Back to School Summer 2021 Newsletter

As students and staff prepare to return to school, I’m thinking about systemic changes and how we collectively and fundamentally reimagine what it means to attend public school in Atlanta.

We have historic opportunities before us. First, Atlanta Public Schools is receiving just over $200 million in federal funding to help address the pandemic’s impact. How we use that funding will impact hundreds of thousands of students over time.

Second, all nine school board seats are on the ballot in November. Voters have a real chance to set the course of our district.

I encourage you to stay active. For example, APS is soliciting feedback on how to spend the federal funding. You also can register to vote, check your voter registration status, request an absentee ballot, and encourage your networks to join in your efforts to remain engaged.

Here’s to seizing this opportunity and creating systemic change for all Atlanta students.

With gratitude,

Click the link below to read the newsletter in its entirety.


redefinED Atlanta Announces Ayana Gabriel as It’s New Board of Directors Chair-Elect

redefinED atlanta, an education nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that every student in Atlanta has the opportunity to attend a great public school, today announced Ayana Gabriel has been selected as its new Board Chair-elect, effective January 2022, and that it has added Denesha Thompson to its staff as the Director of Public Engagement and Advocacy. 
“We are excited to welcome Denesha to our team, as she brings many talents gleaned from her years in the classroom, as a teacher-leader and family liaison, and a social justice activist that will help us continue our community outreach and advocacy,” said Ed Chang, executive director of redefinED atlanta. “We are also very thankful to the continued support of our Board of Directors and look forward to working even more closely with Ayana and the other members as we enter this next phase of our growth.”


Academy tackles tough issues with shared reading


Wesley International Academy’s Melanie Dillett-Dukes was looking for a way to start a meaningful conversation about events in the news. And she wanted to have that discussion with her colleagues first.

“After the trauma of black and brown people was broadcast to the world, I proposed to my executive director that we have a serious conversation,” she said. “We have a mixed staff, and we’re a predominantly black school with about 750 students in kindergarten through eighth, but we didn’t have strong, meaningful conversations on racism, inequities and oppression. We needed to start talking about racism and how it impacts students, teachers and parents.”

Dillett-Dukes suggested the staff read “Stamped,” a book by Jason Reynolds that was published last summer to tackle just such complex topics.

“We started off as a staff book club,” she said. “But we also saw how the next generation was ready for change. This was a book that both staff and middle schoolers could dive into.”

Last fall, the academy began hosting “equity journey gatherings” for the 80-plus teachers, staff and administrators.

“Initially we thought we’d have more pushback, but everyone was open and willing and ready to dig into these conversations,” said Dillett-Dukes. “Once a month we had activities to get people going deeper into identity and privilege, and how they intersect with relationships across races.”

By March, the teachers began sharing the book with middle-schoolers.

“A team planned a unit to flesh out what we wanted the book to be in the classroom,” said Dillett-Dukes. “They used poetry, creative design, whatever students wanted to connect to the book.”

Chloe Jones, 14, was an eighth grader when the book was introduced and was happy to read it.

“In light of all the protests that happened prior to the school year, I felt it needed to be discussed in our classroom, and I really wanted to see how my classmates felt about it,” she said. “I didn’t know exactly how the book was going to talk about things, but I was excited to learn more.”

Jones said she learned a good bit about how history and leaders relate to race issues. “It talked about things that aren’t often taught, but it’s important for my generation to be aware of these issues to hopefully change the future for the better.”

Ainsley Odle, 13, had read “Stamped” before it was introduced in class. “But this time it gave me a different take, and I was able to go more in depth about the topics with my friends,” she said. “We even talked about it outside of school. It really forced me to look at myself and my views.”

The students’ connections surprised even the teachers. A survey of the young readers revealed they had stronger feelings about treating others better and understanding where people come from. They also were keen on sharing the book with their parents who then engaged faculty and staff in conversations, too.

“Sometimes you don’t always get that ‘aha’ when you know they get it,” said Dillett-Dukes. “But that was my joy in leading this conversation.”

Information about Wesley International Academy is online at


Atlanta Bicycle Coalition fights to make Atlanta travel safer


“The pandemic exacerbated inequities of place and resource that many Atlantans already experienced before March 2020,” said Margaret Mullins, the admin and communications coordinator of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is a nonprofit that works for equitable and sustainable transportation in Atlanta through programs like Bike Family which provides bike safety education and resources to second graders and their families in school communities located along Atlanta’s high-injury network, the area of the city where planning and policy make it significantly more dangerous to travel.

“One’s ZIP code, race or income should not impact the likelihood of getting hurt or killed while trying to get somewhere. Atlanta’s high-injury network findings show that our least safe streets are not evenly distributed — around 88% of Atlanta’s traffic fatalities occur on less than 8% of Atlanta’s streets — disproportionately affecting neighborhoods with higher shares of Black residents, lower median incomes and more families without access to a car,” said Mullins.

By working to affect policy change like its Vision Zero plan — a safe systems approach that sets a goal of zero traffic deaths — and providing bikes, bike safety classes and bike safety equipment, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition is working to close the safety gaps in the Atlanta community, which gape even wider in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We really miss connecting in-person with the community through classes and group rides, but we’re also grateful that virtual platforms made it possible for us to safely continue providing resources to help Atlantans move safely, easily and sustainably throughout the pandemic,” said Mullins. “It is important to us that all Atlantans have access to livable lifestyles that safe, sustainable transportation affords.”

Who’s helping?

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition

Services: The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition works to provide bikes and bike safety training and equipment to people along Atlanta’s high-injury network, the areas of the city where planning and policy make it more dangerous to travel.

Where to donate: Make a monetary donation at, or visit the Ways to Give page.

How to get help: Learn more and sign up at

This Father’s Day, Celebrating the Dads of Fathers Incorporated

Fathers Incorporated launched in 2004 to show how dads positively affect children’s personal development including educational outcomes. In 2016, the nonprofit group kicked off a new aspect of its programming, Real Dads Read, in a creative and effective setting: barbershops.

“Our program is a two-generation approach to engaging and improving outcomes for both men and children where they are bonding and spending time through literacy,” said Fathers Incorporated founder and CEO Kenneth Braswell.

The program enables fathers to share books in the barbershop that are intentionally chosen to be culturally relevant for African-American families. The children can also take the books home for free. 

“At the time, people were not ready to hear and talk about fathers in the endearing way that they talk about moms and children,” Braswell told the Atlanta Business Chronicle last year. “But that has changed in recent years, as has the perception of what it means to be a father today.”

Fathers Incorporated’s core values emphasize the role of father figures in supporting their children holistically through the promotion of Responsible Fatherhood.

“Masculinity is not what it was 30 years ago. Now, not only can fathers be protectors and providers,” Braswell told the Chronicle, “but we can also be nurturers, and being nurturers is just as important to us as the other things are.”

Building on its early success, Real Dads Read grew from 20 barber shops to nearly 100 barbershops and Atlanta Public Schools throughout Metro Atlanta and Columbus Georgia. 

Then COVID hit. People were not coming to barbershops anymore, and Fathers Incorporated had to figure out how to reach families. With the support of a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund, Fathers Incorporated was able to adapt by offering an adaptation of our Real Dads Read Curriculum guided from a parent’s position.

Teaming up with the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department and the creation of the Real Dads Read Mobile Units, officers helped deliver more than 1,400 books to families in underserved neighborhoods. The mobile units focus on reaching African-American children during the summer months when schools are not open. They’ll head back out later this month. 

The mobile units expanded the reach of Real Dads Read while tapping into and strengthening the relationships APS police officers have built within communities.

“Our community deeply values the role dads play in our children’s lives. Black fathers in Atlanta and Columbus are breaking stereotypes and redefining their roles as parent figures, which is inspiring and empowering,” said Braswell. “There’s nothing they can’t do, and the success and wellbeing of their children proves it. I’m proud that Fathers Incorporated has been able to support them.” 

Learn more about Fathers Incorporated and Real Dads Read at

Photos courtesy of Fathers Incorporated.





3D Girls, Inc. pivots to provide pandemic care

In the summer of 2012 Raioni Madison-Jones founded 3D Girls, Inc. with the mission of educating and empowering young women and their families. Over the past nine years the nonprofit has developed a caseload of 325 families in the metro Atlanta area, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, 3D Girls, Inc. had to alter its work and intensify outreach efforts to yield more sustainable solutions for families in need.

“Our work is grounded in addressing the critical disparities that limit young women: the access to educational tools, financial empowerment and health resources that are needed to thrive,” said Madison-Jones. “We envision a future where the next generation of young women are self-sufficient leaders.”

The nonprofit has worked during the pandemic to provide more than 400 mothers and fathers in need with care packages on a weekly basis. It has also delivered tens of thousands of diapers, wipes and feminine care products, and during the holidays, 3D Girls, Inc. provided holiday gifts to 100 single parents experiencing hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The work that we are doing is helping people sustain. The stories of hardship go deep, from the moms who gave birth at the peak of quarantine who are suffering to cope with not being able to work. To the veteran moms who have to decide to buy food or buy diapers,” said Madison-Jones. “Our team is working consistently to improve our systems and resources to effectively support families who are struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times.”

So far this year 3D Girls, Inc. has been working to address feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation among women and girls. On May 1 the group launched an emergency assistance program to help families with utilities, housing payments and other essential services to support families’ most immediate needs.

Who’s helping?

3D Girls, Inc.

Services: 3D Girls, Inc. works to educate and empower young women to be advocates for themselves and their families through mentoring, prenatal and parent education and social/emotional wellness.

Where to donate: To donate, visit or send donations via mail to 933 Lee St. SW, Suite B-1, Atlanta, GA 30310

How to get help: Visit or email [email protected]

SKIP Georgia Supports Students to and through Graduation

SKIP Georgia scholars after a day participating in an Environmental Ecosystem program.

Students’ first year of high school is critically important. How often 9th-grade students attend school and how well they do in school has an outsize impact on whether they will eventually graduate. 

So it did not bode well when Malik Gore started skipping class as a freshman at a high school in South Atlanta. 

“I got caught up in the drama, and it really took a toll on me,” he said. 

Malik ended up at Phoenix Academy, a second-chance school on the Crim open campus in East Atlanta. That’s where he encountered a system of support that has helped put him on the verge of graduating from high school this spring. 

Key to Malik’s success has been the Phoenix Academy staff and the programming of, the local chapter of the Save Kids of Incarcerated Parents program. During the 2020-21 school year, SKIP Georgia received a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund to support counseling sessions it offers students at five Atlanta schools, including Phoenix Academy. The sessions run from 5:00-7:00 p.m. and offer students an opportunity to decompress, participate in trauma-informed care, and connect with peers. 

Most of the participating students are high school seniors, and much of the recent discussion in the counseling sessions has been about navigating this momentous time educationally, in the midst of a pandemic. SKIP Georgia has provided additional support to the students through grants from the United Way of Greater Atlanta* and Dollar General Literacy Foundation as well as additional programming like a Sunday Brunch & Munch where older students mentor younger students. 

The system is working. 

Nikaya Winfrey graduated high school with the support of the Phoenix Academy-SKIP Georgia partnership and is now a student at Atlanta Technical College, preparing to become a dental hygienist. 

“I have reached so many things I didn’t even think were possible,” she said. 

Both Nikaya and Malik credit Phoenix Academy staff members like Theresa Mullins, who is the school’s site coordinator for SKIP Georgia. 

“I’m responsible for their needs getting met, not just academics but wraparound services,” Mullins said. “We do the social and emotional, we do the mental health, we do food services, emergency funding, going to college, trying to place them in the best way possible.”

Because of the support that he received from Phoenix Academy and SKIP Georgia, Malik has fully recovered from his rocky start to high school. This summer, he is scheduled to take classes at Morehouse College.

Looking back, Malik says, “It was a minor setback for a major comeback.”

* redefinED atlanta is also a proud partner of the United Way of Greater Atlanta and receives support as a Child Well-Being Impact Fund “Strong Learners” grantee for their work advancing parent advocacy in public schools.



RedefinED Atlanta works to help Atlanta Public Schools through the pandemic

RedefinEd Atlanta has been working to improve Atlanta’s public school education since 2016, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the folks at RedefinEd Atlanta knew that they could help students that were affected.

“In response to COVID-19, RedefinEd Atlanta doubled down its efforts to provide resources to parents and communities with students attending Atlanta’s public schools, as well as to individual schools in the district,” said Adah Pittman-Delancey, the vice president of impact and external relations at RedefinEd Atlanta.

In the summer of 2020, RedefinEd Atlanta was able to give funds to two parent-led organizations, Atlanta Thrive and the Latino Association for Parents of Public Schools, to launch a $100,000 relief effort to support parents and caregivers of Atlanta Public Schools students experiencing hardship due to the pandemic.

“Atlanta Public Schools has one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country,” said Pittman-Delancey. “Creating access to a great public education can provide Black and brown students living in under-resourced communities with the opportunity to realize their full potential and pursue their passions, changing the trajectory of their lives. We know that systemic racial inequities, which the pandemic exacerbated and exposed, are significant barriers to a thriving Atlanta.”

Also in the summer of 2020 RedefinEd Atlanta and Learn4Life commissioned a new study quantifying the impact of school closures on metro Atlanta student proficiency. The report estimated the potential student learning loss that eight metro Atlanta public school districts would likely encounter when they returned to school in the fall. In October, it launched the RedefinED Innovation Fund: Pandemic Education & Restart, giving nearly $170,000 in grants to 10 nonprofits and 14 Atlanta schools to address immediate education-related needs created by the pandemic.

Who’s helping?

RedefinEd Atlanta

Services: RedefinEd Atlanta works towards the vision of transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community receives a great public school education. To do this they engage with other nonprofits and raise funds to aid the community.

If you are involved in or know of an organization working to bring relief to the Atlanta community during the coronavirus pandemic OR you are with an organization with supplies that you don’t know where to donate, please email us at [email protected].

Where to donate: Visit



Smaller Learning Groups, Bigger Gains for Ethos Classical Charter School

Ever since Ethos Classical Charter School opened in South Atlanta in 2019, small-group instruction with two teachers per classroom has been a hallmark of its learning model. 

So when the pandemic hit, the literacy and arts-focused elementary school readied itself to create even smaller learning groups to meet safety requirements for students and staff. 

“But in order to have more in-person learning instruction through smaller learning groups, we needed more adults,” explained Emily Castillo León, Head of School and founder of Ethos Classical. “Hiring more educators during a pandemic was quite the challenge. We needed talented candidates and funding for the additional salaries, quickly.”

Thanks in part to a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund, Castillo León was able to solve her school’s biggest challenge during the pandemic—creating safe in-person instruction. 

“We were able to tap into a new talent pipeline thanks to redefinED, and we were able to hire four full-time, on-site learning leaders, which enabled us to bring students back in-person,” Castillo León explained.

In addition to being able to offer in-person learning to more students, hiring new educators mid-year gave Ethos Classical a jumpstart on hiring for the 2021-22 school year, which is a necessity as the school grows by one grade per year.

Among the new teachers hired is Josalyn Jones, a recent college graduate with a degree in child developmental psychology. Jones joined Ethos Classical during the pandemic and was hired to stay on for next school year. She’ll also be able to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching degree through Ethos Classical’s partnership with the RELAY Graduate School of Education’s teacher residency program. 

“I have never felt so in place and welcomed in my life,” she said. “My journey has led me on the path to a great school where I know my skills as an educator will increase and flourish.”

Learn more about Ethos Classical at

Follow the school: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 


Ethos students patiently waiting to have their class picture taken below a “RESPECT” reminder. Throughout the school, walls feature similar positive messages, affirmations and artwork.
Ethos Principal Emily Castillo Leon showing students how figs look before they ripen.
Ethos Principal Emily Castillo Leon Checking Plants in the Garden with Students
Students and Castillo Leon checking on the progress of recently planted tomatoes, collard greens and other veggies in the school’s courtyard garden.