Strategic planning participants write down strengths and weaknesses during an Atlanta Public Schools’ community meeting held at Douglass High School on Sept. 18, 2019. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

APS board, departing superintendent plot district’s next five years

Just 11 days after the Atlanta school board announced it would part ways with Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, she and the board were back in the same room planning for the district’s next half-decade.

Confused?

Atlanta Public Schools is developing its next strategic plan, a document that will guide the district over the upcoming five years. The current plan ends in 2020, and Carstarphen’s contract expires on June 30.

A couple of board members have said they want to start fresh next year with a new leader to implement the updated strategy— a plan that’s being created now with Carstarphen’s help.

That might sound a little awkward, but during a four-hour planning session on Sept. 20 there were few hints of the pending leadership change.

It did show up in one place, however.

As part of the planning session, everyone scribbled anonymous comments on Post-it notes identifying the district’s strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats.

The threats they noted included “unstable leadership transition,” “division,” “political pressures” and “instability at a critical time.”

They also pinpointed threats that the board has less control over, including gentrification and the high number of transient students who move in and out of schools during the year.

As for weaknesses, they highlighted students’ struggles with reading and math and a need to expand pre-kindergarten programs. Other weaknesses included transportation problems, after-school tutoring and teacher apathy.

Most of the meeting was spent discussing high-level concepts that the board hopes to infuse in the plan, such as the need for equitable resources for all schools.

This information — as well as input from community meetings that have taken place throughout the district — will be folded into the next strategic plan.

At the public planning sessions, several themes emerged. The district should offer more affordable, after-school programming and tutoring. It needs to improve how it communicates with families, and parents need to be more engaged in schools. Students need more support outside the classroom, including services and assistance to help needy families.

There’s clearly interest in the plan. Parents, school leaders and community members packed a recent planning session at Douglass High School in northwest Atlanta. District leaders said other meetings also have been well attended.

The board intends to vote in December on adopting the core components of the strategic plan.

APS senior administrators then will spend the next nine or 10 months fleshing it out, deciding what programs and steps are needed to achieve the board’s goals and how to pay for new initiatives and priorities.

Carstarphen reminded board members that anything they want to launch next school year must be baked into the budget this spring.

The strategic planning is happening simultaneously as the board searches for its next superintendent. District attorneys recommended the board post an ad for the vacancy in December and interview candidates in the winter and early spring.

The board’s goal is to name a sole finalist in late April, vote to hire a superintendent in mid-May, and have a new leader on the job by July 1.

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