Equity Begins When We Embrace the Grace to Grow!

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Atlanta Public Schools. On August 30, 1961, nine Black students were the first to desegregate four Atlanta High Schools. Three of those students–Willie Jean Black, Madelyn Nix, and Thomas Welch–attended Booker T. Washington High School before desegregating J.E. Brown High School (renamed as Herman J. Russell West End Academy).

Atlanta Board of Education Archives

Learn more about their inspiring stories in this video below produced by Ms. Shaleisa Brewer, social studies teacher, and her students at Booker T. Washington High School here:


As I reflected on this historical action, I imagine the courage and challenges of these students, the mistakes and commitments of the leaders, and the opportunities and possibilities available to the Atlanta community. The same spirit and grace to grow exists within APS today, and creating opportunities and equitable learning environments for all of our students is an ongoing commitment.

At the beginning of the 2021 school year, we had the privilege of bringing school leaders from across the district together to connect and commit to equity excellence and engagement for all APS students. Our superintendent, Dr. Lisa Herring and I shared our Grace to Grow stories. These stories from our personal experiences were testaments of how the people around us extended grace that helped us be better as mothers, daughters, leaders and human beings. In other words, they allowed us the grace to not always get it right the first time but to use our missteps as fuel to become better.
 
We ask that this same grace be extended to our building leaders, teachers, staff, students, families and our wider Atlanta Public Schools community as we work to advance equity in the Atlanta Public Schools. We may not always get it right the first time, but we are committed to reflecting, correcting and improving so that every student has the best opportunity to achieve excellence.
 
Recently, allegations from over a year ago resurfaced suggesting assignment to classes based solely on race at one of our elementary schools. At that time, the administration acted swiftly to address the concern.
 
The incidents in question occurred well before my arrival as Chief Equity and Social Justice Officer, and well before the establishment of the district’s first office devoted solely to advancing equity in education.
 
We know there is still work to be done in the pursuit of equity within our district. This is why our Board passed the district’s first ever Equity Policy in 2019, and why our new superintendent, Dr. Lisa Herring, established my position. APS has also made a historic investment by establishing the Center for Equity + Social Justice (CESJ). That, along with a comprehensive equity-focused strategic plan, is part of the work APS is doing to ensure everyone is treated justly and fairly, regardless of economic, social, cultural and human differences.
 
As the Chief Equity + Social Justice Officer of the Center for Equity + Social Justice, I have the honor of executing on the district’s vision of ensuring that we are focused on creating high-quality, equitable teaching and learning environments in our classrooms that foster collaboration among all our students. To accomplish our goal, our office is committed to working hand-in-hand with our stakeholders to build our capacity to lead for equity.

We are committed to ensuring that everyone at APS has the resources to excel. These commitments are to our students, parents and staff. In addition:

We are committed to providing equitable environments that create collaboration among all students in every classroom.

We are committed to not only identifying, but also removing barriers to success and opportunities for all our students, including and especially our students of color.

We are committed to addressing and investigating any and all issues that negatively impact anyone at APS, including equity-related issues.

We are committed to keeping the security of our students and staff as our top priority.

And, we are committed to continuously creating equitable learning environments for everyone at APS.

We ask that everyone in our APS community lean into, and extend, the grace to grow as we all commit to putting equity at the forefront. 

In Peace & Solidarity,

Dr. Tauheedah Baker-Jones, Ed.L.D.

Chief Equity & Social Justice Officer

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