The Atlanta Journal Constitution published three opinion pieces today and the authors include Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, business consultant and former Board of Education candidate Ed Johnson and AJC Get Schooled blog author Maureen Downey. All three are a must read in their entirety as APS is about to start a new school year this coming Monday, August 4th.
While it matters what Carstarphen does, it matters more what she enables her principals and teachers to do.
Her job is more than recruiting top principals and teachers; she has to ensure they’re trained to succeed in urban classrooms by providing them with the ongoing support necessary to deal with the challenges.
Carstarphen’s choice for her deputy, David Jernigan, can help. Jernigan comes to APS from KIPP Metro Atlanta where he oversaw eight KIPP schools… KIPP relies on strong school leaders who are carefully selected, trained and then freed to direct, manage and staff their campuses.
It’s essential the school board, parents and the business community recognize that improvements will not come easily or quickly… As Stanford education emeritus professor Larry Cuban has said, “Turning around a failing company or a school district is no work for sprinters, it is marathoners who refashion the company and district into successes.”
Atlanta educates a lot of poor children. Although 76 percent of APS students are on free and reduced lunch, the district doesn’t have an impressive track record with low-income students….
… 13 of Atlanta’s 58 elementary schools ranked among the bottom 5 percent in Georgia…Clayton County enrolls the same number of students as Atlanta and has even greater poverty. Yet, only two of Clayton’s 39 elementary schools were in the bottom 5 percent.
Carstarphen has to get her most effective teachers into her least successful schools….And she has to untangle the central office thicket that provides camouflage for needless bureaucracy. She has to either find or develop more principals in the mold of Stephanie Johnson at Maynard Jackson High School and Betsy Bockman at Inman Middle.
If Carstarphen can do all that, the Atlanta school board won’t be alone in singing her praises.
While the prior two posts on the opinions of Carstarphen and Johnson focused on building on existing APS strengths, Downey gets to the core issue – building a strong team of teachers and in-school leaders who will be responsible for achieving transformational results. As Downey notes, some gems already exist within the system and the new leadership has a track record of success.
My sense is that Ed Johnson’s prescription to Carstarphen of providing “servant leadership” that turns the leadership pyramid upside down with student educational outcomes at the top of the hierarchy is the right idea. Carstarphen seems committed to doing this – will she and her team be able to deliver?
My bet is that she can – but she will have to transform a system that has been focused on what it could “not do” versus a system that “can do and will do”.