Congratulations! Dr. Terriyln Rivers-Cannon Named 2019 National School Social Worker of the Year

Atlanta Public Schools is proud to announce that Dr. Terriyln Rivers-Cannon has been named the 2019 National School Social Worker of the Year by the School Social Workers Association of America (SSWAA) for her outstanding contributions to the profession of school social work.

Dr. Rivers-Cannon was recently recognized at a special awards ceremony and luncheon in Orlando, Fla.

Her recognition as National School Social Worker of the Year not only makes her the first school social worker from Georgia, but also the first African-American and the first African-American female to receive the award from SSWAA.

“I was filled with emotion, because I reflected on how I actually got started in social work,” said Dr. Rivers-Cannon, who began her social work career more than 18 years ago. “And the reason I got started in social work was because of my Auntie Katie who was a college social work professor. She’s the one to whom I attribute my pursuit. I immediately had a flash of her in my head – along with thanking the individuals who recommended me for the award.

“Thanks to my aunt, I developed a love for social work,” she continued. “The more she talked about it, the more I wanted to learn about it – especially when it came to advocating for individuals and having a voice for individuals who couldn’t have a voice for themselves, and that’s what drew me more and more into social work.”

An APS school social worker since 2009, Dr. Rivers-Cannon is clearly committed and passionate about her work and the role she serves in students’ lives.

“Social work is so vitally important to me because with our job as social workers, we are the gateway to opening up those doors and providing an understanding to what’s going on with students,” said Dr. Rivers-Cannon, who serves students at Booker T. Washington High School and Fickett Elementary School. “That’s why I love doing what I do each and every day with the children here. It’s that network, it’s that bonding, it’s connecting those links together.”

With an extensive background in school and medical social work and juvenile justice, Dr. Rivers-Cannon often draws upon her breadth of professional experience as well as the lessons she learned as a teen mom. She says both experiences helped make her a better person and a better professional.

She is currently completing her two-year role as president of the School Social Workers Association of Georgia, having served as the first APS social worker in that capacity. She also serves as an endowment fund board member with the School Social Workers Association of America.

“There’s a saying that says, ‘you turn your cant’s into can’s,’ because when individuals look at you, all they see is what’s on the outside; they have no idea of what’s on the inside,” she said. “For me, it was sheer determination. Every time someone looked at me and said what I couldn’t do, I would always turn it into what I could do. That determination and resilience was empowering. I kept that inside of me. I used being a teen mom to redirect my plans.”

Dr. Rivers-Cannon is now using that same determination to help better the lives of the students she serves each day. Whether it’s attendance, assignments, graduation or other issues, she sees her role as helping students become college and career ready while also helping improve the quality of their everyday lives.

“When our children don’t feel that they’re at a point where they can settle themselves down and think clearly, then they can’t move about their day,” she said. “Mental health is a key element of that, and school social workers are definitely at the forefront of mental health, trauma and crisis. We provide those services. Transportation, homelessness, child abuse – all of those things roll into mental health and affect your mental health.

“And as social workers, we try to come in and peel back those layers, to identify what’s going on with our children and seek out those resources and connect the dots and link together the pieces that need to be linked together.”

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Visits ‘The Greatest School on Earth’ – Peyton Forest

When Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms stepped into the doors of Peyton Forest Elementary School, it became evident why Principal Cynthia Gunner declares it the “greatest school on Earth.”

Dressed sharply in school colors, fifth grader Jaliya wore a black and gold dress and fourth grader Karim sported a black suit and tie. The star students greeted their mayor at the front door and engaged in small talk as they escorted her to the school gymnasium.

“How are you doing today? Is being a mayor hard?” are among the questions they asked. “Yes, but being a mommy is even harder,” said Mayor Bottoms, who is a mother of four adopted children.

When Mayor Bottoms arrived at the gymnasium, she was greeted by applause and smiling faces. Two students stood at the ready to deliver a welcoming address, followed by the reading of the mayor’s biography.

It was second-grade teacher Kayla Marshal who initiated the mayor’s visit, inviting Bottoms to “the greatest school of Earth” via Twitter last year. To her surprise, Bottoms accepted the offer.

“I’m so excited that you all have a principal and teacher who think about you in every single way,” Mayor Bottoms said to the assembly of students and staff. “I just wanted to stop by and tell you how much I love you all and how much I think about you all. Everything I do, I think about our children.”

An Atlanta Public Schools alumna, Mayor Bottoms graduated from Continental Colony Elementary School, Bunche Middle School and Frederick Douglass High School. Her husband is a Peyton Forest Elementary School alumnus.

At the afternoon assembly on April 11, Bottoms shared a little about her upbringing in Atlanta. She talked about how her father, a good man, once made a poor decision to sell drugs. That decision landed him in prison, and her mother became a single mom. working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“I realized when I got older that there were people in our city making decisions with me in mind,” Bottoms said. “That allowed me to get past these circumstances in my household. I never thought at 8 years old when I was visiting my dad in prison that I would become a lawyer, a judge, a mayor.”

Mayor Bottoms then posed a question to students: “If you weren’t afraid of failing or being embarrassed, what would you do?”

“I would sing,” one boy said.

“I would become a neurosurgeon,” said a little girl.

“I would dance,” said another.

“Don’t be afraid of failure,” the mayor said. “Don’t be embarrassed. If there’s something in your heart, do it.”

Office of Student Services Hosts Second Annual Volunteer Appreciation Program

The Office of Student Services hosted its Second Annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony on April 10 to express gratitude to volunteers, donors and partners for the amazing work they do to support schools and improve students’ lives.

Held at the Cleveland L. Dennard Conference Center at Atlanta Technical College, the ceremony honored 20 individual volunteers, donors and partnering organizations. The program was held in recognition of National Volunteer Week on April 7-13 to celebrate the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenge, build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world. The week also shines a light on the people and causes that inspire service, recognizing and thanking volunteers who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in their communities.

During the program, APS social workers and Student Services staff members offered remarks and presented partners and donors with commemorative plaques.

Some of those partners include:

  • The Atlanta Police Department and MARTA truancy officers;
  • Purposity, an organization that matches students’ needs with a community of people who have a desire to help and do good;
  • Achieve Atlanta for providing nearly 800 scholarships to students;
  • The Anti-Defamation League for working with school counselors to implement inclusive and supportive activities for all students through the “No Place for Hate” campaign;
  • The Atlanta Community Food Bank for helping feed APS students and families in need;
  • Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Ronald McDonald Care Mobile and the Asthma Center RMCM; and
  • Rack Room Shoes for being a partner since 2008 and providing 150 shoes to students in the South Atlanta Cluster

Dr. Nicole Spiller, director of Student & Intervention Supports, said APS partners are much more than individuals and organizations who write checks to assist students in need.

She described partners as “accessories, accomplices and colleagues.”

“You are our accessory. You come along beside us and supplement our work. Our resources are often so limited, and our volunteers and partners come along beside and bridge those gaps,” Dr. Spiller told the audience. “As accomplices, you conspire with us to identify needs, meet these needs, analyze the results, see where the gap remains, and repeat that cycle. As colleagues, you have volunteered to join Team APS for the sake of students and have chosen to co-labor with us.

“You are also our friends,” she added. “You share a bond of mutual affection in service to schools and students. You have stuck with us when times were hard, you have trusted us with your time and resources, and we have trusted you with our most valuable possession: our students. On behalf of these students, our schools and our district, thank you.”

Long Middle School Students Create ‘Just Us’ Art Exhibit

Celebrating Black history isn’t reserved for the month of February. Seventh and eighth-grade art students at Long Middle School worked for several weeks to create “Just Us” — an art gallery on display through May 15 in the school’s atrium.

“The Black history exhibit at Long Middle school was set up museum style,” said Dr. Lisa Whittington, visual arts specialist. “The students and I were able to analyze each painting and put them in a category before we put the work up on display, so the exhibit will be more meaningful to the viewers.”

The gallery categories include Black Lives Matter, Black power, civil rights, and pre-civil rights.

“The large portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were a team effort between students and teacher because we felt that a Black president has been a highlight of the struggles of African Americans,” Dr. Whittington said.

12th Annual Shirley Clarke Franklin Lecture Series Empowers Students to Become Visionary Women

More than 700 female students from across Atlanta Public Schools gathered on March 26 to celebrate Women’s History Month during the 12th Annual Shirley Clarke Franklin Lecture Series at the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA).

This year’s program marked the first time that girls across the District convened at CSKYWLA to hear an inspiring message of empowerment in celebration of Women’s History Month. This year’s theme was “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence,”

Featuring keynote speaker Adrienne White, a licensed certified public accountant and vice president of strategy/business development at Citizens Trust Bank, the program showcased inspiring remarks, an oral recitation of Nikki Giovanni’s famous poem, “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why),” presentations, and a performance by the CSKYWLA Dance Team.

During her keynote address, White encouraged students to dream, triumph, and to become visionary women and queens in their communities.

“You have the power to impact your community for the positive right now!” White told students. “Community can take on several meanings. Right now, we are a community of queens. Your school is a community. Your family is a community. Your neighborhood. Your Atlanta. Your Georgia. Your United States of America. These are all communities. Being a community-focused visionary woman means that you have a vision that your community is peaceful, just, and that all who are in your community are treated with equity so that they can achieve their dreams.”

A question-and-answer session followed, as several students were given the opportunity to ask White insightful questions about her personal and professional journey.

Former Mayor Franklin was among those special guests in attendance.

The Shirley Clarke Franklin Lecture Series was established in 2007 to honor the accomplishments of former Mayor Shirley Franklin, who became the first African-American woman of a Southern city to be elected mayor in 2002, having served two terms until 2009. The series is designed for students to learn from some of the most renowned, influential women leaders in Atlanta.

Harleston’s Heart: Therrell Dedicates Pantry in Memory of Social Worker

Housed on the first floor of Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School, Harleston’s Heart is more than a pantry. It is a continuation of the legacy of beloved social worker Rodney Harleston, who lost his battle to cancer on Nov. 9, 2018.

“The closet’s inception was Principal Powell and Mr. Harleston’s idea for providing a means by which students and families who were in need of clothing items and food would have a place to come within the school to get what they needed,” said Dr. Josephine Barksdale, CTI coordinator/CTA department chair. “Harleston was more than a social worker. He would take the shirt off his back, the belt from his waist and give it to a child in need. He would go home and get stuff out of his personal closet for a young man. So, we wanted a way to continue his spirit of servitude.”

Some six years ago, Harleston began storing food, clothing and other students and community needs in a small broom closet. When he began soliciting items from the community, the pantry expanded from the closet to a classroom.

On March 29, Therrell held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new space, affectionally called Harleston’s Heart.

Fellow social workers from across the District joined Therrell staff and students as Principal Powell, staff and community members spoke of Harleston’s impact on their lives.

“This gentleman who we’re honoring today is an unbelievable champion of generosity who gave himself so completely,” said Rev. Anthony Motely of Lindsay Street Baptist Church. “I grew up with teachers like that and to know that they are still around warms my heart.”

Members of Harleston’s family, including his wife, mother and cousin, were also in attendance.

“We have been completely overwhelmed by the love and generosity we have received from everybody,” said Cheryl Harleston. “We all miss him, but today is about celebrating Rodney Marcellus Harleston – my husband, your friend, your coworker.”

#APSRace2Read – We’re half way to our 13.1 Million Minutes Goal!

Atlanta Public Schools is leaping into spring break at 50 percent of our 13.1 million minutes reading goal for APS Race2Read! Be sure to read and log your minutes during spring break, April 1-5.

Below are out top performing schools (as of March 26).

Top 10 Schools

SchoolLogged Minutes
1. Morris Brandon Elementary400,112
2. Sutton Middle 332,010
3. Springdale Park Elementary323,949
4. Morningside Elementary288,454
5. Sarah Smith Elementary282,598
6. John Lewis Academy264,436
7. Miles Elementary243,161
8. Inman Middle234,461
9. Grady High School231,020
10. Deerwood Academy231,006

Top Progress

SchoolMinutes Logged
in the past 2 weeks (3.12-3.26)
1. Finch Elementary 27,227
2. John Lewis Academy27,026
3. Morris Brandon Elementary22,568
4. Miles Elementary22,174
5. Grady High 21,630
6. Garden Hills Elementary20,262
7. Heritage Academy20,009
8. Boyd Elementary18,638
9. Long Middle17,533
10. Deerwood Academy15,781

About APS Race2Read: On Nov. 6, 2018, Atlanta Public Schools launched our district-wide literacy campaign, APSRace2Read. This challenge was designed to encourage students, teachers, staff and parents to read daily and collectively reach 2 million minutes of reading by the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. Since surpassing our original 2 million minutes goal in January, we have raised the bar to 13.1 million minutes—the equivalent of a half marathon of reading! Learn more about Race2Read and log your minutes at!