The head of an Atlanta teacher’s group says the search for a new school chief should be more open than the process used to hire Meria Carstarphen in 2014. Carstarphen is shown here with former APS school board Chair Courtney English.
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Opinion: Search for APS school chief shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy

Leader of teachers’ group says business interests played key role in selection of Meria Carstarphen

Verdaillia Turner is an Atlanta native, an educator and president of 1,700-member Atlanta Federation of Teachers.

In this guest column, Turner urges the Atlanta school board to be transparent in its search for a replacement for superintendent Meria Carstarphen and seek out the advice of educators rather than business interests.

The school board announced on Sept. 9 that a majority did not support extending Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract, which expires June 30. Instead, the board intends to hire a new leader for Atlanta Public Schools. The decision has led to a lot of debate over whether the board’s decision will hurt or help Atlanta schools. 

By Verdaillia Turner 

Now that the fate of the current superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools has been determined, it is time for the district to move forward and do that which is necessary to improve the academic performance of students. Several things need to be taken into consideration as the search for a new superintendent is conducted. 

Hiring a superintendent is a monumental task and the Atlanta Board of Education should learn from the recent past to avoid pitfalls that could have serious ramifications for the future of the school system.

Verdaillia Turner

First, the process of selecting a new superintendent must be open, transparent, and fair. The last superintendent search was lacking in transparency, thus I decided to withdraw from the search committee. The search committee was dominated by the business community and presented only one candidate for consideration.

The next superintendent must be compensated only by taxpayer funds. The upcoming search must include input with impact from parents, teachers, and the community.

The Atlanta Federation of Teachers believes that an open and transparent process is more likely to result in recruiting a superintendent who has already demonstrated a commitment to and respect for educators’ voices, as demonstrated by engaging teachers and school staff in the development and design stages of initiatives and not just the implementation stage.

Second, the people of Atlanta deserve a superintendent who believes in public education. Under the present superintendent, APS has entered into long-term contracts with companies and organizations that essentially privatize under the banner of charter schools.

As a result, these organizations operate without transparency and accountability. They cherry-pick students and push out veteran teachers. Purpose Built, KIPP and Kindezi are three organizations to which APS has abdicated its responsibility. 

Atlanta Public Schools needs a superintendent who will implement models that have been proven to work, such as the Community Schools approach that emphasizes meeting the whole family’s needs, real family engagement, community partnerships, and wrap-around services. In a city such as Atlanta where most students suffer from poverty, this model is especially needed. A recent study identified Atlanta as the city with the least economic mobility for poor children.

Therefore, the next superintendent of APS must demonstrate respect for students, teachers, families, community voices and demonstrate a commitment to engage public school stakeholders rather than just inform them.

One way the APS board can display that it is ready and serious about using evidence-based methods that already work to improve schools and outcomes is by including in its search, vetting, and hiring criteria, a requirement that the new superintendent has public school teaching experience. Shouldn’t a superintendent have spent time in the classroom interacting with students, parents, and other teachers?

Finally, some superintendent search firms and consultants practice the opposite of a public vetting process. There’s a wide range of quality in search firms. While some are vehicles for graft and kickbacks, others are totally above board. As it stands, if the APS Board of Education hires the former, the course of the district will be more of the same. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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