Celebrating National School Bus Safety Week: Meet Some of the APS Bus Drivers Who Help Keep Our Students Safe

NBSW 2017_Charles Brown
Bus operator Charles Brown is a proud, 30-year veteran of the Atlanta Public Schools Transportation Department.

By: Alicia Sands Lurry

Charles Brown looks forward to coming to work today just as much as he did nearly 30 years ago. An Atlanta Public Schools bus driver since 1988, Brown attributes his longevity to passion, dedication, and a keen ability to relate to students and their families. 

“I’ve never had a problem with my kids on the bus,” said Brown, an Atlanta native and recipient of the 2017-2018 Putting Students First Award. “I give parents my cell phone number, and I build a rapport with students and their families. I enjoy being around kids, I enjoy my job, and I’m proud to come to work every day.”

Oct. 16-20 is National School Bus Safety Week, and Brown is among the hundreds of familiar and committed individuals in the Atlanta Public Schools Transportation Department who keep our students safe every day. As a public education program, National Bus Safety Week is an opportunity for parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and others to join forces and address the importance of school bus safety. This year’s theme is “Stop on Red!”

According to John Franklin, APS director of transportation, National School Bus Safety Week is a perfect opportunity to recognize the importance of bus safety and to show appreciation for transportation personnel.

“National School Bus Safety is a time to pause and reflect, and is an opportunity for schools, parents, and families to recognize the importance of riding, exiting, and going to the bus stop safely,” Franklin said. “Our technicians, drivers, bus monitors, payroll clerks, and leadership team are dedicated and work tirelessly to keep our students safe. It is important to realize that school buses are the safest method to transport students to and from school.”

According to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, more than 25 million children ride the yellow bus every school day.  As a district, Atlanta Public Schools transports 26,000 students daily. The transportation department, in turn, is home to 460 employees, which includes 360 bus drivers and 70 bus monitors.

In recognition of National School Bus Safety Week and Bus Driver Appreciation Day on Oct. 16, we will feature other outstanding transportation pros in four feature articles.

Today, meet two more APS bus operators who ensure our children arrive to school and home safely each day.

Brenda McQueen and Linda Starr

NBSW 2017_Linda Starr Brenda McQueen
Linda Starr, left, and her twin sister Brenda McQueen are passionate about their work as APS bus operators.

Twin sisters Brenda McQueen and Linda Starr have more in common than just being siblings. In addition to being best friends, the two have also been APS bus drivers for more than 20 years, and their love for children make their work a joy each day.

“We’re more than just bus drivers, we’re like they’re other mothers,” said McQueen, who has been with the district for 23 years. “We’re parents, chaperones, friends, and their motivation. We care.”

They also take safety seriously. The most important lessons they share are for students to stop, look and listen at all times. They also stress the importance of students knowing how and when to cross the street.

“I tell my students to look at me before crossing, let me know before picking something up, and to always look, count and watch before crossing the street,” McQueen said. “Rules are in place for a reason.”

Her sister agreed.

“We tell them to stop, look and listen,” said Starr, who recently celebrated 20 years with APS. “I don’t pull off until I know everyone is safe. This shows the public that we are responsible for these kids and that we’re doing our part.”


Grady Boys and Girls Sweep District Cross Country Championships


Grady boys XC 2017
Grady’s girls and boys teams dominated the annual Atlanta Public Schools Cross Country Championships, held last week at Grant Park.

The Grady boys and girls cross country teams swept the Atlanta Public Schools Cross Country Championships in dominating fashion last week.

The boys’ team finished with an average time (18 minutes, 38.36 seconds) that was nearly a full minute faster than the second-place team, North Atlanta (19:29.40). Rounding out the top five were Maynard Jackson (19:53.41), Douglass (20:08.79) and Mays (21.33.41).

The Grey Knights were led to the championship by Aiden Goldston, who won the individual championship with a time of 17.44.37. Teammate Isaiha Davis was second in 17:55.80. Other runners finishing in the top 10 were Mac Bloodworth of North Atlanta (18:05.43), Bram Mansbach of Grady (18:40.63), Ethan Heyns of Maynard Jackson (18:57.09), Matthew Aspinwall of North Atlanta (18:59.87), Shamari Bell of KIPP Atlanta Collegiate (19:04.74), and three more Grady runners — Luke Langan (19:15.54), Kavi Jakes (19:35.53) and Elias Podber (19:41.42).

Grady girls XC 2017

Grady had the top two individual finishers in the girls’ race as well, as Walden Jones (21:05.84) and Anna Tischer (21:09.46) placed first and second, respectively. The rest of the top 10 finishers were Ellie Hankin of North Atlanta (21:48.29), Lindsay Schroeder of Grady (22:42.81), Sarah Hetzel of North Atlanta (23:24.81), T’Asia Walker of Therrell (23:28.46), Gabrielle Beasley of KIPP Collegiate (23:31.31), Emery Roth of Maynard Jackson (23:41.03), Sadie Zweben of Grady (23:52.82) and Peyton Rodgers of Drew Charter (23:53.13).

Hands Up for Hands On Atlanta Day


Hundreds of volunteers participated in projects throughout metro Atlanta, including 22 APS schools during Hands On Atlanta Day which was held October 7. Hands On Atlanta partnered with APS to design projects to support education, youth development, and parental engagement. Our schools received fresh paint, new landscaping and gardens, essential hygiene kits, calm down kits, new safe playgrounds, and much more! Check out some of the highlights in the tweets below:


Use #handsonATL to find more social media posts.

‘Make Room for Legumes’: APS Celebrates National School Lunch Week

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Fifth graders at Morningside Elementary School enjoy their lunch as part of National School Lunch Week.

By: Alicia Sands Lurry

Atlanta Public Schools students made room for legumes as part of their school lunch meals this week.

Thanks to National School Lunch Week, students enjoyed eating several different kinds of legumes, or beans, as they’re more commonly known. From baja bean salad, bean tacos and bean and vegetable quesadillas, to spicy black bean burgers and red beans and rice, APS students were given a choice of favorite peas or beans from which to select. Sponsored in partnership with Georgia Organics and the APS Nutrition Department, National School Lunch Week is designed to promote healthy menu choices and the importance of meatless menu options.

This year’s theme is “Make Room for Legumes.” A good source of complex carbohydrates and protein, legumes have very little fat, are protein rich, help lower blood pressure, and aids in preventing cancer and regulating blood glucose for diabetics.

“National School Lunch Week is designed to provide students with something new and creative by offering plant-based options,” said Angela Douge, R.D., regional compliance specialist and farm-to-school coordinator with the APS Nutrition Department. “Offering legumes helps broaden students’ perspective about eating something from Mother Nature that is not necessarily popular. Beans offer both the micro and macro nutrients you need.”

MES_Russell Kemp_National School Lunch Week

On Thursday, the red beans and rice selection was a big hit for students for Russell Kemp and other students at Morningside Elementary School.

“I like the taste of beans,” said Russell, who is in kindergarten. “I eat them at home.”

Assistant Principal Jacob Bland said “Make Room for Legumes” supports Morningside’s goal of providing healthy, nutritious options for students.

“I’m so happy that the district is leading the way to support not only our students, but also for what we are trying to accomplish at Morningside,” Bland said. “Having these options in the cafeteria (and our garden) supports our 2017 Green Ribbon school initiative. Not to mention, the red beans and rice were delicious.”






Pianos for Peace Donates Festival Pianos to Atlanta Public Schools

Thanks to Pianos for Peace, a nonprofit organization designed to promote peace and philanthropy through art, music and education, 11 beautifully painted pianos are now located inside Atlanta Public Schools.

Before the arrival of the pianos, the organization invited the Maynard Jackson High School Orchestra and the J.W. Dobbs Elementary School musical ensemble to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport for an unforgettable Closing Ceremony. Passengers from across the globe were delighted by the sounds of the Jackson and Dobbs Jaguars as they moved throughout the busiest airport in the world.

Dobbs Elementary musical ensemble pose with the Pianos for Peace Founder and CEO Malek Jandali (center) at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.


Maynard Jackson High School Orchestra pose with the Pianos for Peace Founder and CEO Malek Jandali (center) at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.

Throughout the year, Pianos for Peace volunteer artists will participate in meaningful art programs making performing arts more accessible to our students and staff.


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Complete list of Atlanta Public Schools Pianos for Peace sites:

Booker T. Washington High, Boyd Elementary, Cleveland Avenue Elementary, Crawford Long Middle, Dobbs Elementary, Garden Hills Elementary, Henry W. Grady High, Hollis Innovation Academy, Inman Middle, Maynard Jackson High, Warren T. Jackson Primary.

For more information and to view the 2017 Pianos for Peace Festival, visit: pianosforpeace.org.

Jasmine Mosley: Staff Writer

APS Celebrates Early Learning During 25th Anniversary of Georgia Pre-K Week



These Pre-K Students from Towns Elementary School enjoyed having class volunteers and reading the book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” 

Georgia Pre-K Week is  October 2-6. Community members, partners, and employees of Atlanta Public Schools are showing their support for quality early learning by reading in APS Pre-K classrooms.  APS joins GA Voices for Children and over 159 counties in the state to draw attention to Georgia’s Pre-K, a lottery-funded hallmark program that was pioneered in Georgia 25 years ago. The award-winning book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle has been designated as the feature book to be read to students during the week. APS operates 53 Pre-K classrooms throughout the district. Volunteers have signed up to read each morning to more than 800 students. Use the hashtag #GaPreKWeek to see how APS and districts across the state are celebrating our youngest learners.



Deerfield Elementary School Pre-K students kicked of Pre-K week with a parade, dancing, and cheers for early learning. 


Follow @apsupdate on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more highlights from the day. Search #GaPreKWeek.



Michael Pleze Takes Pride in His Craft at Usher-Collier ES


Michael Pleze -- Usher-Colier (Windows 2)
Michael Pleze has been a custodian in Atlanta Public Schools for 21 years, following in the footsteps of his father, Jesse Pleze, who retired in 2006 after 40 years in APS. Micheal Pleze serves at Usher-Collier Elementary School.

Ask Michael Pleze to state the hardest, most challenging part of his job as a custodian at Usher-Collier Elementary School and he’ll hesitate. Then, just when he is about to give you an answer, he’ll hesitate again.

That’s because he enjoys and takes pride in all aspects of his work, something he has been doing for the past 21 years – from 7:30 a.m., sometimes earlier if need be, to 4 p.m. or later.

“I’m blessed to have this job,” Pleze said. “I just try to come to work every day and do a good job. Just do my best.” His attitude is representative of the 161 full-time and part-time custodians employed by Atlanta Public Schools.

“He is in perpetual motion,” Usher-Collier Principal Jerry Parker said of Pleze. “He is dedicated and self-motivated. He does things before you can even ask him, and he puts children first. He is the best I have ever seen at what he does.”

Pleze learned his craft and his working philosophy from his father, Jesse Pleze, who worked for 40 years as a custodian in APS in several different schools, including Morris Brandon Elementary and South Atlanta High School, where he retired in 2006. He passed away last year, but Michael Pleze said his father’s words of advice continue to guide him.

“He told me to always be on time, and to do what they ask you to do,” said Pleze, a 1994 graduate of Douglass High School. “I come to work on time, with my shirt tucked in, ready to do a good job every day.”

Pleze said he starts the day cleaning every doorknob and hand rail in the school, along with every window that needs cleaning.

“You have to make sure you disinfect the doorknobs to cut down on the germs,” Pleze said. “And the windows, especially the ones at the front of the school, have to stay clean. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the building.”Michael Pleze -- Usher-Collier (Hallway)

Next, Pleze cleans all 10 of the bathrooms in the building for the first time. He revisits all 10 at least two to three times each day. “It’s very important,” he said, “to make sure they are clean for the kids. You have to keep moving in this job. You can’t just go sit in the cafeteria all day.”

After lunch, Pleze will clean the cafeteria and then go out and inspect the outside of the building for trash, debris or anything else that is out of place. And he is always ready to assist teachers with heavy boxes or cleaning up messes in their classrooms. Keeping the teachers happy is another one of Pleze’s goals.

“I want to make sure I cater to the staff, make sure everything is right for them,” Pleze said. “That’s very important to me.”

Though he loves his job, Pleze said he will most likely call it a career nine years from now when he is eligible for retirement. He’ll spend more time with his wife, take longer walks to keep his Type II diabetes in check and serve at his church, Foundation Baptist Church, pastored by his uncle.

But until then, Pleze said he’ll continue to work under the same creed he now imparts to his younger peers who are just starting out.

“Come to work on time every day. Make sure you get along with the staff and do what they ask you to do,” Pleze said. “Be faithful to the job. Take pride in what you do and always do your best.”