Summit Rewind: Hollis Innovation Academy shows spirit, pride and “heart work” at Nov. 2 meeting

The energy was high at our Nov. 2 Transform Westside Summit as the “CREW” from the Westside’s Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy took the stage as our featured presenters.

Every facet of the Hollis team was featured at the Friday meeting, from students and parents to community partners to teachers and administrators, each glowingly showing their Hollis pride, while illustrating the transformational work that’s happening daily behind its classroom doors.

The Hollis cheerleading squad set the tone with an opening of crowd-engaging cheers, followed by words from Hollis fourth grader, Cameron Commerce, who thanked the school’s principal, Dr. Diamond Ford, for hiring teachers who “make me feel great and special.”

Teachers like Erin Parks. Parks taught Commerce in third grade and shared her unique experience as one of the few teachers who followed many of the students from the now-closed Bethune elementary to Hollis. Parks attested to the major strides the students have made in the short period as Bethune was one of the most at-risk schools in the school district.

“Our kids know they can succeed here,” said Parks. “They are now in a place that can foster their gifts.”

Since opening in 2016, Dr. Ford and her faculty and staff have worked diligently to bring high-quality education and a highly-compassionate environment to its Westside students. Considered an Atlanta Public Schools turnaround school, the Hollis contingent made sure to reiterate that, despite the odds, their students were making big gains.

Since the full implementation of the APS Turnaround Strategy in 2016, Hollis has experienced a double-digit decrease in beginning learners across all subject areas. Specifically, the percentage of Hollis students performing at the lowest level has decreased by 13.6%.

This, as noted by Dr. Ford, is due in large part to its robust support system, including organizations like Westside Future Fund (WFF).

Hollis, which ranges from pre-K to eighth grade, is the pilot school of WFF’s cradle-to-career education impact strategy. Its pioneering model focuses on expeditionary learning, an innovative STEM curriculum and strong character development.

In support of Hollis and the entire Washington High School Cluster, WFF, in July 2017, committed $16.4 million over five years through a partnership with Atlanta Public Schools.

Since the announcement, more than $5 million has been raised towards the goal, thanks to the generous support of partners The Coca-Cola Foundation, SunTrust, NCR, AT&T, PwC Charitable Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.

The investment of WFF and its partners has resulted in additional wrap-around support services; an additional teacher in every classroom, decreasing the student:teacher ratio; and support for its STEM-education curriculum, including Hollis’ partnership with Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC) and Horizons program.

Friday, the impact of this investment was on display.

According to Dr. Ford. the academic growth of Hollis students is more than 52% higher than other schools with a similar mobility rate.

Other highlights of the presentation included a preview of the school’s new campus renovations, which will include state-of-the-art classrooms, learning labs and media center, as well as their holistic approach to learning, such as mindfulness training for teachers and students.

“Let me show you what our kids can do,” said Dr. Ford. “I tell them often, ‘I want you to shock the world. You have the ability to do that.’”

The Azalea City Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, another committed Hollis partner, was featured during the presentation as well.

Present in the audience were WFF board members Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum and Sylvia Russell, who also both serve on the governance board for Hollis.

“It’s hard work, but it’s heart work,” said Dr. Ford in her closing.

The opening devotion was given by Joe Labriola, executive director of Second Helpings Atlanta.

Click below to watch the full Nov. 2 Transform Westside Summit. Click here to access the printed program from the Summit. 

Join us Nov. 16 for our next Transform Westside Summit, featuring Atlanta Habitat for Humanity. Click here to register for the event.