Atlanta charter school teacher, athletic director is a ‘LifeChanger’

Walking through the halls of Centennial Academy, a charter school in Northwest Atlanta, Michael Willis is hard to miss.

Willis, the school’s athletic director, stands close to seven feet tall.

“Well, it’s my presence. I’m 6-foot-7, so when the kids see me I can say, ‘Come here. I want to holler at you,’” Willis told Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen.

He said he knows all of the students by name, from kindergarten to eighth grade, and he can tell when any one of them is struggling.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

According to the school principal, Willis’ work with students is something all of the teachers at Centennial do.

Principal Stephanie Hodges said the teachers always go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

Administrators say the school has the highest percentage of students who are homeless in the Atlanta Public School system.

“We really believe in our partnerships here at Centennial,” Hodges said.

The school community constantly finds ways to help those families financially.


Mr. Willis just received national recognition for all of the work he does.

It’s called the LifeChanger of the Year award, sponsored by a national nonprofit foundation. Hundreds of educators from all over the country were nominated.

Channel 2 Action News first introduced you to Willis last year.

Centennial had just won the APS Middle School basketball championship. It was their first year in the league, and they have no gymnasium of their own to practice and play in.

But this latest accomplishment is beyond athletics. They are trying to change the lives of children who need help the most.

“I’ve been in education 11 years. Being at this school with the homeless rate, you don’t want to single them out in front of everybody. I always tell the kids, you never know who is watching. It might be something you might need. There are teachers here who are always willing to help,” Willis said.

The LifeChanger Award also came with a $5,000 prize to be shared between the coach and the school.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]