APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen: ‘We are rebuilding just about everything’

Meria Carstarphen gives her first ‘State of the Schools’


Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is now two months into her job leading - and turning around - the city’s beleaguered public schools. In her debut APS “State of the Schools” address, she urged parents, teachers, and officials to move past the empty proclamations of past leadership and begin rebuilding the school system.

Carstarphen, who spoke yesterday at both North Atlanta and Frederick Douglass high schools, said that her team had begun making improvement to APS. With the help of Atlanta’s Board of Education members - she showed photos of them as kids during the talk - she said the system was able to fill nearly two dozens principal vacancies and improve turnout on the first day of school.

“I think that some pieces being ready for change are in place,” Carstarphen said. “There are many things that aren’t. But this is our only opportunity right now. If we don’t grab it and hug onto it and wrestle it to the ground and plant it and grow it and do those things, we will have missed the greatest opportunity for this district to do a real turnaround.”

She also touched on some of the changes to come: making APS departments run more efficiently; creating an employee relations department to improve staff culture; retaining and recruiting talented staffers; and hiring an ombudsman to help parents better communicate with school officials. Exciting, yes?

But APS has years of work ahead before it overcomes the fallout from the cheating scandal, she told the audience. She said Austin’s public school district, where she previously worked as superintendent, had taken at least 15 years to recover from a cheating scandal in the 1990s. Upon arriving in Atlanta, she found that APS lacked many best practices for its management, recruitment, teaching, accountability methods.

“Right now the district is working in a context that is more like a recovery,” Carstarphen said. “We are rebuilding just about everything. ... We need to start it all over again. We’re at the base of the mountain and we’ve got to start climbing again.”

Earlier in the week, Carstarphen spent time with First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan during their appearance at Booker T. Washington High School.