Summit Spotlight: Q&A with Atlanta Public Schools’ Rachel Sprecher

Meet Rachel Sprecher, executive director of partnerships and development for Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and a frequent Transform Westside Summit attendee!

We’re shining our Summit spotlight on Rachel this week to hear more about her role on the Westside, why she keeps coming back to the Summits, the importance of education in sustainable community development and, of course, her hope for the Westside. Enjoy!

Rachel, what is your connection to the Historic Westside?  
I came to know, and love, the Historic Westside through my job as executive director of partnerships and development for Atlanta Public Schools (APS). In my role, I’m responsible for engaging partners in our journey of transformation and in pursuit of our mission, which is to ensure our students graduate ready for college and career.

A large part of my job is immersing myself in our school communities to understand their successes, challenges, strengths and opportunities so I can communicate them to partners. When I began to meet with our Washington and Douglass cluster schools and principals, it was clear I could not understand the schools without understanding the legacy and history of the neighborhoods.

Over the years, I’ve met countless residents, alumni and community stakeholders and love hearing about the prosperous and vibrant past of the Westside and its incredibly bright future.

How important, do you believe, is education to the success of the Westside revitalization?
I may be biased but I believe that a city is only as strong as its schools. A high-quality education has the power to break the cycle of poverty, the cycle of ignorance and the cycle of violence.

And that happens because a high-quality education also provides students with the skills to give them choices in life, such as:

  • academic skills so they graduate on time with a diploma and an education that ensure they will succeed in college, if they so choose to go;
  • career skills so they are prepared to be successful in a rapidly evolving, technology-driven economy;
  • and decision-making skills so they can participate as informed citizens in a democracy, with the smarts and the heart to be great people and leaders.

There is no greater potential to lift the Westside than in education from cradle to career. But while APS delivers many critical components in the re-imagination of education on the Westside, this work requires all of us!

When did you first attend a Transform Westside Summit?
It’s hard to remember because I have been to so many but it must have been in 2016. I believe it was a presentation about the Atlanta Beltline, and it was in a cramped room with round tables at the City of Refuge. Then we moved to the larger event space at the City of Refuge, and now it’s 2019 and we gather at The Gathering Spot! Let me tell you—self-introductions went a lot quicker back then!

What keeps you coming back?
I do love that no Summit is ever the same and that I will learn something new at each one. I also love when the Summit gives voice to the traditionally voiceless or a platform to an emerging leader. I also think it’s so cool, and so Atlanta, when a fledgling entrepreneur has the opportunity to make a connection with the CEO of the world’s most beloved chicken restaurant. And selfishly, it’s like a family reunion for me because I see so many of our amazing APS partners there all of the time (shout out to Chris180, AVLF, Soccer in the Streets, too many more to mention!).

You attended the Friday, January 18 Summit featuring AT&T and the debut of the Westside Storytelling Competition. What can you share about the experience?
I have to admit that sometimes when that alarm goes off before 6 a.m. on a Friday, I come to the Summit somewhat reluctantly but I am ALWAYS glad I came. The January 18 Summit was one where I was not only glad I came but was literally transformed like the Summit promises.

First of all, I got to see the beautiful students of Forrest Hill Academy, Washington and Douglass share their stories through what I can only describe as GENIUS and BRILLIANT storytelling and production. They did such a good job on their films with re:imagine/ATL as well as speaking to the crowd (so proud of you!). Secondly, I loved learning about AT&T’s values and commitment to Atlanta and the Westside. Corporate relations is part of my job as well, so I commend and applaud any business that prioritizes and invests in their own backyard.

What has been one of your favorite Westside moments to date?
Among my favorite Westside moments are when the Hollis Innovation Academy staff and students have the stage, but that is low-hanging fruit for me because I’m an educator. So if we’re talking outside of my realm, it was hands down the presentation from Village Micro Fund. I don’t know what it was but I was captivated by this grassroots organization with a mission to empower entrepreneurs in Metro Atlanta through not only the capital but a village of support. I love those guys.

What is one thing you admire about the Historic Westside? The pride of its residents and people and their willingness to come to the table with solutions and expertise.

What is your hope for the Westside? That ALL Westside stakeholders work hand-in-hand, that we all put our shoulders into the work, leveraging our strengths into a single purpose and direction—to transform the Westside and live up to the legacy of this great community.