Atlanta Public Schools names new superintendent -- Austin schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen

The sole finalist to become superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is Meria Carstarphen, 44, the superintendent of the Austin (Texas) Independent School District for the past five years.

Carstarphen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Thursday that she looks forward to the challenge of managing the Atlanta district, which she said is in “turn around” mode.

“I’m not naive about what it takes to turn around a school or a school district,” she said. “It will take some heavy lifting.”

Born and raised in Selma, Ala., she started her career teaching in the Selma middle school she attended. She later became superintendent in St. Paul, Minn., and was the chief accountability officer for the Washington, D.C. Public Schools.

“I’m a daughter of the deep South,” she said. “The South is very important to me. It’s a place that I love.”

She is married and when asked if she had any children she responded: “Just the 86,000 in Austin and the 47,000 here in Atlanta.”

The Atlanta school board still must approve her selection with a vote, but under state law the board must wait at least 14 days after Thursday’s release of her identity.

Carstarphen is being hired following a yearlong nationwide search for a leader who can improve academic performance and leave behind the stigma of the nation’s largest test cheating scandal.

She’ll replace Superintendent Erroll Davis, who took office in July 2011 as a state cheating investigation named 185 educators, including his predecessor, Superintendent Beverly Hall.

While Davis was a transitional chief executive with a business background, Atlanta school board members now want a transformational educational leader.

Since taking over for Hall, Davis has focused on restoring integrity to public education. He fired most of the teachers and administrators allegedly involved with cheating, and he hasn’t shied away from controversy during battles over redistricting and school leadership.

Carstarphen will work with a young and ambitious school board that was voted into office last fall.

The election replaced six out of nine board members, creating an opportunity for the board and the incoming superintendent to start fresh.

“She has a proven track record of delivering transformative results for children,” said Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Courtney English. “This city could use some unity. She’s the right leader at the right time.”