Decision not to renew APS chief’s contract has people in DeKalb abuzz

On the first day of school, Atlanta schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen paid a visit to Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy and had breakfast with some of the students in that new school building. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

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On the first day of school, Atlanta schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen paid a visit to Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy and had breakfast with some of the students in that new school building. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

News of Meria Carstarphen's impending exit as Atlanta Public Schools' superintendent has some suggesting her next stop shouldn't be far away.

Should she take her talents to the DeKalb County School District?

Steve Green, DeKalb's current superintendent, has said he intends to leave the district after five years on June 30, 2020 — the same day Carstarphen's tenure with APS is now expected to end.

But would she be a good fit? Would DeKalb hire her, knowing her pro-charter reputation and rocky relationship with her previous school boards?

Carstarphen's name came up during Monday's DeKalb County Board of Education meeting, in conversations among small pockets of attendees. It also has come up online, in parent and community groups that continue to debate DeKalb's direction as it seeks a new leader.

Wednesday, sitting with about a dozen reporters discussing upcoming events in her district, Carstarphen acknowledged the online “chatter” and mentioned that people have reached out about other local opportunities.

“I haven’t thought about it,” she said about the DeKalb Schools job. “I’m focusing on APS. That’s where my head is right now.”

Some parents have long been impressed with Carstarphen’s visibility at schools, dances and parent-teacher association meetings, even running drills with high school football teams. She also increased community access to social services and closed or merged several low-performing schools.

Some say it would bode well to have some of that energy in DeKalb.

Carstarphen “is very accessible to all teachers and principals,” DeKalb parent Lauren Taylor said. “She attends their sports events. She attends small elementary graduation events. She goes out of her way to treat others as actual people versus just numbers. We haven’t had that luxury in DeKalb … since ever. Our children’s grades suffer due to lack of instruction and support from the top down. Then there is her open mind and ears to suggestions on how to improve relationships between parents teachers and admin staff. We, again, do not have said luxury.”

Rebekah Cohen Morris, a former DeKalb Schools teacher, said she believed Carstarphen’s leadership style, while it received mixed reviews, could help change the culture in DeKalb.

“We … need someone who is willing to make difficult decisions regarding personnel and school operations,” she said. “She began to take dramatic steps to change the culture of APS, and … This is the type of leadership we desperately need in DeKalb, and I think she would do a phenomenal job in helping to change the status quo.”

DeKalb County Board of Education members were mixed about the idea, with some praising what Carstarphen did for APS.

“All options are on the table,” board member Stan Jester said. “We need a transformational leader who can make difficult decisions that improve the educational lives of all of DeKalb’s children.”

School board member Joyce Morley said the district’s current deficiencies are in its communication, collaboration and orchestration within leadership.

“One of the greatest things the board said was she had no collaboration,” Morley said. “That’s our problem now.”

Board member Vickie Turner emphasized the need for better collaboration between the board and its next superintendent, but said the district’s search would be far reaching, well beyond metro Atlanta’s candidates.

“I believe she’s got some unique abilities that have benefited APS,” board member Vickie Turner said. “What I look at — for us — is the chemistry, that person with the board. There’s a collaboration that’s essential for DeKalb’s board. I think DeKalb is at a level where we’re going to cast our net wide and large and far.

“Of course, she can apply like anybody else can.”