Some readers have recently sent me an article about Superintendent-elect Meria Carstarphen that was published at the end of her tenure as the St. Paul, Minnesota superintendent. The article is titled Critics of Meria Carstarphen speak, hoping debate influences who succeeds her at helm of St. Paul schools and it was published in May, 2009 just shortly before she began her work in Austin.
As the title implies, Carstarphen’s critics discussed some issues regarding her management style and how she dealt with administrators and principals. I will deal with the administrators in a subsequent post and solely focus here on the issues regarding principals.
On accountability for all positions in the district, one Board member observed,
Along with the staff realignments, Carstarphen required a higher level of personal accountability than some were used to, Wroblewski said. “The expectations from Dr. Carstarphen are very high,” she said. “There is no ambiguity around who is responsible.
But on the negative side, Board member Keith Hardy said,
He has visited every school, and more than half the principals have told him they’re “operating in an environment of fear,” he said. The layers of administration made it difficult for them to communicate with Carstarphen directly, and instead of support and collaboration, they got finger-pointing and a “blaming and shaming environment,” Hardy said.
At the same time, other Board members viewed it differently,
Tom Conlon, the board’s longest-serving member, said staff complaints about Carstarphen are no worse than what he’s heard about every superintendent.
Some of the criticism of Carstarphen is likely just general stress over the program changes she presided over, said board Vice Chairwoman Elona Street-Stewart.
Board Chairwoman Kazoua Kong-Thao said she would hire Carstarphen again.
“We needed her to help us make some of those changes,” said Kong-Thao. “Is this all perfect? No, it’s not. There’s always room for improvement. “Meria just has a different personality,” Kong-Thao said. “It makes some people uncomfortable.”
I have looked at hundreds of articles published over Carstarphen’s career in St. Paul and in Austin. The article from 2009 is the only reference I can find that infers a negative relationship with her principals. If she had ongoing problems with principals, I would find it very surprising that this did not show up in other articles. As our experience in Atlanta shows, when there is a question about a principal possibly being mistreated – the community rises up and is very vocal (see here and here).
And, as I previously reported (see here), Carstarphen made a recent strong statement in support of granting principals greater autonomy and then holding them accountable for results.
In addition, at the community forum this past Saturday at Mays High School, when she was asked about ensuring each school had a strong principal, she said (with some paraphrasing),
Teachers are far more effective in their jobs when we have good principals. So part of my job is to get very involved in the selection of principals. I look to the community to bring me a slate of principals to consider and then I make sure that I am asking the questions that the community is concerned about and that we get the right match for the school.
So I get involved and I own the decision. And I want to make sure that we have alignment with the community with the selection of a strong principal.
In regards to ensuring we have strong existing principals in place, I make sure that everyone in the community – parents, teachers and community leaders – weigh in on the evaluation process. And the principals should be evaluated regularly, at least every year, and if improvements need to be made, they can be documented and they can either get better or decide that they want to move on into another profession.
I love my principals and they know that I will support them, but they also know that I will not support them blindly. I am fair and honest and they can be fair and honest with me. So we have a very cordial relationship and I look forward to working with the team here in Atlanta.
My sense is that the principals in APS that already excel at their jobs or are working hard to improve their skills will ultimately be very comfortable in developing a good working relationship with Carstarphen.
Will she be a tough taskmaster? All indications are that – yes, she will be. And marginally performing principals (and any other administrators) will need to up their game. That is a good thing.
Her record indicates that she is focused on improving educational outcomes (see here) – and she knows that the principals play a key role in her being successful.
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