redefinED atlanta Announces Clayton County Community Engagement Grant Recipients

redefinED atlanta Announces Clayton County Community Engagement Grant Recipients

Grants will help organizations and schools in Clayton County Support Community Engagement Efforts for Clayton County Public Schools Students

In 2023, we began engaging with families and community members in Clayton County to learn more about their desires for K-12 public education. In January 2024, we launched our Clayton County Grant Advisory Council. Nine grassroots leaders were selected to represent the entire Clayton County Public Schools district and advise us about current Clayton County initiatives, organizations supporting public schools, and family and community engagement.

Our first investment in Clayton County aims to strengthen family and community engagement in K-12 public education. We granted $100,000 towards family and community engagement programming, empowering families with tools and knowledge to support their child’s learning and education experience. 

Each eligible nonprofit organization and public school serving Clayton County Public Schools students had the opportunity to apply for up to $25,000. This grant program has the potential to significantly impact the educational experience of our students and the operations of schools and organizations.

We are thrilled to introduce the 2024 Clayton County Community Engagement grantees and express our heartfelt gratitude for their partnership and dedication to our mission.

Riverdale Elementary School is part of the Clayton County Public School District. Its mission is to empower scholars to achieve academic, professional, and personal goals by providing equitable access and experiences that build literacy, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration skills. The community engagement grant will support Riverdale’s Full Steam Ahead (FSA) program, an innovative initiative addressing math and literacy access for students, particularly those with disabilities, at Riverdale Elementary School.

Los Niños Primero (Children First) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to empower Latino students and their families from early childhood to college through holistic academic, leadership and community programs. The community engagement grant will help support year-round literacy and STEAM programs serving students at Fountain Elementary School and Unidos Dual Language School. 

Family Literacy of Georgia, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aims to strengthen communities of color by increasing access to quality books and literacy resources. It sees children and their families reading for pleasure, making reading a lifelong adventure. The community engagement grant will help Family Literacy of Georgia equip parents with strategies and resources to support students’ literacy development in grades 5 to 8.

Clayton County Public Schools Magnet Programs support the mission of CCPS by providing scholars with choice programs designed to attract all Clayton County students. They take pride in their programs and continue to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by offering programs that attract students from different neighborhoods and backgrounds. The redefinED atlanta grant will support CCPSMP’s family and community engagement by promoting culturally responsive educational practices, academic success, educational involvement, and enhanced civic engagement for members of the Hispanic and Vietnamese communities.

“Partnering with families and the community is not just important, it’s essential to driving student outcomes and providing equitable education,” said Meiling Jabbaar, community engagement manager at redefinED atlanta. “The active involvement of the Clayton County community is a key factor that will help advance our mission of every child in every community receiving a great K-12 public education.”

The 2024 Clayton County Community Grant cycle will end on June 30, 2025. To learn more about the grant or to apply in the future, visit

Read Our June 2024 Newsletter

June 2024 Newsletter

Check out our June newsletter! Applications for our third A.R.I.S.E. Fellowship are now open through June 24. We’re bringing back the Community Dialogues on July 9. So, make sure you reserve your spot to get in on the action. Share the link with your friends. 

Meet Tanya Frazee, Advocate and Philanthropist

Donor Spotlight - Meet Tanya Frazee, Advocate and Philanthropist

Tanya Frazee, a firm believer in the transformative power of quality education, has made a significant impact through her monthly donations. Her commitment to causes like redefinED atlanta, which shares her community-based approach, has been instrumental in driving real change in education. Tanya’s words reflect her satisfaction, “It brings me joy to know that my gifts are working all year long to improve equity in schools.” Her partnership with us is a testament to her vision of a future where every child, in every school, in every community of Atlanta, has access to a great K-12 public education.

“It’s so important that as a parent, I look out for not only my own kid but also others’ kids. If our own kids are thriving but others are not, we have a responsibility in that. It’s critical to me that when my kid has an opportunity of any sort, I make sure that opportunity is available to every other kid.”

Join Tanya in Making a Difference

Are you inspired by Tanya’s commitment to educational equity and her drive to make a lasting impact? You can join her in this noble cause by becoming a monthly donor today. Your contribution will help us ensure that every child has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive. Together, we can create a brighter future for all.

[Become a Monthly Donor]

Join our community of dedicated supporters and make a difference year-round. Your consistent support will help us continue our vital work, improving equity in schools and empowering communities.

Meet the 2023 ARISE Fellows

Meet Our 2023 ARISE Fellows

Congratulations to the second cohort of redefinED atlanta’s Atlanta Reimagining & Innovating for Schools Everywhere (A.R.I.S.E.) Fellowship, a nine-month program that aims to grow community power and influence by exploring the levers that drive systemic change for all of Atlanta’s children. 

The A.R.I.S.E. Fellowship was co-designed with EdConnect, TeachX, Father’s Incorporated, Goodie Nation and Next Generation Men and Women. With their support, we were able to select 10 individuals who work in industries ranging from education to nonprofit.

Meet this year’s fellows!

  • Brandon Jones
  • DeAndrea Byrd
  • India Gooch
  • Keiana Raven
  • Latisha Blackburn
  • Michelle Lockhart
  • Tameika Ham
  • Ty’Sheka Lambert
  • Vernetta Nuriddin
  • Yalwanda McGruder

Click the link to learn more about the fellows and read their bios!

Through this fellowship, the cohort will learn about the history of the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district, explore student achievement trends and identify opportunities to partner with communities to allocate capital to community-driven solutions. Ultimately, graduates of this program will be able to clearly articulate their commitment, goals and role in advocating for positive change in K-12 public education.

By the end of the program, fellows will:

  • examine the educational landscape and history
  • explore innovation and opportunities through national/regional/local cases of districts reimagining education
  • understand the levers of change (people & money, political infrastructure, and ideas & narratives)
  • actively engage with stakeholders serving and fighting for children and families in the Atlanta Public Schools district
  • unearth their pathway toward advocacy and impact within K-12 public education
  • join a growing collective of advocates who are informed, engaged, and advocating for children to receive a great K-12 public education

Interested in becoming an A.R.I.S.E. Fellow?

Applications for the third cohort are now open and close on Monday, June 24, at 11:59 p.m. Click the link to apply today! 

redefinED atlanta and TFA Metro Atlanta Team Up to Strengthen Teacher Retention and Leadership Pathways

redefinED atlanta and TFA Metro Atlanta Team Up to Strengthen Teacher Retention and Leadership Pathways

The Importance of Teacher Retention

Getting high-quality teachers into the classroom receives most of the public’s focus, but keeping these educators has also proven to be difficult, both in Atlanta and across the country. Between October 2022 and October 2023, 23% of teachers nationally left their positions, including teachers who left their district in search of better working conditions, teachers who moved into new roles in their districts, and teachers who left the profession entirely. 

Much of this turnover happens in schools that serve large populations of students from low-income communities, with 29% of such students losing their teachers. Students in these high-need schools are in greatest need of consistent access to high-quality teachers; unfortunately, greater levels of turnover tend to lead to instability, weaker relationships, and lower student outcomes. 

The 2012 TNTP report The Irreplaceables surveyed 90,000 teachers across 2,100 schools to discover the top reasons that U.S. schools were losing teachers at an alarming rate. They found that actively working to retain top educators was not a high priority for many school districts. Unhealthy school cultures, poor working conditions, and low pay drove teachers away. Sadly, these poor conditions persist more than a decade later, as a recent op-ed from a former Fulton County Schools teacher made clear. 

redefinED and Teach For America Metro Atlanta Partnership

This is where a new collaboration between redefinED atlanta and Teach For America (TFA) Metro Atlanta comes in. Together, we recently piloted the Academic School Leader Fellowship, a 10-month talent development program for mid-level educators. All 14 participants are Teach For America alumni working in Atlanta as teachers, assistant principals, instructional coaches, or other roles. To prepare to move into school leadership roles, participants develop their skills through monthly in-person sessions on advancing equity through instruction, teacher coaching, and individualized support. 

“The Academic School Leader Fellowship was designed to help our aspiring school leaders get the skills they need to be eligible for school leader positions,” said Tamara Rice, Managing Director of Alumni Leadership at TFA Metro Atlanta. “We take them through different experiences so they can apply what they’re learning and understand what it means to be a school leader.”

This approach has three primary benefits. First, it meets educators’ interest in continued learning and development opportunities. Second, it helps districts retain their top teachers in instructional-oriented roles. Third, it builds a pipeline of strong future school leaders who will serve students and families for years to come. 

According to a recent TNTP survey of schools supported by redefinED atlanta, only half of teachers say they “regularly discuss feedback about my teaching with an instructional leader at my school.” The Fellowship is focused on increasing these results by producing school leaders who are ready for the instructional components of the role. 

“When you think about a potential school leader, there’s a set of skills that a teacher needs to develop before they get into that role, and oftentimes there aren’t opportunities for them to do that,” said Rice. “We take them through the skills related to academic excellence and how to support other teachers so that when they get into school leadership, it lessens the curve of what they need to learn.” 

Impact and Potential 

Even though the program is new, it’s already impacting public schools in Atlanta. 

Parrish Amos

Parrish Amos is a current fellow at Ethos Classical Charter School. He served as a first-grade teacher at Ethos before being promoted to oversee instruction and curriculum for grades K-2. In the middle of this school year – thanks in part to what he learned through the Academic School Leader Fellowship – Amos received another promotion to a director role. 

“I never want to be a leader who doesn’t continue to grow,” saidAmos. “The program has really taught me about delegation and building up your team. By connecting me with other fellows, it has also given me a perspective from outside my school building.” 

It has long been proven that strong operational practices in a school positively impact student outcomes. Through the leadership training in the Academic School Leader Fellowship, Amos sharpened his lens to understand what must be true for teachers and classrooms to operate at maximum impact. With these skills, Amos has the tools to support his fellow teachers in creating classroom environments that encourage every student to thrive.

In short, the Academic School Leader Fellowship is turning a problem into an opportunity. Offering robust professional development opportunities for mid-career educators helps keep talented professionals working in schools. It prepares the next generation of school leaders to support thousands of students across Atlanta and beyond. 

How to get involved

Applications for the next cohort of fellows are open! Current school leaders can also partner with the Fellowship to have their teachers receive coaching support from the Fellows. For more information or to recommend a fellow, email Tamara Rice, Managing Director, Alumni Affairs and Network Support, TFA Metro Atlanta.

You can also sign up for the redefinED atlanta newsletter to stay up-to-date on all the efforts around Atlanta to support high-quality teacher training and efforts to close the teacher retention gap. 

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. 


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.”


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 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

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.”