Max Blau at Creative Loafing published an extensive review on the new APS Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen. The piece is titled “Picking up the pieces of Atlanta Public Schools – Can new superintendent Meria Carstarphen save the troubled school system?”
The following are some extracts, but please take the time to read the whole thing.
… She delved into how she planned to overhaul the public school system’s culture, implement measures to ensure accountability, make transparent decisions, and treat all students equally, no matter their households’ ZIP codes.
The Alabama native, considered by many to be a rising star in the education world, has dramatically improved public school systems in Minnesota and Texas. Her supporters think she can save the city’s beleaguered public education system. Her critics say she operates too independently and, at times, does so to the detriment of students.
Overall, she received high marks from school board members for her work [as superintendent of St. Paul school district].
Carstarphen acknowledges that not everyone will agree with her decision-making given the wide-ranging interests of parents, activists, and elected officials involved in public schools. Regarding criticisms about her leadership style, she refers to her “extraordinary” track record in St. Paul and Austin as proof that her approach has helped all students — not just specific groups of children — receive a better education.
“I work every day for kids. If you’re a ‘me’ kind of adult, you’re going to have tension and conflict with me. I get it, I’m going to try to understand, but I’m going to bring it back to [the question]: How does this move the agenda forward for kids? Not just your kids; but black kids, poor kids, second language learners, special education kids.”
Carstarphen’s supporters and opponents disagree on most points, except for one: that APS’ newest leader has undeniable charisma. The 44-year-old superintendent has a rare touch that can disarm both officials and students.
As Carstarphen solidifies her cabinet, she’ll look to improve the quality of APS employees, refine the academic curriculum taught to students, and make internal operations more efficient. She wants to attract talented leaders ranging from principals to bus drivers, all who fit into her long-term APS strategy.
“Our biggest challenge may be the culture itself,” she says. “To build hope in our organization [we need] people to feel like they’re welcome, respected, and engaged in the school experience.” The superintendent stresses her commitment to being accessible, providing more direct support, and offering greater autonomy to staffers.
It’s expected that Carstarphen will run a more efficient operation that spends less on administrative costs. Atlanta currently devotes … approximately 11 percent of its …budget, to pay for central office and general administrative expenses. In contrast, AISD only spends an estimated 2.5 percent of its budget on central office costs. Substantial changes are likely to happen in a central office described by sources as a bloated, dysfunctional bureaucracy of more than 300 employees.
Administrative belt-tightening comes with its own set of challenges and could lead to layoffs. But those kinds of fiscal moves would free up cash to be reinvested back into classrooms. With that money, Carstarphen could place more resources into developing academic programs that focus on what she refers to as the “bookends of education” — narrowing early childhood achievement gaps and making sure more students graduate from high school.
The superintendent says that early childhood development will be a major focus during her first days on the job. In the short term, she says that means bolstering current kindergarten and pre-K programs — the latter only being available on a lottery basis due to limited seats. …”We want to be sure we’re doing everything we can to eliminate the achievement gaps before they start,”
“If they come to school, they go to class and do their homework; it’s a very simple formula,” she said during her speech.
As I noted above, the article is lengthy and is full of information on Carstarphen’s background, management philosophy and future initiatives for APS. Also, there are numerous quotes from a wide variety of sources, including:
- Board members – Leslie Grant, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Matt Westmoreland and Courtney English
- Atlanta parents – Paul Benson and Dawn Brockington-Shaw
- Other Atlanta residents – Jarod Apperson, Verdaillia Turner, Robert Stockwell and retired Superintendent Davis
Go take a look and see what your neighbors are saying about APS’ new leader.