Superintendent Herring: Rallying APS Leadership for Equity, Social Justice & Achievement

As we prepare for the challenges of an unprecedented 2020-2021 school year, I have been working on leadership structural changes as part of my administration in Atlanta Public Schools. I believe these changes will significantly improve and focus our work on the Strategic Plan, further highlight our emphasis on equity in education for all students, and graduate more and more Atlanta students ready for college, career, and life.

Our work is critical for the future of our nation. That work must be rooted in equity.

Long before we had ever heard of COVID-19, urban school superintendents were facing, discussing, and tackling systemic issues caused by racism and social injustice upon our most vulnerable populations.

Early in my career in education, I made striving for equity a personal mission. I believe strongly in the inner strength, power, and talent of our children and in  strong teachers and schools. With those things combined, we can maximize our students’  talents so they can pursue whatever life purposes they choose.

Joining Atlanta Public Schools as its new superintendent earlier this month enabled me to continue that personal mission rooted in a passionate belief that education is the greatest equalizer.

We have a long way to go when you consider that Atlanta stands as the most unequal city in our nation, particularly when it comes to income inequality. That is closely associated with the academic achievement gap where white students are nearly 4.5 grade levels ahead of their black peers within Atlanta Public Schools.

Equity stands at the core of our 2020- 2025 strategic plan and will guide our work as a school system. When the Atlanta Board of Education approved a district equity policy, it recognized: “Equity means the quality or ideal of being just and fair, regardless of economic, social, cultural, and human differences among and between persons. We believe that achieving equity requires strategic decision-making to remedy opportunity and learning gaps and create a barrier-free environment, which enables all students to graduate ready for college, career, and life.”

To fully support Atlanta Public Schools’ focus in equity, the board at its meeting this week also approved the creation of the position of Chief Equity & Social Justice Officer.

Not only is this the right position for Atlanta Public Schools, it’s the right time.

But it’s not just about equity. In a season of pandemic and a season of protest, we have not only seen these cracks in our academic foundation, we have heard the cries of social justice.

I believe we need to have a senior leader and a division strongly focused on the dual challenges of equity and social justice if we are going to see real movement toward a more equitable system of education in Atlanta.

The position of Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer is being supported in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of their longstanding work to promote anti-racist agendas, equity, and inclusion.

We live in a city that has been a home to Civil Rights giants. This year, we lost three of them – Congressman Lewis, the Reverend Lowery, and the Reverend Vivian. In their memories, we must do the work now.

They not only gave us a blueprint for change; they gave us a charge. We must not let this opportunity pass.

The Board also approved other leadership changes, which will support achievement as well as equity and social justice. This involved the reinstatement of four previous district positions: Chief Schools Officer, Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Staff, and Senior Administrative Manager.

I am thrilled to announce that, as part of the Board’s action, two experienced leaders in education join Atlanta Public Schools this week.

Jerod Bishop – Chief of Staff

At Birmingham City Schools, Mr. Bishop served as the Executive Coordinator for Policy, Governance, and External Affairs, where he managed policy and governance efforts and procedures. He served as the main liaison with the community, city government, key partners, district staff and other constituents. He provided critical leadership and support to assure the district followed the strategic plan and promoted change management and organizational development.

His experience includes work in school districts in South Carolina; most significant to APS is his work as the Equity & Access/Diversity & Inclusion Lead in the Charleston County School District.

Mr. Bishop earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Coker University and his Master of Business Administration degree from Webster University. He has also earned certifications and fellowships from the Cornell University, Harvard University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

As part of my Senior Cabinet and a key strategic planner and advisor, Mr. Bishop will assist me in coordinating activities and priorities among this administration’s major functions as well as manage special projects and leading key initiatives. He will represent our district at public events and before external organizations and stakeholders with attention to supporting equity and diversity.

Anita Williams – Chief Schools Officer

Ms. Williams served as Birmingham’s Instructional Superintendent. Under her leadership, large percentages of schools saw increases on the Alabama school report cards, and the district saw a 10% increase in its College and Career Readiness score.

Before joining Birmingham City Schools, she served for seven years as principal of Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan. She actually began her career as a science teacher in Detroit Public Schools Community District, advancing to roles as curriculum coordinator and assistant principal.

Ms. Williams earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in General Science from Wilberforce University, her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Detroit, and her Education Specialist degree in Administration and Supervision from Wayne State University.

As Chief Schools Officer and a member of my Senior Cabinet, Ms. Williams will provide oversight, leadership, and direction for the efficient operation and academic management of schools in accordance with Board policy and strategic initiatives. She will directly supervise our associate superintendents and has regular contact with school administrators, departmental leadership, and central office staff.

We continue to develop the structure of this new administration with the utmost care given to budget sensitivities. Again, I believe these changes and hires will significantly bolster and focus the work of my administration on the district’s new strategic plan, particularly with its focus on equity, and on our mission to graduate more and more students ready for college, career, and life.

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