Three opinion pieces in the AJC – Meria Carstarphen, Ed Johnson and Maureen Downey – Part 1

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.

Cartarphen HeadshotThe following is part one of a three-part series and contains some excerpts from Superintendent Carstarphen opinion piece titled “Building on strengths to better APS” (behind pay wall):

APS has been a system where pockets of academic excellence exist coupled with persistent challenges in the graduation and dropout rates.

How do we change our organizational culture so that the needs of children are the top priority? How do we address everyone’s hopes, fears and expectations about this system? How do we bring out the best in ourselves as adults so that we can bring out the best in our students?

In APS, we’re going to move from focusing on what’s wrong to what’s strong. Our goal is to become a culture where students and staff are engaged, supported and encouraged. This strength-based approach transitions from a culture of testing — which can be punitive and narrowly focused on weaknesses — to one that emphasizes the abilities and interests of the whole child.

…across APS this year, we will build an academic and human resource success plan driven by our strengths.

One of our emerging strengths is that we have been able to inspire, support and graduate more students, many of whom are still the first in their families to graduate from high school..

…we continue to implement a 30-60-90 day action plan to attack a number of challenges — big and small — from getting all classrooms cleaned and teachers and principals hired to improving our internal operational systems.

…Approximately 5,000 of our students do not show up or are not in class receiving instruction on Day One. A day without instruction might as well be a day absent, and research tells us that absences — as few as one or two a month — add up to hurt achievement.

…the job of educating all students in APS is a heavy lift, but I’m encouraged by the strength I’ve seen throughout Atlanta. As a school community, if we work together to get into good trouble and build on our strengths, we will overcome the most insurmountable challenges. We will become a strong system of strong schools with strong students.

The focus on strengths reminds me of a post I did last summer at the beginning of the Board of Education election titled “A Simple Question for BOE Candidates” in which I asked the question, What does the Atlanta Public School system do really well? An excerpt from that post,

I was surprised at how difficult the candidates and incumbents found this question to be. While they tend to be focused on what is wrong, knowing what is working in APS is also extremely important.


… If you know what is working… resources can be directed to areas of greater need. Additionally, if APS is performing a function very well, then the organization can begin considering how to leverage the strength and extend it into others areas of the organization.

It appears that Carstarphen is looking for and finding the strengths in APS which she can build on to achieve a higher level of success. In my opinion, she is on the right track.

[Note – I will publish a review of the other two opinion pieces published by the AJC in upcoming posts and the “Round-Up of APS Headlines from the Past Week” will come after that.]

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