FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE: APS’ FORMIDABLE CHALLENGE: Inside the daunting quest to improve an Atlanta school

A principal’s work is never finished, or at least it feels that way when you spend a day at Harper-Archer Elementary School.

VIDEO: ‘Together we can and together we will’

Harper-Archer Elementary School principal Dione Simon Taylor has worked for Atlanta Public Schools since 1999. During the 2017-2018 academic school year, Taylor was honored as APS principal of the year while at G.A. Towns Elementary School, an academically troubled school on Atlanta’s west side. Her focus has now shifted as she has been tasked to turn around Harper-Archer Elementary School, a school that was created to consolidate her former school and another academically troubled school. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC)

Principal Dione Simon Taylor starts her day before classes begin and the next eight hours are a blur of activity, from greeting students as they get off the bus to staff meetings and dance class. Here’s how she spent one October school day.

7:20 a.m.: Taylor arrives at the school.

Dione Simon Taylor stops to speak to students during her morning routine.  Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Dione Simon Taylor stops to speak to students during her morning routine. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

7:36 a.m.: Taylor stands in hallway, greeting students and directing them to the cafeteria and classrooms.

7:59 a.m.: Taylor goes upstairs, continues to direct students and greet them.

8:00 a.m.: Classes begin.

Harper-Archer Principal Dione Simon Taylor, on her morning routine.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Harper-Archer Principal Dione Simon Taylor, on her morning routine. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

8:10 a.m.: Taylor walks down a hallway, stopping to pick up trash, unstack chairs, and greet a few classes.

8:19 a.m.: Taylor unlocks her conference room and office door, unpacks her briefcase, and goes over her schedule.

8:30 a.m.: Taylor heads to the media center to give a short speech during a ceremony to recognize students of the month.

8:42 a.m.: Taylor returns to office, makes a cup of coffee.

8:48 a.m.: Taylor leaves office to head to her first meeting of the day, an instructional planning session with first-grade teachers.

Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor makes a quick video for the district's awards ceremony, one of many tasks she checks off during a busy October school day.  Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor makes a quick video for the district's awards ceremony, one of many tasks she checks off during a busy October school day. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

9:41 a.m.: Taylor leaves the meeting to meet with a videographer from central office who wants to film her speaking about a nominee for the upcoming Atlanta Public Schools employee awards ceremony.

Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor attends a first-grade teacher meeting on an October morning.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor attends a first-grade teacher meeting on an October morning. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

9:51 a.m.: Taylor returns to instructional planning meeting.

Principal Dione Simon Taylor during a meeting with an instructional coach and the first-grade teaching team.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Principal Dione Simon Taylor during a meeting with an instructional coach and the first-grade teaching team.  Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

10:22 a.m.: After the meeting, Taylor returns to her office and then heads to a dance class.

Dance instructor Lisa Perrymond, left, gets a hug from Principal Dione Simon Taylor after Taylor stopped by the studio to watch a dance rehearsal.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Dance instructor Lisa Perrymond, left, gets a hug from Principal Dione Simon Taylor after Taylor stopped by the studio to watch a dance rehearsal.  Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

10:42 a.m.: Taylor watches students practice choreography they're learning for an upcoming performance at the APS State of the District event, which will be held at Harper-Archer this year.

10:50 a.m.: Taylor stops to watch second-graders who participating in a dance class led by outside instructors from the program Moving in the Spirit. Taylor has created an artist-in-residence program to expose students to different kinds of arts education.

Principal Dione Simon Taylor stops in a music class to observe the teacher and takes observation notes on her phone while students drum. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Principal Dione Simon Taylor stops in a music class to observe the teacher and takes observation notes on her phone while students drum. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

11:00 a.m.: Taylor stops by a music classroom, where students are (loudly) drumming.

11:16 a.m.: Taylor visits the gymnasium during "gym jam," a recreational reward for students.

Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor high fives a student during the monthly "Gym Jam", an event to reward students who have earned enough points to attend.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor high fives a student during the monthly "Gym Jam", an event to reward students who have earned enough points to attend. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

11:27 a.m.: Taylor returns to her office to check emails.

11:36 a.m.: Taylor reviews her schedule with the school business manager and the school's director of partnerships and programs. She completes paperwork and answers questions.

Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor, far right, goes over schedules and makes plans with the school’s business manager Shonda Fulton, at left, and  LaJuana Ezzard, center, director of the school’s programs and partnerships.    Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Harper-Archer Elementary School Principal Dione Simon Taylor, far right, goes over schedules and makes plans with the school’s business manager Shonda Fulton, at left, and LaJuana Ezzard, center, director of the school’s programs and partnerships. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

12:42 p.m.: Taylor heads to an instructional planning session with second-grade teachers.

2:09 p.m.: After the meeting, Taylor grabs a slice of pizza off a cart as a staffer rolls it down the hallway and returns to the main office for a lemonade.

2:15 p.m.: Taylor takes up her station in the school lobby, saying goodbye to students and directing foot-traffic.

3:13 p.m.: After school buses depart, Taylor leaves the lobby. Her day isn't over. She still has to record school announcements, go to an attendance meeting, and finally a meeting about the school's federal Title 1 status.

NEXT STORY: » Voices from Harper-Archer

INSIDE HARPER-ARCHER: MORE STORIES

» Fight for the future

» Dealing with coronavirus

» Developing a plan for failing schools

» Parental involvement is key

» Teachers try to fill academic, skills gap

» Dance students add rhythm, flow, joy to learning

» New school, deep roots

» Voices from Harper-Archer

» About this series

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