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Back to School Update - 7/19

School of Wisdom

 “Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.” ~ Baltasar Gracián

Recently, for better or worse, many of us have had more time than usual for self-reflection. But on what are we reflecting? Past behaviors? Our lifestyle? Relationships? Things we want to take away from this experience? Things we want to leave behind? Self-reflection is more than a simple glimpse back. It is an intentional review of the choices we have been making and what we have allowed to define our lives and our current existence. When we take time to ponder what is important and what is not - in the context of the core values we embrace - we position ourselves to make wiser choices moving forward.

As you know, we have had time to reflect on the last few months of school at SPARK.  I am very proud of our staff, students, and community for embracing what we referred to as “Virtual Learning” and having the highest percentage of student participation - 98% of our students participating daily - in online learning in Atlanta Public Schools during the months of March, April, and May.  We had great success, but I want to assure you that ending the school year virtually with seemingly no notice will be vastly different than beginning the school year virtually with time to prepare.   

I want to share some of the information about how virtual instruction for the first 9 weeks will be stronger and more consistent than it was in March, April, and May.  

  • First day of school for students to be pushed from August 10 to August 24. We will have ALL virtual instruction for the first 9 weeks/Quarter 1 with opportunities to revisit/revise after that.
  • The school calendar for students will be reduced from 180 days to 170 days and the last day of school in May has not been changed.
  • The calendar for teachers will not change.  Teachers will still “report” on August 3 both physically and virtually.  We will have 3 weeks of pre-planning and preparation instead of the typical one week. This is critical considering we want to prepare for a more consistent experience with Virtual Teaching and Learning.  Some of you may be wondering why this did not happen over the summer and the answer is easy - funding.  Teachers are off contract during the summer weeks and our district and school budgets have taken a huge hit due to the pandemic.  Finding funds to pay teachers to work during the weeks of summer would have been impossible.
  • Teacher schedules for virtual instruction will be standardized/uniform across all grade levels for consistency of experience and to allow families to plan their time/childcare/PODs, etc. Differentiation will still occur in small groups. I have received many emails from parents requesting their child be placed in classrooms with other children so they can form “PODs”, but the reality is we will not be able to re-do our class lists to accommodate these requests.  We spend many hours with input from children’s previous grade level teachers, administration, and student placement forms completed by parents to create what we feel are balanced classes.
  • Teacher resources for virtual instruction will be standardized/uniform as well.  APS has purchased the following Content Management Systems and Online Engagement Tools for this purpose:
    • Google G Suite for Educators (Google Classroom, Meet, Forms, etc.)
    • ZOOM (Premium)
    • FRECKLE (K-5th - Content Management System that differentiates instruction across Math, ELA, Social Studies and Science)
    • Nearpod (K-12)
    • STAR
    • Accelerated Reader
  • Virtual school will be as close to live school as possible and we will consider the following:
    • Increased amount of time students will spend in virtual instruction - grade level dependent
    • Increased amount of time for teacher-led instruction in all content areas
    • Increased student self-efficiency in navigating a virtual world
    • Building parent capacity via a SPARK Parent University to help guide and troubleshoot through virtual platforms
  • Teachers will have posted “office hours” on a consistent basis across grade levels.
  • Teachers will be given the choice to teach “virtually” from their classroom in the school.  This will allow them access to all of their classroom resources as well as school resources.
  • ESOL and Gifted will be included in the new schedule.
  • SPED support services will be included in the new schedule.  APS and SPARK will continue to implement services and make decisions based on the best interests of individual students and their unique needs.  We will continue to adhere to principles set forth in the IDEA by meeting the individualized needs of students and providing meaningful participation for parents.  The district will implement virtual learning for our students with disabilities, just as we would during normal school operations. For more information, please click here. 
  • Specials such as Art, Music, PE, SEL and Spanish will be included in the new schedule.
  • Super Specials such as Media Center, Read-Alouds, and Environmental Education will continue to be optional.
  • APS has partnered with Comcast to launch the Get Our Kids Connected campaign to support low-income families.  Eligible families will receive 12 months of free high-speed internet and/or a device that they can keep forever. For more information please visit
  • APS will begin providing students MEALS on Monday, August 10th – more details to come.
  • APS will provide PPE and temperature check equipment when we return in person.
  • All persons must wear masks to enter the school for any reasons until further notice. No exceptions.

There are still a number of things that we need to work through but I am confident that we will be able to send you a more detailed plan as our administrative team and teachers return from summer break.  We will be looking at the following:

  • A plan for the distribution of parent purchased Edukits, Virtual Starter Kits from homeroom teachers, and device distribution for children who need it.  Our rising 2nd and 3rd grade students still have the school/district issued IPAD that they will continue to use.  For all other students, we will work through ways to provide technology to families who need it once we receive more information from the district.
  • For rising 6th graders, we will plan an opportunity for families to pick up student belongings left in student lockers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Upon Dr. Toney’s return from summer break, she will finalize class lists and will make them available to the Grady Cluster community on August 5. 
    • For returning families to SPARK you will be able to access your homeroom teacher information via the Parent Portal.
    • We will post class lists on the main entrance door at Main Campus, and at the Kindergarten Center by 3pm.
    • Incoming Kindergarten parents will receive information on setting up Parent Portal accounts.
  • We will host virtual town halls for grade levels to share information with parents and to answer parent questions.  Please feel free to email me directly with any questions that you may have.

I want to thank those of you who completed the parent feedback survey sent to the SPARK community at the end of May.   Your feedback has allowed ample time to reflect and think about ways we can improve our SPARK virtual learning experience.

 Please know that this is not ideal for any of us.  Our teachers would rather be physically with your children because they care and love each one of them, but we also know that their safety and well-being, along with our teachers/staff safety and well-being, has to be our number one priority.  We miss your kids and we look forward to seeing them, albeit virtually, in the coming weeks.

Continued good health to all of you, and I will be in touch with more information as it becomes available. 


Mr. Terry Harness
Springdale Park Elementary – “SPARK”