The Power Behind Strong Teachers
By Meital Caplan
July 5, 2017
Atlanta Public Schools Associate Superintendent Dr. Dan Sims has spent the last 22 years dedicated to providing quality education to students in the region. In that time, he worked as a teacher, a principal and now helps lead Atlanta Public Schools’ commitment to providing educational equity and opportunity for all students. As OneGoal – Metro Atlanta prepares to launch its founding cohorts in the upcoming school year, Dr. Sims reflects on the impact he sees awaiting his students.
As a college student, I found myself at Georgia Tech with a full scholarship to study engineering. Yet I found myself constantly skipping classes to volunteer at high schools. Eventually I opened my eyes and found the bravery to leave everything to pursue education and I’ve never looked back. There’s this quote by Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham that goes, “To love what you do and feel that it matters. How can anything be more fun?” Well, I’m now in year 22 of having fun.
In this time I’ve held many positions – Dean of Students, Principal, Associate Superintendent – but I don’t think I would have been prepared for those responsibilities without the experiences I had as an AP Mathematics teacher. Nothing compares. One year there was a group of kids that had heard about me and were intimidated about the experience they were going to have. While on the other hand I had heard about them and was intimidated by what they brought to the table! And we ended up falling in love. So much so that that the class became more of a ministry because we learned all the calculus there was to learn, but we also learned about each other, we talked a lot about our aspirations and we shared in each other’s personal lives. Believe it or not, this AP Calculus class and I – after 17 years – are still connected. We’ve gotten together every single Christmas. I’ve been to weddings, seen babies born and even officiated a wedding for one of my students. The relationship was amazing and it was something that transcended that classroom experience. It’s been unreal.
So now as Atlanta Public Schools’ (APS) Associate Superintendent, I know the power behind strong mentor and teacher relationships.
When I think about what student success looks like, I see lining up the right adults in every nook and cranny where students are involved. I see a school that offers an environment that tries to meet the social, emotional and academic needs of every single student in differentiated ways. One strength of APS is that we don’t feel it’s a slight on the district or anybody else to say that we want to partner with an organization so that we can maximize what we can do for every kid. We open our fears, we open our hearts, we open our minds to best understand and put the best wrap arounds in place to support what we intend to be meaningful partnerships, especially when it comes to college success.
We need to provide all students – whether the valedictorians or the “barely-made-its” – a unique route for them to get to the same outcome: access to college. When I think about the students represented in our truancy populations, our dropout populations, and GED populations, my wonder is: how many of these kids were given a better option, something like OneGoal?
What excites me about OneGoal is that it provides a course-based opportunity to focus just on getting student ready for success after high school through the guidance of a teacher whose sole focus is preparing students to succeed in college and building lifelong, supportive relationships. As an administrator, I’m excited that I can say that we have a resource for not just high-performing students, but for those that hadn’t yet realized their potential when they got to us. It provides this set of equity and access that’s tough to reach, and that’s pretty meaningful.
Atlanta Public Schools is dedicated to this partnership because we’re dedicated to our students. In offering students OneGoal, I see an important step towards a bright future for all the students that walk through our schools’ doors. A future where a kid can walk into the building with a crystal clear, 20/20 vision and reason for being in high school and pursuing the next level. And I see a future where schools don’t have to do all the work because these kids are influencing their peers and are helping and impacting one another. This vision can happen, we just have to believe in it and commit to it.