Atlanta Board of Education chair discusses how focusing on literacy will transform the lives of students.

By Erikia Y. Mitchell

In conversations about the looming literacy crisis for students in Georgia, Atlanta Board of Education Chair Erica Y. Mitchell reached out with her vision for students in Atlanta Public Schools.


In the vibrant city of Atlanta, where innovation and progress are the cornerstones of our community, the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) have a pivotal opportunity to lead the way in transforming literacy education—an essential stepping stone to lifelong success.

Despite the efforts of dedicated educators and the administration, reading proficiency among APS students remains a pressing concern. According to recent assessments, only a fraction of our students meet or exceed the proficiency levels expected for their grade level. This isn’t just a statistic; it’s a stark reminder of the barriers to equity and opportunity that many of our students face.

The time is now to reimagine how we approach literacy in our schools. Our mission must be clear: ensure every child, regardless of background, masters this fundamental skill that sets the stage for all future learning.

Here’s how we can achieve a greater level of literacy among our students:

  1. Invest in Early Childhood Literacy: Research consistently shows that early intervention can significantly impact a child’s ability to read and comprehend. APS should enhance support for Pre-K programs and early elementary grades, focusing on phonics-based instruction and reading fluency.
  2. Foster a Culture of Reading: Schools must become hubs of literary activity. We need libraries that captivate young minds, programs that bring local authors into classrooms, and initiatives that provide books to students with limited access at home.
  3. Support Educators with Specialized Training: Ensure teachers have the tools and training to effectively teach reading is crucial. This includes ongoing professional development in the latest literacy education techniques and strategies.
  4. Engage the Community: Literacy is not solely a school issue; it takes a community-wide commitment. Partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits, and universities can provide resources and support for literacy programs.
  5. Use Data to Drive Decisions: By monitoring student progress and program effectiveness, APS can adapt and refine teaching methods to best meet the needs of our diverse student body.

Our goal is to ensure that each APS student becomes a proficient reader by the third grade. The benefits of achieving this goal are profound, setting our children on a path to academic success and empowered citizenship. Let’s embrace this challenge with the urgency it deserves and commit to a future where all APS children possess the literacy skills to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

APS Transforming Literacy Education policy developed by Board Chair Erika Y. Mitchell:

The Atlanta Board of Education acknowledges the critical role literacy plays in student success and is committed to addressing literacy disparities and promoting equity across all demographics within the APS. This commitment extends especially to those groups who have historically been disenfranchised, including African American students, multilingual learners, and children from low socio-economic backgrounds, as well as those not meeting grade-level proficiency.

Recognizing the illiteracy crisis as a public health issue at epidemic levels, the Board is dedicated to implementing a comprehensive literacy policy outlining strategic goals to overcome the literacy challenges faced by the district, which has historically led to inequitable outcomes.

Policy Objectives:

  1. High-Quality Early Learning: Provide students with robust early learning experiences that lay the foundation for literacy success.
  2. Systematic Instruction: Adopt a “science of reading” approach, a body of evidence-based research that emphasizes explicit, systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension throughout all grade levels.
  3. Community Engagement: Strengthen community support and partnerships that enhance literacy learning outside traditional classroom settings.
  4. Continuous Assessment and Accountability: Integrate ongoing assessments, including universal reading screeners, to monitor student progress and ensure effective outcomes.
  5. Professional Development: Ensure educators are equipped with current, evidence-based literacy teaching practices through comprehensive professional development.
  6. Timely Interventions: Provide immediate, tiered support for students at risk of not meeting literacy benchmarks.

Summary of “Readers are Leaders” Initiative

The Atlanta Board of Education recently adopted a Literacy Policy to address the importance and impact literacy has in the lives of our students. Literacy success requires a combination of high-quality early learning experiences; explicit and systematic instruction during elementary and secondary school; and strong family and community support utilizing school- and community-based partners.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Danielle Battle has prioritized literacy as her number one initiative. This work directly aligns with Georgia HB538, requiring all kindergarten through third-grade teachers to be trained in the Science of Reading.

As a district, we have chosen to do this work from kindergarten to fifth grade since many students are missing foundational skills. The“Readers are Leaders”  literacy initiative is an 18-month professional learning requirement consisting of taking the Cox Campus Science of Reading modules independently by school leaders, teachers, and district leaders, including the APS Superintendent. Professional learning on completing the work from the modules to implementation in the classroom occurs after each module, starting with leadership and then teachers. This method allows teachers to receive full support as they plan and implement its strategies. This timeline meets the July 1, 2025, requirement of HB538. Upon completion of cycles one to four of the modules, teachers will receive a stipend of $1,250 in October and another $1,250 upon completion of the final four cycles in May.

Support during this work is vital. The Board of Education has provided funding to hire one Readers are Leaders Coordinator and five Specialists at the district level to support the Readers are Leaders Instructional Coaches provided for the district’s elementary schools along with resources to teach and assess structured literacy block components.

The goal is for all of Atlanta Public Schools children to become strong and proficient readers because we know that Readers are Leaders.

This overall literacy policy is a commitment not only to improve literacy but to transform the lives of all APS students, equipping them with the skills necessary for academic success and fulfilling futures.

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