• Frequently Asked Questions for Washington Cluster


    What are the goals for the Washington Cluster?

    After extensive community engagement, the Washington Cluster created a mission and vision for its schools and adopted STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) as its signature theme using the Expeditionary Learning (EL) Educational approach.

    STEM education is an integrated curriculum driven by problem solving, discovery, exploratory project/problem-based learning, and student-centered development of ideas and solutions. EL harnesses the natural power to learn and is a powerful method for developing the curiosity, skills, knowledge and courage needed to imagine a better world and work towards realizing it.

    Cluster Mission

    The mission of the cluster continues the legacy of excellence by supporting students in reaching their highest potential through a whole-child and community-centered approach to ensure college and career preparation. 

    Cluster Vision

    The Washington Cluster utilizes the support of parents and community to inspire, expose and prepare students to continue the legacy of greatness by becoming active citizens who advocate for their local and global community.  

    Washington Cluster Plan

    The Washington community set these priorities for the cluster:

    • Implement STEM enriched curriculum across all cluster schools.
    • Strengthen the Instructional Program.
    • Prepare and develop knowledgeable staff focused on quality teaching.
    • Align systems and resources to school needs.
    • Build an engaged, positive school culture.


    What is the process to phase in STEM in the Washington Cluster?

    The signature program for the Washington cluster is STEM using EL Education as the educational approach. Students will experience an integrated STEM curriculum, a focus on stewardship and character, exposure to arts and music as well as Spanish world-language instruction across all grade levels. The cluster plan is to phase in the signature theme over a five-year period with all Washington schools reaching certification by the 2020-2021 school year.

    M. Agnes Jones Elementary last month became the first school in APS to achieve full STEM certification. Status and schedule for all Washington Cluster schools are as follows:

    APS Washington Cluster 5-Yr Plan to 2020

    What is the status of construction work at Brown Middle School?

    We have completed the renovations to Brown Middle School.

    Brown Middle’s original $28 million project budget did not include basement work. After start of construction to the main building, the district agreed to work with consultants to determine the costs and feasibility of converting the basement into usable space. Our team determined that only part of the basement was capable of being converted to usable space for an additional price tag of $2.2 million. The other portion of the basement (old cold fire boiler room) was determined to be environmentally unsuitable for a conversion.

    The Board of Education approved the additional $2.2 million around the December 2014/January 2015 time frame. There are no more planned renovations for Brown Middle at this time.


    What is the status of the renaming effort for Brown Middle School?

    After a series of meetings with the community, board members representing Brown Middle School tabled the matter because there wasn’t community support behind changing the name of the school.


    What are the SPLOST 2017 commitments for the Washington Cluster?

    Last summer, Atlanta voters approved the continuation of a penny sales tax directed to district capital projects for the next five years. The district plans to direct $34.28 million toward projects within the Washington Cluster. These projects include:

    • $23 million in renovations at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy
    • $10 million in renovations at Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy
    • $780,000 for a new field house at Booker T. Washington High School


    What is the plan of action for grade expansion at the Hollis Innovation Academy?

    The Schools and Academic Office is working closely with the Hollis administration to plan for the school’s expansion into 6th grade next school year. Planning meetings with the Hollis principal were held in December and January to address the curriculum needs of the 6th grade and future middle school curriculum/course offerings; master scheduling requirements; instructional/media center resources; athletics planning and transportation. This process will continue throughout the spring to ensure that Hollis is well prepared for the addition of the additional grade.


    What are the renovation plans and schedule for the Hollis renovations?

    The phased renovations for Hollis will begin this summer and will involve relocating students, teachers and staff within the building and not to another site. Design work on the project will start in July 2017 with construction documents complete by March 31, 2018. Physical renovations will begin in June 2018 and wrap up in July 2020.

    The district has no plans to relocate Hollis Innovation students to Coan Middle School students during the actual renovations. The school will isolate different areas of the building to perform construction activities over a two-year period. The district plans to bring at least four portables on site to accommodate this phased renovation project.


    Will task forces be formed for community/parent input on renovation designs?

    We are currently planning on utilizing the standard design committee process as has been used on all SPLOST IV Projects.

    Project Committees for Construction Projects

    Each Project Committee ensures communication and participation of the school community throughout the design and construction process. A committee includes:

    • School Principal
    • Architect
    • Associate Superintendent (instruction)
    • PTA Representative (2 max)
    • Director/Executive Director (Facilities)
    • Go Team Representative (2 max)
    • School Board Representative
    • School Faculty Representative
    • Project Manager
    • Community Member (NPU rep., etc.) 

    The Project Committee will meet during the course of the project as outlined below:

    1. Meeting #1 - Validate school needs and define architect’s scope of work.
    2. Meeting #2 - Review schematic design options proposed by architect.     
    3. Meeting #3 - Review construction documents at 50% completion and discuss the phased construction or relocation and construction process.
    4. Meeting #4 - Construction briefing to be held prior to the start of construction to inform Project Committee of what to expect during construction phase.


    What are the plans for the pool at Hollis?

    The pool at Hollis, built in the late 1970s and renovated in the late 1990s, is a six-lane indoor lap pool with depths of 4’6” to 9’6”. Waterworks Atlanta examined the pool on June 23, 2016, and Circle Square Architects and H&L Engineers conducted architectural and other reviews on July 18, 2016.

    Based on their reports and observations, the pool structure appears to be in good shape with no visible cracks or serious defects but requires significant refurbishment. The mechanical systems are outdated and require replacing and the piping systems require significant work. Additionally, the pool needs renovations and updates to adhere to various codes.

    Estimates for construction range from $1.5 million to $2 million. The district has not identified these resources yet, but we are hoping to attract philanthropic support to make this possible.


    Why has APS and the Board allowed Centennial to take over the Bethune building and move students to the new school?

    Centennial Academy never forced Bethune students to attend another school. In fact, the academy had nothing to do with the creation of Hollis Innovation Academy and incorporating Bethune Elementary into that school.

    In regards to future use of the Bethune building, the district agreed that it would not sell the building without sufficient community input, but it never made promises about its use. A lease with Centennial Academy provided an opportunity to keep the building occupied and not left vacant. In addition, the district next year will provide excess capacity at Bethune for office space for both the Kindezi Schools and for Raising Expectations, which is currently using space at Hollis Innovation Academy.


    What is the status of the Bethune Elementary’s game/event parking revenue?

    Hollis Innovation Academy retains all rights to parking revenue generated at the old Bethune facility.   


    What is the schedule for renovations at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy?

    The Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy opened this school year in the former Connally building, which was built in 1975 and last renovated in 2000. As part of the recent SPLOST, $23 million has been allocated for renovations. A request for proposals for architects was issued in February with a March 23, 2017, deadline for proposals. A project committee for the renovations will convene for the first time in September 2017. Final construction documents are due in March 2018. The project will begin in June 2018 and be finished in July 2019. Tentative plans will have students relocated during the 2018-2019 school year for the renovations.


    When will construction begin on the Washington field house?

    The district hasn’t scheduled any field house projects yet. The construction schedule is contingent upon the collection of available SPLOST revenue.

    Our Facilities Department, however, has worked with the Athletic Department to develop a prototype program for field houses to be constructed at the high schools. The program envisions a typical field house to be around 2,500 square feet and includes restrooms, concessions, storage, field storage, janitorial and other support spaces.

    The buildings are intended to be the same at each school, but each may need to be adjusted slightly to adapt them to each specific site.


    The Washington Cluster already has a number of empty APS buildings? How does the district address vacant properties and buildings? Why isn’t affordable housing part of the APS legislative agenda?

    The Board and administration are committed to working with the community to identify appropriate use for vacant buildings by repurposing some of its surplus properties for residential and non-residential development.

    The board on Jan. 9, 2017, named a task force with the specific mission to examine APS vacant buildings and parcels to support affordable housing. It is charged with bringing recommendations to the superintendent for consideration by June 2017. The task force held its first meeting on Feb. 2, and the group has decided to meet at least monthly between now and June 2017.

    About $2 million in SPLOST dollars has been earmarked for management of vacant and dilapidated buildings. Some of the buildings will be used as swing space, which will be needed for recently voter-approved SPLOST implementation. The district will also consider early childhood options and partners.

    At this time, we are not aware of legislative efforts around a constitutional amendment on affordable housing. We would definitely monitor such a proposal with interest, but our legislative agenda is more narrowly focused on those issues that have a more direct nexus with the work of our schools.

    In the meantime, the superintendent eagerly awaits the recommendations from the task force and implementing school district practices that will further the cause of affordable housing for the APS community.


    What is the district’s relationship with the Westside Future Fund?

    The Westside Future Fund is leading a holistic neighborhood revitalization of English Avenue, Vine City, Ashview Heights and Atlanta University Center Neighborhoods with goals of helping families break the cycle of poverty while fostering a healthy neighborhood. Leadership for both the Westside Future Fund and APS understand that truly transformative neighborhood revitalization is more than community investment or quality, affordable housing. It involves high quality educational options for the children in the neighborhood.

    The partnership works to develop and sustain a seamless, high quality cradle-to-college pipeline focused on the children of the target neighborhoods and at M. Agnes Jones Elementary, Brown Middle School, the Hollis Innovation Academy and Booker T. Washington High School. The partnership has a focus on Hollis, where it will work on early childhood education and create other partnerships in support of the Hollis school model.

    The Westside Future Fund also sponsors a bi-weekly Transform Westside meeting that gathers numerous community leaders and stakeholders to discuss the various initiatives that are supporting the Westside. APS representatives attend every meeting.


    What is the status of the Westside Education Collaborative?

    The Westside Education Collaborative, funded by the Arthur Blank Foundation, works with education stakeholders including Atlanta Public Schools to develop a holistic cradle-to-college-and career strategy for the Westside. The vision of the Westside Education Collaborative is to transform the life opportunities of children residing on the Westside of Atlanta by ensuring they receive a high-quality education.

    The Westside Education Collaborative has been focused over the last two years on understanding the existing educational context and assets on the Westside and uncovering the challenges and needs to better inform strategies. The Westside Education Collaborative is supported by Bellweather Education Partners and HTI Catalysts.

    • Westside Education Collaborative members examined Westside family engagement, the K-12 school system, early childhood and youth development in the context of their environments at home, at school and in the community.
    • The strategic plan that they developed is grounded by having residents give their stories on Westside education as it stands and their hope for the future, a study of best practices and a review of the qualitative Westside education metrics.
    • The collaborative also looked at the data from an asset based lens on the home and community factors affecting K-12 education, early childhood education, and youth development. Execution of the strategic plan which was completed in August of 2016. The four focus areas are: Family/Community Engagement, Early Childhood (birth–5 years), Youth Development, and K-12 Education.
    • After reviewing the data and the assets and opportunities in the Westside, the collaborative finalized the strategic plan in August 2016. The four focus areas are: (1) Family/Community Engagement, (2) Early Childhood (birth–5 years), (3) Youth Development, and (4) K-12 Education.

    The foundation plans to change the structure of the collaborative by replacing it with a steering committee to provide advisory functions for education initiatives in the Westside. This committee will be comprised of key stakeholders and the co-chairs of four main working groups:

    Family Engagement

    The Family Engagement working group serves to empower parents, families, and community members to be an integral part of improving education on the Westside. In addition to furthering the strategic goals and recommendations of the collaborative, this group will support organizations and families in removing barriers that prevent authentic family and community engagement.

    The family engagement goals include: 1. Reducing barriers that prevent families from accessing opportunities to engage with schools; 2. Build trust and collaboration across the community and local organizations through regular, authentic touchpoints and 3. Build the capacity of local institutions to authentically and effectively engage families.

    Youth Development

    The Youth Development working group includes all out-of-school service providers with the exception of those solely focused on Early Childhood. Along with executing upon the strategies in the WEC strategic plan, this group will be tasked with convening and informing the broad youth development ecosystem that serves children on the Westside. The two youth development goals are to increase Westside families’ consistent participation in high-quality youth development programs; continue to increase provider quality through coordinator across youth development providers and with schools.

    K–12 Education

    The K–12 Education working group is focused on all in school time of kid’s on the Westside from kindergarten through high school completion. Members of this group will work closely with Atlanta Public Schools and the schools in the Washington Cluster to move forward on the strategic goals and recommendations. This group will also partner with existing charter schools in the community, specifically the KIPP WAYS and STRIVE campuses. 

    Early Childhood

    The Early Childhood working group is dedicated to meeting the needs of the Westside’s youngest and most vulnerable children, from birth to five years old, with a particular emphasis on seeking a balanced approach to emotional, social, health and educational development that will best prepare all children for success in school and later in the workplace and community. This group will be tasked with moving forward the strategic goals and recommendations from both the Westside Health and Education Collaboratives. The main goals for the early childhood working group are to create the demand for high-quality seats through family education and engagement; increase supply of high-quality affordable ECE slots accessible to Westside children by building provider capacity; and increase collaboration within and across ECE, K-12 and wraparound services.


    How do we make our schools more competitive?

    The bottom line is we have to improve instruction, particularly Tier I instruction, which is synonymous with daily instruction. To do that, we have to further develop the people who are closest to our children – our teachers, paraprofessionals and site-based leadership teams (including principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders). We have made major strides this year in this area through the work led by the Schools and Academic Office.

    We pushed more time and resources into professional learning for employees at the school level, where the work of school improvement actually occurs. We invested (and there are more investments to be made) into the people actually working with our children. That’s what high-performing districts and schools do. They invest in their human capital.

    We also need to be more intentional about programming that we put into schools. If industry has a demand for a particular worker profile, then our instructional program must reflect that demand. Our Office of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education works diligently to ensure that our offerings align with the local industry and that exposure to career and technical education experience begins in the elementary grades.

    That is the basis of the signature programs that APS has developed: a flagship high school in each cluster with instruction designed to produce critical thinkers and problem solvers ready for college and or career. The Mays Cluster has chosen International Baccalaureate Signature Program – which allows for backwards mapping of the curriculum and programming. From preK-to-grade 12, students have a schooling experience around a finite set of transdisciplinary themes and lines of inquiry through a focus on global thinking. This way there is common understanding of academic programming and approaches to learning as students and families move through the K-12 continuum.

    Finally, we must invest some effort, time and money into telling our own story. We need to tell our community about our successes and about the next steps in the transformation work. That is at the heart of our new Family and Alumni Engagement Strategy, where we strive to create honest engagement with our most important stakeholders.


    How do we address discipline?

    We cannot ignore the fact that many of our children come from challenging circumstances. In many cases, their behavior is a factor of that which they are exposed to in their communities. Our responsibility is to be sensitive to their experiences in the community and employ a more restorative approach to discipline/managing behavior. A traditional style of discipline will not work in Atlanta.

    We must teach desired behaviors and reinforce expectations. In short, we must teach and re-teach the behavior we want from students. When we teach desired behaviors, we potentially reduce the likelihood of behavioral infractions down the road. Teaching behavior is similar to teaching content. We reteach it using a variety of methods and strategies until our students reach mastery.

    We know that schools need resources for positive behavior supports. Atlanta Public Schools has made Social and Emotional Learning – SEL – a district priority. These skills are foundational to the academic success of our students. If students can persevere – set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships – we know they will be more successful in work and in life. 

    We are working with The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) to support the social-emotional learning initiative within the district. APS SEL Cohort 1 consisted of 25 schools, which includes all schools in the Carver and South Atlanta clusters, B.E.S.T. Academy, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, and all middle schools.

    In the fall of 2016, the SEL initiative rolled out to additional schools, totaling 65 APS campuses including Pre-K through 12th grade and alternative schools. Full district-wide implementation will occur fall of 2017.

    SEL provides a foundational learning structure because it enables: 

    • Students to be active participants in the development and governance of the school learning community.
    • Effective academic teaching and learning, which require students to self-manage, problem solve, make responsible decisions, and collaborate.  All necessary for today and post-secondary life!
    • Creation of an inclusive, participatory, caring environment in the classroom and the school at large—creating family in school where relationships are restored and nurtured.

    With a restorative practices component, this work provides a clear way for relationships to be restored when an infraction or offense has occurred. This key component must be in place in order for students and adults to give voice to concerns, repair any harm and fully move back into the day-to-day business of educating students.   


    What are the district’s strategies to improve reading in the Washington Cluster?

    Many teachers across the nation have difficulty with the how-to’s of teaching students to read. For a very long time, our teachers did not have the resources to effectively teach the subject. Too many had been relying on makeshift curricula and had limited understanding of the balanced literacy framework, which is central to teaching and assessing “learning to read” and “reading to learn” skills and involves a flexible mix of teacher-directed instruction, small group instruction and center-based practice opportunities (both collaborative and independent).

    Because reading is core to learning and is a complicated pursuit to actually teach kids to read, many of our teachers and school leaders have asked for support in this area. They have asked us to show them more effective ways to teach reading, and we have already led groups of hundreds of teachers to do just that with the assistance of the Schools and Academics Office.

    Thanks to a multi-million-dollar grant from the Peach Bowl Inc. and the College Football Playoff Foundation, we will be implementing a district-wide training program for all kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers over a two- to three-year period. APS will oversee the use of the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction that focuses on teaching kids to read at the word level, make connections between sounds and letters and develop language skills.

    Within a sequential framework, students must show mastery of one reading skill before moving on to the next one. This method ensures that our students can learn at their own pace and are not moved through the system without actually learning how to read.

    All K-1 teachers and paraprofessionals will receive training in Year One with teachers from grades 2-5 receiving training in Year Two. Year Three will build capacity by developing our own experts so the program will sustain itself for years to come.

    Finally, Title I schools in Washington and other clusters will benefit from curriculum purchased from Wilson Language Fundation (K-3) and Just Words (4-5). This is an essential reading resource that guides the teaching of reading through a sequential curriculum for a more effective learning experience.