Welcome back! I am so glad to have all of you back to work this week. I trust and hope the winter break offered a chance to relax and reflect, allowing you to return to Atlanta Public Schools refreshed and eager to do the hard work to prepare our beautiful students for college, career and life.

As we launch into 2016, I want to start by sending a huge thanks to everyone who participated in the APS Gives Hope Online Charitable Giving Campaign.

Together, APS was able to spread the spirit of generosity and raise over $137,000. Kudos to all who donated and gave hope!

Also, congratulations to the following winners of the campaign:

· Highest School Participation: Brown Middle School, with 41 percent of their employees participating.

· Highest School Giving: Inman Middle School, with their staff contributing $3,638.

· Highest Division/Non-Instructional Staff Participation: Human Resources Department, with nearly 70 percent of their employees participating. Way to go, HR!

Finally, the winner of the final drawing is Ure Adekunle, Crim Open Campus High School. Ure will receive an iTunes gift card! Congrats!

I’m also reaching out because there is a lot of chatter and misinformation out there about our school turnaround strategy. I thought it was important that you heard from me directly as I’m sure that some of you may be worried about what all of this may mean for your school or for you individually.

As you know, the State recently announced a new Opportunity School District that would potentially take over our lowest performing schools if approved by voters. Given this context, we are out of time because we can’t waste another day for our students for whom we are not consistently providing a high quality education across the district.

Given the urgency of the situation, we have worked tirelessly over the past few months to develop a comprehensive school turnaround strategy, which I outlined in my State of the District address last semester. I’m excited to report that we are moving full steam ahead with many of the additional supports outlined in the strategy. For example, we have started hiring tutors to provide focused tutoring for literary skills at 16 of our highest-needs schools. We are prepared to serve more than 1,900 students in grades three to five in daily sessions for 45 minutes in a 5-to-1 pupil-to-teacher setting. The tutoring is scheduled to get started in just a few weeks!

You may have also heard that we recently issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to invite potential partners who want to support our turnaround efforts to submit their ideas. I invite you to read my latest blog to get more specific details on these latest developments and to better understand what this RFQ is and is not.

While all of these changes might feel a little unsettling for some of you, I remain committed to open and transparent communication throughout this process, especially with you, as my valued colleagues and partners in this work. I need each and every one of you to be an active part of this turnaround.

I didn’t come here to Atlanta to turn our schools over to a state-run school district. I came here because I love Atlanta and wanted to contribute to this community. I want to help create the kind of transformation our children, our community and this city deserves. I am confident that with your help, we can do just that.

Happy New Year!