My ANCS story began about 16 years ago. I was living and teaching in New York City but still kept up with news about Atlanta from the AJC.com. One day I read about a terrible fire that had just destroyed the building of a new charter school in Grant Park. I’d never heard of this school–the Neighborhood Charter School–so I looked it up, and, as an educator, I was impressed with what I saw on the school’s website: a focus on hands-on learning and students and the community at the center of the school’s work. I sent an email to the school’s principal, Jackie Rosswurm, expressing my condolences about the fire and my hope that what sounded like an amazing little school would be able to quickly recover.
Over the next four years I continued teaching and went to graduate school with hopes of maybe one day becoming a school principal, and during this time, I checked in every so often on that little school in Grant Park, to see what they were up to. Then, in February 2007, my wife and I decided, in the midst of another long winter in Massachusetts, that we’d start to look at moving to warmer climes. In scanning NCS’s website, I saw that a separate but closely connected school–the Atlanta Charter Middle School–was looking for a new principal, and I decided to apply for the position. I flew down to Atlanta in March and interviewed for two principal positions, one at ACMS and another for a school in the Atlanta Public Schools. I immediately had a great feeling about ACMS. The parents, students, and teachers with whom I met all shared a high level of commitment to seeing ACMS succeed and in creating a school that was inspiring and joyful. I’ll never forget getting the call from the chair of the school’s board at the time, Sally Radell, to offer me the position, and I accepted right away, afraid they would soon second-guess their decision to hand over the job to a 29-year-old with no prior school leadership experience.
I learned a great deal (and struggled at times) during my first couple of years at ACMS but was helped by a flexible and willing faculty and staff (including Maria McFeeley and Kristin Lee who are still at the school today), some supportive board chairs, and dedicated parents. Then, from 2010 to 2011, I had the chance to work closely with a team from both NCS and ACMS on a plan to merge the two schools into a single charter school to be called the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School. The new school would have an Executive Director to work with the board and help support the process of merging two separate schools, and I was encouraged to apply for the role by two of our school’s founders, Doug and Michelle Blackmon. I will be forever grateful to them for their belief in and support of me because serving as ANCS’s Executive Director has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my whole life. The school has grown and evolved, weathered funding shortfalls, won accolades, been held up as a model for collaboration between charter and district schools, developed innovative programs and practices, and seen students now into college and beyond thrive.
I have been privileged to work together with many incredible people to help our school accomplish all I mentioned above. Governing board members who’ve given countless hours volunteering for the school (I’m especially grateful for the support given to me by board chairs like Cat Jaffin, Gigi Conner, Michelle Blackmon, Leslie Rowe, Grace Burley, Mitch White, and Lia Santos). A leadership team whose members individually are all highly-skilled at what they do and who collectively help us keep improving as a school year after year (thank you to Lara Zelski, Cathey Goodgame, Kari Lovell, Ashley Deck, Mark Sanders, Nicole King, Tilifayea Griffin, and Elizabeth Hearn for your leadership for our school!). A faculty and staff that puts students’ needs first and gives a tremendous amount of time and thought each day to create unique learning experiences. And, of course, all of our students–past and present–who impress me all the time.
So, after nearly 12 years, this week marks the end of this chapter of my ANCS story as I will start a new job in January as the Executive Director of Innovation for the Atlanta Public Schools. At that time, a new chapter in my ANCS story will begin, and I expect I’ll be just as involved with our school during it. I’ll still be the parent of an ANCS student, and in my new role, I’ll work closely with ANCS’s leadership and will be the school’s biggest advocate and cheerleader at the APS central office.
Since this is my last blog post as ANCS’s Executive Director, let me conclude with a request: keep ANCS a school where the primary focus is on creating a place where students are inspired and where there is joy in learning. That is what the founders of our school hoped to create and it’s that aspect of the school that first drew me to it. As time has passed since our school’s founding and as public education in general has become more standardized over the past 15 or so years, it’s easy to get caught up in rubrics and test scores or how ANCS compares to other schools or other measures. But the most unique and important feature of ANCS has never really been able to be easily “counted”, and that’s helping to develop young people who can think deeply, critically and creatively, ask questions and challenge the status quo, and find meaning and excitement in what they are learning. Please keep that at the heart of all ANCS does, no matter your role at the school.
Wishing you well,