APS superintendent dives into state of district -- highlighting progress, achievement gaps

Nobody can say Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen doesn’t go all in.

The superintendent, hired in 2014 to lead the roughly 50,000-student district, has shown a flair for the theatrical during her annual State of the District addresses.

Friday, she continued that tradition. The district transformed an empty, cavernous swimming pool at Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy into the flag-festooned site of this year’s presentation.

Carstarphen spoke to a crowd of several hundred from a tiled platform above the pool. Community members were handed pom poms as they wound through shower rooms and then climbed down stairs to take a seat on the sloping floor of the pool, where school board members also sat.

Displaying her commitment to the theme, Carstarphen wore a navy track suit and white sneakers to give the big speech, held at the academy that opened last year to students in Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

She highlighted the district’s efforts to turn around struggling schools but cautioned more work remains to be done.

“Our transformational strategy is gaining ground in improvements in graduation rates and student performance, however significant achievement gaps still exist,” she said.

She highlighted Georgia state test scores that she said showed only 32 percent of students in grades three through eight are proficient readers and only 30 percent are proficient in math.

The data also indicates about 80 percent of white students are proficient in those subjects, compared to only about 20 percent of African American students, she said.

“It is a 60 percentage point gap,” Carstarphen said, noting the disparity is linked to socio-economics and poverty. “We need to do more to move our performance for African American and Hispanic students and children who are living in poverty. And we also want to insure that high-performing students still remain in scoring position.”

The superintendent was introduced in pep rally fashion, preceded by a back-flipping cheerleader and accompanied by drummers. The event featured plenty of sports puns, skits, video segments, and student dance and music performances.

At last year's event, Carstarphen joined students in a riff on a rap song from the hit musical "Hamilton."