Q&A with Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen

Q&A with Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen

Photograph by Ben Rollins
Photograph by Ben Rollins

As students go back to the classroom this month, recently hired Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen faces the daunting challenge of restoring public belief in APS. She comes here after 5 years using the Austin Independent School District, where she was the very first female and first Black for everyone as superintendent. Formerly, she held exactly the same position with Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. Carstarphen, forty-four, includes a PhD in administration, planning, and social policy having a concentration in urban superintendency in the Harvard Graduate School of your practice, in addition to master of your practice levels from both Harvard and Auburn universities. She launched her career like a junior high school teacher in her own native Selma, Alabama, and will not make any key to her loyalty towards the south. We met in mid-June, several days before her official start date, to go over her plans for APS.

What accomplishments in Austin are you currently proudest of, and just how will you bring individuals suggestions to Atlanta? I’m really happy with the culture we produced. After I began, we’d a remarkably intense, high-stakes testing atmosphere which was driven through the condition. It had been really killing our morale. I was sitting outside from the Capitol, and everybody was searching at Austin. The condition was closing schools within our district. The commissioner would really decide by himself whether a college would stay open. You can miss a target by a couple of percentage points but still be closed. They’d a brief listing of the things they known as multiyear, educationally unacceptable schools. Everybody understood should you be a target, since the condition would always go to a school before closing it. I’d one trustee who constantly stated, “The home is burning! A home is burning! You need to released the fireplace!Inches

In under 5 years, we could shift completely. I was no more centered on getting students to regurgitate solutions around the condition assessment, but we centered on whole-child development social and emotional learning along with other cocurricular content areas like fine arts, athletics, and world language. Individuals things had completely fallen from the map initially when i first began. While testing was important coupled with high-stakes effects, the exam should be the afterthought.

What went down to performance? Outcomes were great. We’d an exciting-time high graduation rate. The final official count was 82.five percent, but I know that once we finish the 2013 figures, it will likely be a minimum of 84 percent. The dropout rate may also be in an all-time low. For 2 consecutive years-and that i hope this is the 3rd- senior high school attendance capped 90 %. Which was a large first for that district. It’s an easy concept, however i think it’s something people miss. We can’t educate the scholars if they’re not at school.

The planet knows what went down because of high-stakes testing within Atlanta. How can you intend to shift the culture here? Everything isn’t damaged with APS, and everything isn’t inefficient. Fair enough, you will find whole areas which are damaged, however i believe that can also be about possession-people your space where they think reliable advice, “This isn’t working, and here’s what I have to repair it,Inches without getting blamed. There’s lots of blaming. I’ve already seen blogs saying a lot of things [about me] that is not true, and that i haven’t even began yet.

What kinds of changes are you going to make? I’m going to need to have aggressive alterations in organization. This can be a district that experienced the biggest cheating scandal in the united states, so we still do not have an accountability, compliance, and testing office to watch what we’re doing. That’ll be established.

Other functions have to be place in places where individuals “own” the systems. A student data system and special education-where do individuals things belong? How can we make certain that rather of blaming and pointing fingers, we obtain people the support they require? I understand which will upset many people, but we must have core business changes that will permit us to really restart in certain areas. Otherwise I believe individuals will always question how deep the rabbit hole goes. To be able to fill that hole, I want a brand new beginning place. Which will be pretty intense.

Austin’s school product is nearly two times as huge as Atlanta’s. Why did you decide to come here? I’m from Selma, so we love Atlanta. I’ve family here. People I finished senior high school with reside in Atlanta. Their children visit school here. I truly did believe that I would take more time in Austin and relish the fruits in our hard labor, however the district is at the right place, and that i understood I possibly could let it rest in good hands. Atlanta really needs the type of intensity that you will get free from to me who loves this excellent Southern American city.

Everyone on the planet knows Atlanta. The town has earned its devote the worldwide marketplace, also it needs a quality school system. We’re someone within the ATL. We would like the general public schools to become a high-quality option for families, not only a school here or there but because a whole system. There are plenty of individuals in Atlanta who are able to allow us to have this right for good.

The company community here did a great deal to support APS, plus they type of got caught embracing a few of the data that subsequently switched to be inaccurate. Description of how the support your transition. How would you make certain they don’t have an excessive amount of influence within the schools? I’ve been a superintendent a few occasions now-even just in Washington, D.C., where I wasn’t superintendent, but were built with a senior-level position. So I have seen it done a number of ways. At one extreme, I’d a chamber [of commerce] which was definitely not thinking about public education and perhaps were built with a vouchers agenda [supporting public funds web hosting schools]-it had been that extreme. Alternatively finish, the Austin chamber really put skin hanging around. These were an excellent partner. But it’s push-pull.

I did not accept every idea they’d or every position they required in the legislative level. We could professionally disagree but still find methods to do good stuff for children. There is a line we shouldn’t mix. Let me tell you no. Your situation or influence won’t matter.

There’s just one group which i seem like I response to, and that’s the kids of Atlanta. In the finish during the day, my decision-making is definitely about the subject.


This article originally appeared in our August 2014 issue under the headline “Tough Assignment.”


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