuring 21st-century skills with a focus on STEM, coding as a second language and more, the school treats students as whole people. First and foremost, students need daily support in caring for themselves and others.

The school has also created a clear pathway for growth and achievement. As students work on mastering the standards, the school’s approach accounts for the fact that no two students will have the same learning needs with a “Power Hour” for individual instruction and regularly scheduled assessments. 

Support and Lessons Learned Along the Way

Getting to opening day has been a learning process. One of the big and unexpected hills was COVID-19. “The pandemic shifted the timeline significantly,” says Ms. Bloxson. “Funding, the way we did outreach, everything was a huge challenge.” Ultimately, because of all the challenges, they decided to defer opening for a year. 

“Deferral was the best decision we could have made,” Bloxson says. “We’re so much stronger because of it, shoring up systems and programs and now opening our doors with over 200 students, fully staffed and ready to serve the needs of our community.”

redefinED atlanta also played a significant role in the school’s journey to launch. “They gave me an amazing partner in associate vice president of schools Emily Castillo León, who helped coach me about how to get the school open and successfully align resources,” Ms. Bloxson says. redefinED atlanta’s support also included connections to a successful portfolio of schools.

“It’s been amazing,” says Ms. Bloxson. “We’re out here on the outskirts of Cobb [County], so it’s wonderful to receive funding support and access to other national efforts to support schools. We’ve been able to open because of the advocacy that redefinED has done for us.”

Miles Ahead Charter School’s first day was Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023. “We were excited to see kids in their Miles Ahead uniforms talking about high-five habits,” Ms. Bloxson says. “And once all the kids get home safe, at that moment, I will feel like my dream is achieved — and then we’ll do it 179 more times.”

redefinED atlanta Invests $100,000 To Aid Schools’ Engagement Efforts for the 2023-2024 School Year

LOCAL NONPROFIT GRANTS 10 SCHOOLS WITH FUNDS TO SUPPORT FAMILY & COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

redefinED atlanta Invests $100,000 To Aid Title I Schools’ Engagement Efforts for the 2023-2024 School Year

Atlanta (May 17, 2023) redefinED atlanta, a nonprofit that engages communities, advocates for equity, and funds critical work to drive systemic level improvement in K-12 public education for students and families, today announced it has awarded approximately $100,000 in grants to 10 schools serving students in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district. Grants are awarded through the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) grant fund. RedefinED atalnta created the fund to support schools in strengthening their family and community engagement efforts and this year’s recipients’ awards are for the 2023-2024 school year.

“Each year, we continue to learn about the challenges schools face getting more families and community members engaged in children’s education,” said Denesha Thompson, director of public engagement and advocacy, redefinED atlanta. “With school budgets allocated heavily towards academic recovery efforts, we know additional funds will allow schools to activate families and community members by bringing them into schools and informing them of ways to get involved in supporting students and schools.”

The redefinED FACE grant fund was launched in 2022 to meet the requests of school leaders, teachers, and family engagement coordinators. The fund evolved from a 2018-2019 micro-grant opportunity that awarded schools up to $1,000 per school for a family and community engagement event with a maximum investment of $20,000 per school year. Today, the FACE grant fund awards up to $10,000 per school, with a full investment of $100,000 for the 2023-2024 school year.

redefinED atlanta believes parent and community engagement is one factor that will help advance our mission of every child in every community receiving a great K-12 public education.

Grants Supporting Schools Serving Atlanta Public Schools Students

  • Kimberly Elementary School – $10, 000
  • Benjamin E. Mays High School – $10, 000
  • John Lewis Academy – $10, 000
  • M. Agnes Jones Elementary School  – $10, 000
  • Hutchinson Elementary School – $10, 000
  • Barack and Michelle Obama Academy – $10, 000
  • Ethos Classical Charter School – $10, 000
  • Centennial Academy Charter School – $10, 000
  • Atlanta SMART Academy – $10, 000
  • Beecher Hill Elementary School – $10, 000


About redefinED atlanta:

Every student in Atlanta needs access to a great K-12 public education. Together with parents, educators, community leaders, and philanthropists, redefinED atlanta is transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has: opportunity, well-being and self-determination. For more information, please visit www.redefinEDatlanta.org.

About Atlanta Public Schools:
Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 50,000 students across 87 schools and five programs. The District is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 64 traditional schools, 19 charter schools, six partner schools, two alternative schools and five alternative programs. To learn more about Atlanta Public Schools, follow us on social media – Twitter (@apsupdate), Facebook (Atlanta Public Schools), and Instagram (apsupdate) – or visit us online at www.atlantapublicschools.us

This Teacher Appreciation Week, Celebrating A Change of Careers

In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re profiling Sonya Hanks, a 9th-grade life transition teacher at Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School, an International Baccalaureate high school in Southwest Atlanta and graduate of the Relay Graduate School of Education. 

 

Relay trains teachers at every stage of their career– from recent college graduates seeking their masters degree, veteran teachers who want advanced trainDing, career changers like Hanks who are using Relay to prepare them for the teaching profession after time in other fields, and certificate seekers who want additional credentials in high-need areas like ESOL, special education, and more.

 

This post is about Ms. Hanks, but it represents the thousands of teachers in Atlanta Public Schools who plan and persist every day to serve students and families. Their creativity and commitment inspire each of us at redefinED atlanta, and we are immensely grateful for their service to our city.

 

Sonya Hanks’ path to becoming a teacher was long and circuitous, so when she arrived at her new school and heard students not taking her class seriously, she stopped that talk cold. 

“I teach a course, high school transitions,” said Hanks. “They were saying it was more of a study hall, and I was like ‘No, no, no. I didn’t come into teaching to do study hall.’”

Hanks came into teaching to change lives, and that’s just what she’s doing as a career-changer who attended the Relay Graduate School of Education so she could act on her belief to “not be part of the problem, be part of the solution.”

redefinED atlanta spent almost two years rallying partners and philanthropic investors to bring Relay Graduate School of Education to Atlanta in 2018.

Relay is a nationally accredited talent organization with campuses and partnerships in multiple cities like Atlanta.  Relay’s programming is largely known as a “gold standard” talent organization in our field. Since its launch in 2018, Relay has: trained over 250 new teachers in metro Atlanta; addressed a critical hiring need for Atlanta area schools and districts; and at full scale, will be able to graduate 100+ highly trained teachers per year

 

“We believed bringing Relay to Atlanta would be transformational for Atlanta area schools as Relay would substantially increase the number of high-quality new teachers entering Atlanta’s teaching pool every year,” said Ed Chang, executive director at redefinED atlanta.

 

Hanks’ teaching area is uncommon, but her skills are in heavy demand. In a national survey released in January, Americans’ foremost educational priority was “a concentrated focus on ‘practical, tangible skills’ such as managing one’s personal finances, preparing meals and making appointments.”

That’s what Hanks excels at, supporting students new to high school and putting them on solid footing for a range of future experiences. 

“I get students acclimated to what high school entails and then prepare them for real-life living,” Hanks said. 

Being a teacher wasn’t always Hanks’ plan. She went to college for communications, then moved to Alabama, where she worked as a receptionist. Her path changed when a category-five hurricane impacted her hometown. The damage forced Hanks and her family to relocate to Atlanta, where she started working as a substitute teacher.  

Hanks’ principal instantly saw her potential as a full-time educator and encouraged her to attend Relay, which is known as a teacher preparation program that grounds educators in practical skills and data-informed instruction. Hanks said the program really pushed her thinking and stretched her skill set. As a result, she graduated with a keen awareness of when students are and are not engaged. 

“Relay walks with you every step of the way,” Hanks said. “That’s different from what I see with many other teachers in similar programs. But, even now, I can still reach out and get support for whatever I need help with.”

 

Now, at Therrell High, Hanks is seen by her peers as an exemplar of classroom management. 

 

Hanks knows her journey to becoming a teacher was nontraditional. But, she says, she appreciates what she has learned every step of the way and the opportunity to serve young people every day.

 

“I look back,” Hanks said, “and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

 

redefinED atlanta believes great schools have strong school leaders and teachers. For every student in every community to attend a great school, we must increase and retain the number of high-quality teachers and leaders entering Atlanta. We invest in organizations that grow talent at all levels because we believe every neighborhood deserves great schools. To learn more about how redefinED atlanta cultivates strong school talent, visit https://redefinedatlanta.org/what-we-do/cultivating-strong-school-talent/