Was Carstarphen’s performance an issue at AISD? Here is her performance evaluation – and the “sang the praises” assessment hold up

March 31, 2014

Last December the Austin Board of Trustees published their statement on the performance of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. Many in the media have questioned her performance and ability to stay in the job based on the fact that the Board did not extend her contract for at least another year to 2016 [added] in a manner consistent with the prior two years.

However, the media it has not mentioned that the Board had until next year to determine whether to further extend – or not extend – her contract. [revised for clarity]

The following are excerpts from the performance evaluation issued by the Board. The entire report can be found here.

  • Overall, the Board is pleased with the progress made by the district under Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership during the past year.


  • … the Superintendent has assembled a strong, well-respected leadership team. The Board recognizes and appreciates the importance of AISD’s strong leadership team in the face of all this uncertainty so that operationally, our budget remains sound despite major reductions in state funding for public education over the past two years. She has led the work to manage our resources wisely with a strategic, long-term view and, as a result, we have received high bond ratings over the past three years.
  • … we wish to highlight a few significant examples of the five district priorities for school year 2012-2013,…
  • First, in the area of “Whole Child, Every Child,” the Superintendent led a shift in the focus away from a culture of testing—which can be punitive and narrowly focused on test results—to one that emphasizes academic standards of excellence and strengths and interests of the whole child with art programs, athletics, health and wellness initiatives; and Social Emotional Learning.
  • Second, in the area of College-Ready Culture, our four-year federal high school graduation rates for all student groups increased and reached all-time highs with the class of 2012, including minority, poor and special education students.
  • … for the class of 2012, we also saw a decrease in the dropout rate for all student groups except for our white students and our English Language Learners…These are remarkable improvements that have occurred, for the most part, over the past four years.
  • The district… increased and developed a strong focus on literacy and numeracy at all levels, which is reflected in the continued academic improvement of students across the district.
  • In an effort to eliminate the disproportionality in disciplinary actions that have adversely affected some student groups, the district implemented a restructuring of the Alternative Education program in AISD for discretionary removals by handling non-safety removals on campus through the creation of campus-based Learning Support Centers…. This initiative is showing great promise and, most importantly, we are not adversely affecting academic opportunities of these students for minor disciplinary actions.
  • … the Superintendent continued to expand access to rich options in the district through dual language programs, early childhood education and alternative pathways to graduation.
  • … in the area of Human Capital, we were pleased to see the district increase compensation for all staff and expand access to health insurance care to qualifying individuals to meet the diverse needs of our employees and their households.
  • …in the area of Systems, our technology infrastructure improvements like the AISD Cloud and the Parent Cloud are proving to be the source for educational resources and information about other helpful resources.

 [Requested Improvements] 

  • As stated earlier, AISD is a large, complex, highly diverse urban district with numerous challenges. As such, there will always be work to do and areas that can be improved upon. Therefore, there are some areas we have asked the Superintendent to focus on for the remainder of this academic year.
  • … it is important that to remain college-ready in subsequent years, we clearly define and improve our measure of grade-level success consistent with the new college-ready standards. We must also ensure that at each grade all students are performing at or preferably above grade level when they complete that grade, especially in the core academic areas.
  • We must continue the momentum of improvement with our minority, economically disadvantaged, special education and English-language learner student groups so that we continue to close the achievement gap and ensure that all students graduate college-, career- and life-ready.
  • We must continue to invest in and support our campus staff. To be most efficient, this will require greater and greater collaboration between campus and administrative personnel as well as strategic monitoring of the professional development needs of educators and staff on each campus and providing the appropriate support from central office administrative teams.
  • To respond to the competition from private and state charter schools, we must be proactive in our efforts to ensure that every parent’s and student’s experience every day in AISD are positive ones and that the academic and extra-curricular offerings of the vertical teams across the district are of high quality and well publicized within and outside of AISD. Therefore, we must ensure that the environment at every campus and in every facility is welcoming and inviting to our customers and to our visitors. We know that they have choices, and we want them to make AISD their choice.
  • Finally,…we must continually work to develop and enhance the District’s relationship with parents, community groups and the community at-large.


  • We believe we are moving in the right direction to achieve this goal and that Dr. Carstarphen, her leadership team, and all of our district’s educators will continue to raise the performance of our students and our district.
  • We thank Dr. Carstarphen and her team for all the efforts and good work we have seen over the past year.

This report was issued publicly on behalf of the entire Board – and I am unable to find that any Board member dissented from the Report.

So I ask – does this evaluation look like one that would lead to a termination? I don’t think so.

Further, now that Carstarphen has announced her resignation, it appears that AISD is looking back with some regret that it engaged in some political gamesmanship last December when it decided to delay considering an extension to her contract to a future time (see here).

The Board played “chicken” and lost a superintendent that had made a number of significant improvements to the system.

Based on all the research I have done to-date, with the addition of Carstarphen as superintendent, Atlanta is the beneficiary of AISD’s fractured and indecisive Board of Trustees.

Also, I commend the AISD for publishing this document. It is a model that I hope APS will adopt.

Unfortunately, when I raised this exact issue with the APS executive who works with the Board Accountability Committee, she indicated that this was a bad idea and should not be done. While I agree that the detailed assessment does not need to be released, an executive summary, consistent with the above, is totally appropriate. By issuing a similar document, the public could then determine if the Board – whose sole employee is the superintendent – is holding him or her accountable for their performance.

Ms. Grant – as Chair of the Accountability Committee – I hope that you will take this suggestion under consideration for the future.

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Is Austin now feeling a bit of remorse over Carstarphen’s departure? Editorial indicates that it is

March 30, 2014

The Austin American Statesmen editorial board weighed in yesterday with an editorial about the imminent departure of Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who is now the only finalist for the superintendent’s position in Atlanta.

The editorial, titled “In wake of superintendent’s departure, district faces big challengesis behind a pay wall, but the following are some excerpts (emphasis added) and includes extensive criticisms of the AISD Board:

The ability to find a qualified replacement depends on the board’s ability to move past lingering campaign politics, stop micromanaging school administrators and make prudent decisions regarding financial matters.

The toughness, tenacity and top-down leadership style that made [Carstarphen] so effective on the one hand hurt her ability to build trust with certain communities.

Carstarphen was frustrated and flummoxed by Austin’s penchant for debating issues to the point of near inaction. That is understandable.

Her case was not helped by the appearance that the board seemed to rubber-stamp her decisions. Voters responded in 2012 by electing four new trustees, three who were vocal critics of Carstarphen.

If the election was meant to be a correction to overreaching tactics of Carstarphen, it missed its mark. Instead, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, in which some board members have undermined Carstarphen’s authority. The result has been a board that is adrift without a clear mission.

As it calms the public’s concerns, the board must also ease anxieties of quality administrators Carstarphen hired to prevent an exodus of talent as well as the destabilization of the district.

I am sure the Board now understands that, when you engage in a game of ‘chicken’, there is a good chance that you will lose. And in a big way!

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AJC background article on superintendent–elect Carstarphen – some analysis on the content [Updated]

March 30, 2014

Yesterday the AJC issued a story titled Likely Atlanta schools chief had rocky road in Texas (behind pay wall). There is a lot of good information on Carstarphen’s tenure in Austin and I think a bit of additional analysis is in order. Direct quotes from the article are in italics and any emphasis to the quotes has been added.

The probable next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is coming off a controversial tenure in Austin, Texas, where public ire over budget cuts and a school closing rose as much as the improved graduation rates and finances.

Comment – I find it interesting that the paragraph essentially creates an equivalency between the perceived negatives (budget cuts and school closings) and the positives (improved graduation rates and finances). However, think about it for a minute – the closing of some underperforming or under-enrolled schools is a bad thing? Also, are budget cuts that improved the district’s financial position while, at the same time, improved educational outcomes are achieved is a bad thing? Count me on board for hoping to see both of those things happen in APS!

She left it in better financial and academic shape, but riled enough voters to undermine the support of the school board.

Comment – This is true “Can’t see the forest because of the trees mentality.” The Austin ISD is in “better financial and academic shape”, but she lost support due to her efforts to improve the system. These types of critics need to be watched carefully as their own agendas often supersede what is most important in a school district – educational outcomes. Unfortunately there are many such critics in Atlanta as well who place their own political or ideological agendas over the improvement of the student’s education.

With her contract set to expire in a little over a year, there has been no vote in favor of extending it.

Comment – This is a consistent meme that the media has seized on. But before you accept the conclusion that Carstarphen was not going to be rehired at the end of her contract in 2015, let’s look at the facts. Her initial contract starting in 2009 was for three years. In 2011 and 2012 she was given a one year extension. This past December her performance was reviewed with the following results (see TWC News article here):

The school board of the Austin Independent School District sang the praises of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen during Monday evening’s board meeting, but did not extend her contract.

School Board Vincent Torres says four years in the job, Carstarphen is delivering higher test scores and graduation rates with fewer dropouts. “We cannot achieve our goal of having all students graduate from high school if they drop out along the way,” Torres said. “These are remarkable improvements that have occurred for the most part over the past four years.” Torres said the district reached a record high 82.5 percent graduation rate in 2012, which is up seven percentage points since Carstarphen arrived.

Still, trustees are waiting to extend Carstarphen’s contract beyond its current end date of June 2015. The trustees say it’s nothing indicative of their confidence in Carstarphen. The board can still move to extend her contract at any time.

Based on the sole fact that the Board did not add another year to her contract during the current assessment, does not lead to the conclusion that her contract would not be renewed next year. The Board “sang her praises” – my sense is that they will now regret their short-term view and, as a result, the loss of a superintendent that made substantial improvements at AISD. [Added] Also, in fairness to the other side on this, here is a column written by one of Carstarphen’s critics.

Critics say she rammed through changes without consulting the majority Hispanic parents in the Austin Independent School District. “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving,” said Vincent Tovar, whose wife is a teacher, and whose daughter attends Austin schools.

Comment – the inherent self-serving and ideological stupidity of this statement is beyond belief. Let me make sure I have this right – even though she was successful in improving educational outcomes, she didn’t spout the bumper sticker ideology we wanted and so we are glad she is leaving! Incredible!

Drew Scheberle, a senior vice president at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said members of the business community pushed to hire someone like Carstarphen, and they were pleased with the results. She cut a quarter of the jobs in the central office yet improved academic outcomes, he said. “She’s left this community stronger than how she found it.”

Comment – Now this is an assessment we hope we can count on when Carstarphen assumes her duties in Atlanta. She “cut a quarter of the jobs in the central office”. Does anyone remember the story from last year that the AJC published on the district’s bloated bureaucracy (see here)? Didn’t all the Board of Education candidates run on the proposition that it was important to reduce the cost of the central office and reallocate spending to “in the classroom”? If the APS Board is true to their campaign speeches, Carstarphen will have a lot of support in replaying some of her past efforts.

But it was a 2011 proposal to close a school and reopen it as a charter operation that made the biggest waves, he said. “That caused a revolt.” That action was approved by one school board but reversed by another after an election changed the makeup of the board.

Comment – OK, in other words, elections have consequences. However, in reviewing Carstarphen’s record, this one event – along with the controversy surrounding the adoption of a budget that had to be cut back severely due to State budget cuts – seems to make up the “controversy headlines”. This is pretty ‘thin gruel’ as far as I am concerned.

Williams said controversy should be expected of any leader who makes big changes, such as cutting budgets and personnel. But he credits Carstarphen for increasing Austin’s graduation and college-ready rates, and counts one other metric as an important achievement in a high-poverty school system: “We’ve been able to keep some of our middle class in the school district, which some other districts haven’t,” he said.

Comment – Carstarphen appears to be willing to take on tough and controversial issues. This matches up well with the new APS Board that consistently said it wants to tackle the difficult issues facing APS. Let’s encourage them to work as a team to do what is necessary to improve educational outcomes in Atlanta.

Scheberle, the chamber official, said that despite the controversy surrounding her, Carstarphen managed to stay in Austin beyond the typical three-year tenure for a Texas superintendent. He said she is a “relentless” leader who would work as hard in Atlanta as she did in Austin.

Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, the area’s teachers advocacy group, described her as “tenacious” and “deeply committed.”

Comment – “Relentless”, “work hard”, “tenacious” and “deeply committed”. These are very encouraging words and represent a refreshing change from the descriptions of the current APS leadership. Also, after seeing her at several presentations in Atlanta, I would add – energetic, steeped in education research, data driven, a deep thinker, personable, self-deprecating and a great communicator.

I really liked it when she recently noted that it was important that the Board and the community come together as they consider solutions to the many problems APS is facing. Why is this critical? Because as Carstarphen said,

“I can implement anything. I feel like I’ve had to do that, “she said during her introduction at Hope-Hill Elementary. “Be careful what you ask for, because it will be done.”

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APS superintendent-elect Carstarphen makes strong statement in support of principal autonomy

March 29, 2014

Superintendent-elect Meria Carstarphen is travelling around the district today speaking with and getting to know the community and the parents in Atlanta. During her appearance today at the North Atlanta High School, given the importance of the school and principal autonomy issue during the recent election, I asked her the following question and her answer follows.

Question – What are your views on giving district principals the authority, responsibility and accountability for matters in their schools?

What do I thing about authority, responsibility and accountability – in other words – autonomy to principals. One thing I have learned is that when you have a great principal, you have your own pot of gold. [applause]

If you have a great principal, teachers feel more inspired and hopeful about what they are doing in school. It is important that, when you have really good ones, and they really know what they are doing that you give them the flexibility to do what they need for their school community.

It is always a bad proposition to use a broad brush approach to leadership with principals where you are saying that all of them should have the same resources or tools. The demographics of the schools are different and their needs are different. And you have to trust that your front-line leadership understands what those issues are and you have to listen to them as you think about how to support them in school. When they are strong, it is great.

Also it can be a double edged sword. When they are not strong or we have not supported them properly and they do not have all the skill that they need – things don’t work out as well as they should either. It depends on the strength of the staff in place and getting to know them. Also, the community will let me know really fast whether or not they believe their principals are able to run the ship and run it in the right direction.

I have met a few principals already and they are awesome. And you can see from the support of their communities how loved they are and how strong they are. They can trust and know that they will have my support and I will not micro-manage them if they are able to show and prove that they can do the job. (Significant and sustained applause)

My sense from her answer is that Carstarphen, who has also served as the Accountability Officer in a prior district, will move to extend additional authority to the principals who are ultimately responsible for creating an environment in which children learn. At the same time, I also think that the school leaders will be held fully accountable for results.


I will also note that a quick review of the Austin ISD budget shows that resources are budgeted for each school in the district and accountability measures for each school are also presented with the school budget. If she institutes these measures here, it will be a welcome addition to the budget process.

There were additional questions from the audience and some interesting answers – in a good way – I will report further on them in subsequent posts.

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Superintendent-elect Meria Carstarphen’s public appearances today

March 29, 2014

Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen will be making a number of public appearances today – the schedule is below. I hope that you will take the time to greet her and listen to what she has to say. I think you will be very impressed.

Sat., March 29th – Community Open House:

  • 9 – 10:00 a.m.  Washington High School
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.  North Atlanta High School
  • 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.  Grady High School
  • 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.  Jackson High School
  • 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.  South Atlanta
  • 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.  Mays High School

APS new superintendent-elect Carstarphen – a look into who she is and what she thinks

March 28, 2014

Below are a series of extracts from numerous articles written about Meria Carstarphen, the new superintendent-elect for APS. I tried to include those items that tell us something about her career, working style and decision making. Some of the articles are older (there is a date by each one), but more current articles seem to confirm the prior assessments.

My quick assessment from this review is that she is energetic and passionate – everyone needs to hold on tight as I think that we are in for a very positive and interesting ride!

Twin Cities.com (published 06/03/07) – Meria Carstarphen: Vigilance and vision

In her first experience running a school system, Carstarphen, 37, has shown many of the same tendencies: extensive consultation with others, over-preparation and the pursuit of goals by breaking them into small, measurable pieces.

“I really listen and I really engage,” Carstarphen said. “I ask a lot of questions. I think for some people that gets misinterpreted.”

Bill Larson, a retired district administrator who filled in temporarily this year as executive director of operations, said he saw Carstarphen do more in six months than other superintendents have done in two or three years. “She’s really, I think, unique among the superintendents I’ve known” in terms of her passion for the job, Larson said. “Meria is impatient. She wants to move the agenda.

Carstarphen started full time in late July, and her main accomplishments in the first year of her three-year contract include leading the effort to pass a levy renewal and expansion in the fall; revamping a central administrative structure she found sprawling and too complex; and delivering a five-year strategic plan. [Emphasis added]

But others say Carstarphen’s exhaustive approach verges into micromanaging. Though she’s qualified academically to lead the district, “as a manager, as a leader, she doesn’t have the skills at all,” said one central office staffer who requested anonymity because of potential career repercussions.

They love Carstarphen’s message to parents and community groups – basically, get the kids to us on time and ready to learn so we can do our jobs. “Teachers are just amazed there is someone out there explicitly delivering that message on their behalf.” …”She asks very direct questions right away, and there is no grace period of getting to know you.” 

She’s brought “a sense of accountability,” Holman said, insisting on outcomes that are measurable and plans that are aligned throughout the district. “That’s a real different approach that we see in St. Paul.”

…She is often described as a workaholic. She declined to specify her typical start and stop times, but co-workers have talked about her digging into a pile of papers at 10 p.m., and she has been known to answer e-mails after 11.

Asked about her leadership style, Carstarphen said she believes in promoting from within, evidenced notably this year by the elevation of Valeria Silva from director of English Language Learner programs to chief academic officer. Carstarphen also said her directness comes from wanting staff to know exactly where she stands.

She said her management approach draws on the thinking of several Harvard professors, as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. From those sources, Carstarphen has distilled some key principles that have guided her approach to leading the district over this past year of change.

“Transition is really hard,” she said, and it’s important for both leaders and employees not to take things personally. Good leaders also must have a broad view of their organization’s direction and a fierce commitment to making sure the small stuff goes well, she said.

Austin American Statesman (07/27/13) – Austin’s schools chief rebounds from tough year

After four years as the chief of Austin schools, Carstarphen has critics who are both vocal and well-placed. At least four of the nine school board members have been critical of her leadership style. She sometimes bristles when her decisions are questioned, and she has been faulted for advocating sweeping changes with little buy-in from the teachers and parents who are the heart of the school system.

And yet the city’s business establishment, led by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, has rallied around her. Organized parent groups say she’s been willing to hear them out, and many laud her ability to connect with students. That support has helped her weather a tough year.

Carstarphen has shown the same resilience that allowed her to overcome substantial public outcry in 2011 — when her proposal to close several successful schools and to cut 1,100 positions had opponents calling for her removal.

And, while some in the community blame Carstarphen and her staff for voters’ rejection of half of an $892 million school bond package in May, her supporters are quick to point out that $490 million in bonds passed, and the failures were by a slim margin.

“Every year I think it can’t possibly be that challenging again — and it just is,” Carstarphen said. Her supporters say the high-profile setbacks shouldn’t take attention away from steady progress the district has made in graduation rates, her openness to innovation and alternative schools, or the district’s solid financial footing despite state budget cuts and other shifts that are beyond her control.

“She’s a strong leader, who is very creative and believes in innovation but pays attention to the research data,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of Great City Schools, the country’s primary coalition of large urban school systems. “She is an out-of-the-box thinker, but her overriding commitment is always to the kids.”

“Her ability to touch students is remarkable,” said Mark Williams, the former school board president who was on the board for most of her tenure. “When you get her out of the limelight and with students, she’s gifted.”

Monica Sanchez, president of the Austin Council of PTAs, said Carstarphen is accessible and is always open to meeting with the group. “Every time I call her, she responds,” Sanchez said. “She’s easy to talk to. She responds to questions very thoughtfully and doesn’t shy away from questions.”

But others say she is thin-skinned and reluctant to consider other points of view. At school board meetings, she has rolled her eyes at her bosses when they asked a question she found irrelevant, or when they second-guessed the district’s response to an issue or problem.

The perception that she isn’t open to feedback has hurt morale in the district, said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the largest employee group, representing 3,000 district workers, mostly teachers. “We have an environment where people are afraid to speak up or are discouraged from speaking up. That’s what we have, and it’s a sad statement, because that is a tone that’s set by leadership,” Zarifis said. “Dissent and critical thinking are valuable if a system wants to evolve.” Carstarphen disagrees with the assessment.

“What staff reports to me, and I feel as well, is frustration around the high stakes accountability in Texas, and the deep budget cuts forced on us by the state,” she said. “Our staff is deeply engaged in the process and, most importantly, directly involved in the solutions.”

“If you look at the district as a whole, is it better than it was before she got here?” Williams said. “I would offer that AISD is better than it was four years ago. Have there been misfirings? Problems? Yes. But taking into consideration all the variables that come into play, I think she’s done a remarkable job.”

Carstarphen has guided the district through difficult budget years. She and her administrative team inherited a $15 million shortfall in 2009-10 and closed that gap within one year, presenting a balanced 2010-11 budget.

“Our programs benefit all families, all students, in some way,” Carstarphen said. “The closer we get to ensuring what we are doing programmatically is in alignment with the value system of this community, we will be able to hold our own.”

The district’s advances under Carstarphen’s leadership have earned her the praise and support of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

In 2011, discussions among a task force working with Carstarphen to close academically successful schools — to save $11.3 million — prompted hundreds of parents to protest. Parents decried the talks and said the district lacked transparency.

“Her pace of play is sometimes faster than Austin as a community can move,” Williams said. “She was new to Austin, and she really had to adapt. We can be mad about what she did two years ago, but she’s learning. Setting aside process and community listening, she’s been pretty courageous. She really is doing as much or more than her peers around the country.”

Still, some said they haven’t seen the successes from Carstarphen they had hoped for.

Tensions rose again in 2012 over Eastside Memorial, where the community fought hard against IDEA Public Schools, the charter operator Carstarphen picked to run the troubled high school.

The school board approved the partnership with what critics say was little discussion, prompting a backlash from students, parents and residents who protested outside the board room and marched in the streets. The charter operator also moved into Allan Elementary in the fall of 2012; 85 percent of students transferred out. Three new board members were elected in November, helping to tip the scales, and the IDEA partnership was terminated a month later. A committee of Eastside parents, teachers and school district officials evaluated five firms vying to operate the school and recommended Baltimore-based Talent Development Secondary of Johns Hopkins University. … School board President Vincent Torres said the district learned from the experience. “I do think that we are needing to pause and listen and step back and say, ‘What of the process we’ve used up to this time is not working?’” said Torres. “I think she’s willing to listen to that, and retool, and modify, and listen to what this board wants her to do.”

Carstarphen said she realizes that in Austin the process can be as important as the outcome.

“In a community like this, the cultural context is one that desires more process,” Carstarphen said. “If we could have negotiated all those things on the front end, which were not possible before, maybe things would have been a little less intense and hard on everyone.”

“I love my job here,” she said. “My goal is to ensure our district holds up its end for this city — this great city that has an international reputation for being a leader in everything from green energy to technology. And AISD must do its part to keep this city strong. No matter the distraction, I think it’s impossible for anything, or anyone, or any statute to shake me off of that focus.”

Statesman.com (12/16/13) – Austin schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen praised for graduation rate, finances

Torres praised Carstarphen and her team for maintaining a sound budget despite reductions in state funding to public education.

“She has led the word to manage our resources wisely with a strategic, long-term view and, as a result, we have received high bond ratings over the past three years,” Torres read from the statement. Further, as an example of her personal commitment and understanding of these financial constraints on the district, for two consecutive years, she has declined the equivalent of a 3 percent salary increase.”

Carstarphen was eligible for a payout equivalent to 1.5 percent of her $283,412 annual salary this year, but, as in past years, she declined the increase.

Absent from the statement, which was included in at least the past two years, was mention of extending the superintendent’s contract. It is set to expire in June 2015. The board decided not to extend her contract, at least for now, but could do so at a later date.

Austin American Statesmen (02/16/11)Texas Rep. Stefani Carter says Beaumont schools chief is highest-paid in state

The $283,412 annual salary of Austin district chief Meria Carstarphen ranks No. 10 on the list. That makes her per-pupil pay about $3 a year.

In the Austin school district, which has about 86,000 students, Carstarphen’s benefits include $12,000 a year for automobile allowance, a $15,000 annuity and $5,377 in health insurance. The district also pays $9,953 per year for a long-term disability insurance policy and $1,046 for a life insurance policy. And in August, Carstarphen was awarded a bonus of $41,500 for meeting performance goals for the 2009-10 school year. (She has waived any bonus tied to this school year.)

Her total: about $368,000.

Austin Chamber (03/22/10) – Austin ISD Superintendent Says “Get on Board”

One question Thevenot asked Carstarphen: How much additional investment in these schools is necessary and how much can you afford given the district’s tenuous financial situation?

Her answer:

In education, particularly public education, we are the pack rats of ineffective programs. We have more resources than we think we have. We let the politics [keep driving] things, even if it drives us into a deficit.

I’ve pushed very hard all year long, and plan to keep pushing, that we should invest in those things that work and let everything else fall off the plate … And so we are, we’re working with the citizens budget review committee, to look at all the programs in the district to create the right criteria to sunset them if we can’t prove they make a difference. And that’s going to be controversial. I hope you’ll follow us a year from now when we start doing that. It’s going to be a hot time. [Emphasis added]

Texas Classrooms First (01/21/13) – AISD six-figure earners increase 63 percent in past five years

The number of six-figure salary earners in the Austin school district has jumped 63 percent in the past five years, at a time when the district has had to tighten its belt and cut jobs, an analysis by the American-Statesman has found.

Seventy of the district’s 11,973 employees make more than $100,000. That’s up from 56 in 2011-12. In the 2007-08 school year, 43 of the district’s 11,571 employees earned at least that amount.

During the same five-year time period, the operations budget has dropped 16 percent, from $862.9 million to $724.2 million. And the total number of employees has barely budged, due largely to state funding cuts over the past two years that prompted the district to eliminate more than 1,100 budgeted positions in 2011.

One of the largest gains in highly-paid jobs occurred this school year, increasing 25 percent over the 2011-12 school year. Much of that growth was driven by pay raises. While employee salaries were frozen in 2010-11 and 2011-12, this year’s budget included a one-time payment to all employees equivalent to a three percent raise. That pushed 20 additional employees — nearly all principals — above the $100,000 mark.

The employees who earn the most are largely members of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s senior cabinet, who advise her on administrative decisions. Most of the other six-figure earners are executive directors, directors or middle and high school principals. The salaries for the 12-member cabinet, excluding the superintendent, range from $115,360 to $204,970.

The average teacher base salary is $55,137. [Note – this is approximately $6,000 less than the average teacher salary in APS.]

Forefront Austin (no date) – About Dr. Meria Joel Carstarphen (Q&A excerpts)

What was the “aha” moment that got you started in your current career?

As a child growing up in Selma, Alabama, infamous for its role in the Voting Rights March of the 1960s, I was exposed very early on to the civil rights struggles of this country. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is the value of education in uplifting people. Education is the great equalizer and I feel that there is no higher calling than being an educator and ensuring that all children—regardless of race or class—receive a quality education.

What is the most rewarding thing about working in public/social service?

As Superintendent, the most rewarding part of my job is seeing students graduate. Graduation is definitely the best part of my job. I personally shake the hand of each student who graduates in AISD. It is such an accomplishment, particularly when there are so many things that can derail even their best efforts.

Austin Woman (2012) – Q&A with Carstarphen (excerpts)

Austin Woman: Let’s start with growing up in Selma. Who were some of your mentors as a young adult?

Dr. Meria Carstarphen: It was really a combination of people. I spent every day with people who fought for the simple right to vote. While there was this huge national movement going on, people in our town were regular folks, living day to day. Growing up in that environment taught me a lesson: When individuals, young or old, are educated about an issue—in this case, civil rights—they literally can change their lives. Watching my father and mother raise a family in that environment while constantly reinforcing the value of a quality education inspired and motivated me to be where I am today. It is with that spirit that I do my work in Austin, and how I will do my work for children in education for the rest of my life.

AW: Talk about some of the major issues in education today.

MC: Our demographics are changing, not only in the state, but throughout our region and in Austin. For example, in AISD, two out of three students come from economically disadvantaged families, one in three is an English-language learner and one in 10 is in special education. Just 10 years ago, these statistics were dramatically different. The district had a more homogenous school community. Now, there is a head-to-head clash between what is happening with funding for education at the state level and the needs of students who are coming in to a large, urban school district without the resources it needs to keep pace with how quickly things are moving.

AW: What is the solution to these challenges?

MC: We are looking at a lot of different things. The first step is to be brutally honest about the context in which we are working. As demographics have changed, we have to change our models. The country has more interest in choices, and parents want districts to offer a portfolio of options for academic and educational programs. …We have to ask tough questions and remain focused on moving forward and reforming how we do business. School systems must keep up with a rapidly evolving economy and ever-changing technologies to serve the needs of all children.

AW: What do you suggest for more parental involvement in education?

MC: Parents are our partners and we welcome them to be involved with their children’s education from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. In school districts across the country, most parents are involved at the beginning but become less involved when their children leave elementary school. Students really need social and emotional support during middle school and they need a seamless environment between home and school. Parents are an important part of their children’s academic and school experiences…

I think there is a lot to like here. She is not afraid of controversy, is data driven, is intelligent and very energetic. Oh, and most importantly, she is focused on educational outcomes.

I think the Board has done a remarkable job is selecting our new superintendent.

Well done.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]





Meria Carstarphen – APS new superintendent elect – round up of news stories [Updated]

March 28, 2014

There are a lot of stories on the selection of the Meria Carstarphen as the new superintendent-elect for the Atlanta Public Schools. The following is a list with the key pull quotes from each story. Additionally, if you would like an opportunity to meet Dr. Carstarphen, the following are her scheduled appearances in Atlanta:

Fri., March 28th – 4 – 7 p.m. Reception for APS Teachers & Staff at CLL Building

Sat., March 29th – Community Open House:

  • 9 – 10:00 a.m.  Washington High School
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.  North Atlanta High School
  • 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.  Grady High School
  • 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.  Jackson High School
  • 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.  South Atlanta
  • 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.  Mays High School

AJCAtlanta Public Schools names new superintendent — Austin schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen [with video]

The sole finalist to become superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is Meria Carstarphen, 44, the superintendent of the Austin (Texas) Independent School District for the past five years.

…she looks forward to the challenge of managing the Atlanta district, which she said is in “turn around” mode. “I’m not naive about what it takes to turn around a school or a school district,” she said. “It will take some heavy lifting.”

Born and raised in Selma, Ala., she started her career teaching in the Selma middle school she attended. She later became superintendent in St. Paul, Minn., and was the chief accountability officer for the Washington, D.C. Public Schools.

“I’m a daughter of the deep South,” she said. “The South is very important to me. It’s a place that I love.”

She is married and when asked if she had any children she responded: “Just the 86,000 in Austin and the 47,000 here in Atlanta.”

“She has a proven track record of delivering transformative results for children,” said Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Courtney English. “This city could use some unity. She’s the right leader at the right time.”


Dr. Meria Joel Carstarphen has nearly 20 years of successful experience in public education. She is currently superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, which she joined in 2009, as its first African American and first female superintendent.

Under Carstarphen’s leadership, the Austin Independent School District realized a number of achievements including but not limited to:

  • Improving graduation rates to an all-time high of 82.5% and reduced longitudinal dropout rate by 25%
  • Increasing the African American graduation rate to 79.6 percent, specifically African American males to 76.2%

  • Increasing overall SAT and ACT exam scores

  • Increasing college application rates to an all-time high of 92%

  • Improving attendance rates at all levels to 95%

In state accountability, elementary schools exceeded the state passing rate in reading, math, writing and science; middle schools ranked first among comparable districts in four areas; and high school’s passing rates on the end-of-course exams met or exceeded the State rate for 10 of the 11 tests.

Dr. Meria Joel Carstarphen has managed an urban school district with an annual budget of $950 million; 12,000 employees; and 87,000 pre-K-12 students in 123 schools. She previously served as the superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota, and in accountability positions for public school systems in the District of Columbia, Kingsport; Tennessee; and Columbus, Ohio.

[Note – the Austin ISD is approximately twice the size of APS]

WSBTVAPS names finalist in superintendent search

Carstarphen says the district’s budget will be a priority, and getting talented leadership staff in place is something she will focus on immediately.    She also wants feedback from the district’s staff and this community, especially the parents. “They’ll have to share that with me and I know that will be a tough process, but it will be part of the healing,” Carstarphen said.

Carstarphen possesses nearly 20 years of experience in urban public school systems. Currently, she serves as the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, which she joined in 2009 as its first African American and first female superintendent. She served previously as the superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. Her hometown is Selma, Ala., where she began her career in education as a middle-school teacher.

Creative LoafingMeria Carstarphen is sole finalist for APS superintendent job

Carstarphen, one of four candidates who was in the running for the job, has led the 87,000-student [Austin] Texas school system since 2009

She has a doctorate in administration, planning, and social policy with a concentration in urban superintendency from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In addition, she holds master of education degrees from Auburn University and Harvard University.

“I believe we have found a proven, visionary leader in Dr. Carstarphen, who has consistently produced verifiable, concrete results,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to support her in our collective efforts to make the Atlanta Public Schools system the best in the nation. Our children, and our city, deserve nothing less.”

PatchAtlanta Public Schools Names Carstarphen New Superintendent

Carstarphen earned a doctorate in administration, planning and social policy with a concentration in urban superintendency from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish from Tulane University and Master of Education degrees from Auburn University and Harvard University. 

“Congratulations to the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools on the selection of Meria Carstarphen as its school superintendent. Carstarphen is one of the nation’s most effective, seasoned, and proven educational leaders. She is the right person at the right time to move the school system forward,” said Council of the Great City Schools Executive Director Michael Casserly.

Statesmen.com (Austin) – Austin school Superintendent Meria Carstarphen leaving for Atlanta job

In an email to employees of the Austin district, Carstarphen said she is proud of the progress under her watch. “It has been a privilege to serve AISD and to be a champion for public education and Austin’s children,” she wrote.

Now in her fifth year in Austin, Carstarphen has had ups and downs as superintendent.

In December, Austin school trustees praised her for weathering state budget cuts and helping students and staff members raise the overall graduation rate to its highest point, in 2012. But her bosses also admonished her to build better relationships with the community, including parents and staff members.

Her style has been hands-on; …

“We all owe her a debt of gratitude for the passion, heart and tireless work she dedicated to this district,” Hinojosa said. “I will be looking for a new leader who is going to build upon the community schools model that this city has embraced that focuses on every child regardless of economic status.”

Although the Austin trustees’ review of Carstarphen in December was high on praise, it didn’t call for a contract extension, unlike her previous two evaluations. Her contract here expires in June 2015.

Some community members and the head of the district’s largest labor group have leveled criticism against Carstarphen for the rejection by voters of half of an $892 million bond package in May, contending that she and her staff failed to prove that all of the money was needed.

Carstarphen was successful in launching a number of nontraditional initiatives, including “early college start” programs at Reagan and LBJ high schools. She shifted away from a traditional bilingual program to establish a dual-language program at such schools as Becker Elementary.

Her efforts drew praise and support from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s Scheberle noted that graduation rates are up, more students are graduating ready for college, the bond rating is strong and national tests rate Austin as a top urban district. She also brought in a solid team and “we hope a lot of them will consider staying,” Scheberle said.

One of Carstarphen’s most difficult moments came in 2011, amid discussions about possibly closing some schools to save $11.3 million. Hundreds of parents protested that notion as well as the district’s approach, which they decried as opaque.

The Austin Chronicle Carstarphen Headed to Atlanta

This may come as a surprise to AISD, which had given no indication that she was leaving. In fact, Carstarphen has over a year left on her contract.

However, this decision seems to have blindsided the board. Communications director Alex Sanchez said that AISD board president Vince Torres was informed of her decision this morning …

At many levels, Carstarphen’s exit is no surprise. The increasing tension between herself and the board has been apparent since last year’s elections, and the current trustees declined to extend her current contract past the end of the 2014-15 school year. However, there have been consistent rumors that she has been looking for another position since 2011.

KXANAustin ISD superintendent leaving for same position in Atlanta [Added]

Torres [AISD board president] also said AISD hit a record graduation rate under Carstarphen and that she helped move the district away from a culture of testing — among other things.

“I look forward to the opportunity to support the Atlanta community and rebuild the Atlanta Public Schools,” she said. “I will always strive to be part of the solution for urban public education in our great country.”

“If she believes that Atlanta, Georgia is the best place for her, then that’s where she needs to be. We need to have someone here that’s all in and that really wants to be here, and that can work that relationship with the community,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the teacher and school employees union for AISD.

Zarifis says it’s too soon to determine what Carstarphen’s legacy will be for Austin schools. “When you step into a district and the first day you’re on the job Pearce Middle School is closing. Two years later, you have $5.4 billion taken out of state funding for education. Those are very difficult challenges to manage. So I think we need to give time to see what this all means.”

KEYE TVAISD Supt. Planning To Leave For Atlanta

Austin Independent School District Union President Ken Zafaris got the news Thursday afternoon. “Dr. Carstarphen texted me and let me know she accepted the sole finalist position,” he explained. Zafaris and the union haven’t always seen eye to eye with Carstarphen. We asked how he felt about her leaving. “I’m happy for her, at the end of the day I’m really happy for her, but I’m also happy for the district. I think the district has an opportunity to look at a direction of progressive leadership,” he replied.

Excerpts from Carstarphen’s letter of resignation submitted to AISD (see full text here)

… Five years ago, I fell in love with Austin and our school district. And, for five years, it has been a privilege to serve AISD and to be a champion for public education and Austin’s children. Together, we have achieved AISD’s best performance under the highest, toughest accountability standards in the state’s history. As a school district, we have come together to support and help each other amid dwindling resources to serve our growing and incredibly diverse student body.

As a community, we have become a national model, drawing attention for our work to challenge and reform educational systems to meet students where they are, while working to ensure they have a fighting chance to get to where they want to be—to achieve their greatest potential.

I grew up in Selma, Alabama, which is infamous for its role in the civil rights movement. Our nation’s struggles and successes have informed and inspired my work every day as I have taken responsibility for addressing inequalities in education here in Austin. Together, we have openly and unapologetically refocused our resources and reformed our systems to more fully support the heart of our work: every student, in every school, in every community. Together, we have made gains in a range of critical areas:

  • Graduation Rates — AISD’s graduation rate has reached an all-time high: 82.5 percent, up from 74.3 percent in 2008. And, gains among students who historically have had lower graduation rates are even more impressive: graduation rates have increased by between 13.9 and 27.6 percentage points for African-American and Hispanic students and English language learners.
  • Alternative Pathways — We have worked to ensure every student remains on the path to graduate from high school even if they need to take a different route to get there. To reach this goal, we have created alternative graduation pathways, like the Premier in-district charter programs at Lanier and Travis high schools and the Twilight School. I am pleased to report hundreds of students who have left AISD or who would be at-risk of leaving school have been able to use the programs to lay the foundation for their own path to graduation.
  • Whole Child, Every Child — For all students to reach their full potential, AISD has been moving away from a culture of testing to one that emphasizes the whole child, every child. We have been adopting programs to combat discrimination and bullying. We also plan for the No Place for Hate initiative to reach every campus and every department in the district by the end of the school year.
  • Social and Emotional Learning — Austin is one of the first districts in the nation working to integrate Social and Emotional Learning in the curriculum district-wide. SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. We started SEL two years ago with 27 schools, we are in 71 schools this year, and it’s our goal, to have SEL in all schools at every grade level during 2015-16.
  • Any Given Child and Austin’s Creative Future — Working with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, AISD has helped launch a community-wide partnership with the City of Austin, Mindpop, and more than 40 community arts organizations to provide Any Given Child equal access to the arts. The arts are a powerful motivator in education. When students are more motivated, they have better attendance and perform better academically. They graduate at higher rates and are twice as likely to attend college.
  • Attendance — We want students to experience all of the educational opportunities available to them and to do so they have to be in school. That’s why, three years ago, we launched an attendance campaign called Every Day Counts. We set a goal of improving attendance by one percentage point—and we have achieved it, which not only helps our performance, but it also generates an additional $5.3 million in state funding.
  • Transition to New Graduation Plans — We are adapting to the new state graduation requirements that reduce the number of end-of-course exams from 15 to 5 and preparing one diploma plan with opportunities for students to earn five different endorsements in such areas as STEM, business and industry, art and humanities.
  • Focus on Literacy — We are sharpening our focus on literacy education to help our students develop habits of mind that will prepare them for a full life, whatever path they choose.
  • Disciplinary Program Reform—For far too long, African-American and Special Education students were disproportionately placed in alternative campuses for discretionary reasons and non-violent behavior. Last year, we changed our approach to allow more students to remain at their home campuses and stay on track for graduation. Since then, the number of discretionary removals from the classroom have dropped from 513 in 2011-12 to 207 in 2013-14, a 60% decrease.

As a daughter of the Deep South, I have a personal draw to Atlanta and it’s deeply rooted in my own upbringing and personal experience in the civil rights having been born and raised in Selma, Alabama. I look forward to the opportunity to support the Atlanta community and rebuild the Atlanta Public Schools. I will always strive to be part of the solution for urban public education in our great country. I plan on working with the AISD Board of Trustees during the next few weeks to develop a successful transition plan. This is an exciting time for public education in Austin—and AISD. Our work is working. And, as a superintendent, I couldn’t be more proud. It has been a privilege to serve the students and families of Austin—and to work with and for you.

Sincerely, Meria J. Carstarphen

I will be looking at her record at AISD from a financial perspective and provide an assessment. However, given a quick scan of the AISD budget documents, we should expect a lot of significant and positive changes in the budget process, the objective measures established and the accountability for results inherent in the budget presentations.

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