APS leader: We need business partners to help our students succeed

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring offers her own thoughts on the Advanced Placement African American Studies class she joined at Maynard Jackson High School on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring offers her own thoughts on the Advanced Placement African American Studies class she joined at Maynard Jackson High School on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In a guest column, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring calls on the business and corporate community to help students overcome the lingering symptoms of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be food insecurity, housing instability or emotional distress.

By Lisa Herring

Atlanta Public Schools has an incredible story to tell. Over the course of our 150-year existence, our district has remained integral to this region’s success and boasts a powerful legacy of APS alumni leading and shaping our world. This is the same legacy that we are poised to continue.

I arrived as the superintendent of APS in July 2020, five months into the already uncertain and unpredictable onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, no one knew we would be contending with a global pandemic for the greater part of two-plus years and beyond, that our culture and every system, institution and process that make our community and greater society function would be fundamentally altered in some way.

Perhaps even more arduous was the daring inheritance of leading, navigating and protecting an organization and organizational culture that one could not physically see given our predetermined virtual operations. I will forever remain grateful for the support, guidance, research and science-driven collaboration that was provided by our public health community, medical leaders, school board and other educational leaders across Georgia, Atlanta and the nation.

While the pandemic has impacted us all in a myriad of ways, it is my intention to lead APS in a quantum leap toward reimagining the very idea of what a school system should be to prepare our students for college, careers and entrepreneurship. And while we are amply prepared to ensure our students get the best education and social experience possible, this is not a journey we can embark on alone. If we are to achieve the progress we seek for our students, APS must aggressively pursue substantive and lasting collaborations with the best and most effective public and private partners in our city and beyond.

Data from our district and some of the top educational research institutions in the country indicates the pandemic years have taken an extraordinary toll on the nation’s public schools, affecting students’ behavior, attendance, mental health as well as employee well-being. Through incredible partnerships, we were able to weather the uncertain winds of the pandemic and bridge the digital divide as students and staff pivoted to a virtual learning environment. Since returning to in-person learning, our corporate collaborations have expanded to provide free telehealth services to address mental, physical and learning disruptions caused by the pandemic.

APS is also thrilled by the launch of our Grow with Google partnership that creates a technology-driven pathway for our scholars to leave APS already credentialed and employable in well-paying tech fields, and we are just getting started. Our aspirational, yet obtainable goal, is to match every one of our 87 schools with a corporate partner helping us fulfill our commitment to giving our scholars the tools they need to be successful. Atlanta, together, we can make this virtual concept a reality.

As we charge ahead, APS is eager and determined to exceed academic benchmarks, while also touting the highest graduation rate to date — 84%. We are also laser-focused on improving national MAP Growth assessments in literacy and numeracy and expanding advanced academic course offerings. Our scholars are working hard in the classroom, and we must match their achievements and energy by ensuring that our Mission Possible 2036 effort, launched during our 2023 State of the District, is funded, championed, and realized with the support of Atlanta’s vast array of stakeholders and corporate partners. The success of this ambitious $15 million campaign relies on dedicated buy-in and continued support. Our scholars are indeed worth the investment and so much more.

In all candor, we can’t singularly address academic needs when social, emotional and economic realities rule the day. The sobering reality is that while hospitalizations and deaths have subsided and eluded recent headlines, the lingering symptoms of the pandemic rage on and Georgia is not immune. Whether it’s food insecurity, housing instability or emotional distress, I believe there are partnerships that can help solve any problem our students may face. I’m calling on our corporations and business leaders to join us in the spirit of collaboration and in support of our youth. Potential partners, large and small, can connect with us by email at partnerdev@atlanta.k12.ga.us.

As a lifelong educator, Georgia native and proud Atlanta citizen, I echo the sentiments of our Mayor Andre Dickens, a proud APS alumnus, as he proclaimed 2023 the “Year of the Youth,” and join him in this worthy call to action for radical and unprecedented investment in Atlanta’s young people.

It has forever been clear to me as an innovative educational leader that our moral imperative is to prepare our scholars for careers we can’t begin to imagine. This collective and collaborative feat requires life-changing inspiration, unimaginable innovation, and historic investment. Indeed, it takes a village, but it also requires us to chart a bold, new road ahead. But this, Atlanta, is Mission Possible.