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

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. (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.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]




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

  1. Skeptical Citizen says:

    So APS wants to hire someone that Austin ISD was basically firing? Is this not a huge red flag that they would not renew her contract. Is this the best we can do? Can’t APS find someone that their existing board would fight to keep. And what about school choice? Where does she stand on charter schools?

    • Let me respond to each of your points one by one. It is absolutely untrue that Austin ISD is firing her. In fact, last year her contract was renewed to the end of FY15. In addition, she received very high marks in her most recent review performed this past December. What is true is that the AISD Board of Trustees did not take up the issue of her contract extension as there was no need to do so until after her performance review next December. I will also note that this is a meme that the media has also focused on and I would suggest that an objective review of the facts makes this observation completely false.

      As to what Carstarphen’s position is on charter schools, I am looking into this now. Based on what I can see so far, it appears that her position is likely very moderate. During her five year tenure, there was one new charter school that was established and there was some controversy over the charter school manager selected. The initial decision was reevaluated with community input and the manager was changed. In addition, it appears as if Austin has 26-28 charter schools with about 7,000 students. Most of these were created long before Carstarphen arrived on the scene. In addition, during her tenure, KIPP Charter – that formed its first charter in Austin in 2002 – has expanded its schools in the last five years and now has a total enrollment of approximately 2,300.

      As far as I can tell, while it appears that Carstarphen is open to charter schools, I don’t see any evidence that she is in anyway extreme on this issue. It is also clear to me from the record I have seen that her emphasis is on student educational outcomes – and she takes very aggressive steps to achieve this.

  2. Beverly Fraud says:

    Re: “It is also clear to me from the record I have seen that her emphasis is on student educational outcomes – and she takes very aggressive steps to achieve this.”

    Bob, I would submit to you, while this may appear to be a “positive” it may very well also be a “red flag.” When does “very aggressive” become TOO aggressive?

    If students at one of the schools she was in charge of, were routinely subjected to “name and shame” and publicly humiliated in the cafeteria, and furthermore subjected to 4 hours of standardized testing EVERY Friday, in the name of “student educational outcomes” is this truly what we want?

    Unless there is more to the story not yet revealed, the counselor at that school, Joyce Murdock Feilke, has felt strongly enough about this to risk her CAREER. The question that needs to be asked (and I think all will agree it is a fair and legitimate question) did Carstarphen, in her investigation of this matter, protect her career, or did she protect the students under her care?

    Yes it’s one of many decisions she had to make, but a full accounting of it would be MOST instructive as to the personal character and professional ethics Carstarphen brings to APS, would it not?

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