The Atlanta school board chairman Jason Esteves(left) & superintendent Meria Carstarphen's listen to public comment during a special meeting to discuss whether to extend Carstarphen's contract. (Photo by Phil Skinner).
Photo: Phil Skinner/AJC
Photo: Phil Skinner/AJC

Atlanta school board will not renew superintendent’s contract

Carstarphen: “I have always done what I believed to be right.”

The Atlanta school board will not renew the contract of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. 

School board Chairman Jason Esteves said the board notified Carstarphen in July that there was not support for a renewal, but waited until now to announce it publicly so as not to disrupt the start of school.

“We asked her to work with the board on a transition plan,” he said. 

He said the board must work to ensure long-term stability and will begin a search process now.

Carstarphen was not in attendance when Esteves read the statement. 

She sent a message to APS colleagues after the announcement saying that she has “always done what I believed to be right.”

“The disparity in educational outcomes for Atlanta’s children has been inter-generational and systemic. The solutions are not easy, which is why I so passionately wanted to stay and finish the job I was hired to do,” she wrote. 

A district spokesman referred all other questions to the board.

Esteves would not say how many board members were against renewing her contract, just that a “majority” did not want to see it extended. Allowing her contract to expire does not require a public vote, officials said.

Esteves said he hoped Carstarphen would remain on the job until her contract expires June 30. 

A couple of parents confronted Esteves about the board’s unwillingness to state who was for and against the renewal. 

North Atlanta High School parent Brigitte Peck said there’s been a “lack of transparency” and called out the board members for not saying which members were for and which were against the contract renewal. 

“That’s fundamental to the vision, a system that the community trusts,” she said.

The board retreated into closed session around 9:15 a.m. to discuss the contract issue. Three and a half hours later, they returned to the public meeting chambers where an audience of a couple dozen Atlanta Public Schools staff, parents and members of the superintendent’s cabinet waited for news.

Carstarphen was hired in 2014, and has said she wants to remain on the job. 

The Atlanta school board vice chair Eshe' Collins (left) and chairman Jason Esteves chat before a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, to discuss whether to extend superintendent Meria Carstarphen's contract. (Photo by Phil Skinner).
Photo: Phil Skinner/AJC

Emails obtained Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicate the board was divided about Carstarphen’s future with the district. The board, through the district’s law firm, is working with a public relations company to handle communications related to the controversial decision. 

Groups and community leaders have voiced support  and for and opposition to a contract renewal. Their campaigning continued over the weekend. 

Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell sent a letter Saturday urging renewal of Carstarphen’s contract. The organization joins other high-profile Atlanta figures, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former mayors Shirley Franklin and Andrew Young and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who previously asked the board to retain the superintendent. 

In his letter to school board chairman Jason Esteves, Massell referenced the coalition’s political action committee, which he said operates “for the sole purpose of helping get the best candidates into office—absent of any promises or practices along the way. 

“Early on I privately met or talked with individuals for and against your contract issue, and want it publicly known our conclusion is to strongly support Congressman Lewis, Governor Barnes, Ambassador Young, Mayor Franklin and other public leaders. We also want recognition given the parents of present students who appreciate the responsible progress they see in the classrooms , for which much credit is due the superintendent as well as your board,” Massell wrote. 

On the other side, the Atlanta Federation of Teachers issued a statement Sunday saying Carstphen “must go.” The teachers group said the superintendent had pursued “privatization” by outsourcing the daily operations of six schools to charter school groups. The district made the move as part of an effort to turn around its lowest-performing schools. The federation contends those charter schools operate with “little oversight” and that “the results have been mediocre.” 

“We believe there are proven, evidence and community-based solutions to performance issues the Atlanta Public Schools face. Those solutions must be implemented by another superintendent,” the federation’s statement said. 

The school board last voted on a superintendent contract renewal in June 2018. Board members approved that extension by a 6-3 vote with Michelle Olympiadis, Leslie Grant and Erika Mitchell opposed. 

Currently, the board is down to eight members because former board member Byron Amos resigned earlier this year to run for Atlanta City Council.  A special election is scheduled for next week to fill the District 2 vacancy. If needed, a runoff election will be held in October.

Full text of Meria Carstarphen’s statement:

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that the Atlanta Board of Education this morning decided to launch a search for a new superintendent. Serving the children of Atlanta Public Schools in this role – and working alongside each of you – has been the greatest honor of my professional life. 

As I have expressed for the past few months, I had a sincere desire for a contract extension so that our team and I could complete the vision and charge I was hired to achieve for the benefit of Atlanta’s children: Rebuild and restore trust in Atlanta Public Schools and position it for the future, especially after the largest cheating scandal in the history of public education. 

I’ve always been committed to working diligently and collaboratively to achieve the District’s goals and our mission to prepare every student for college and career. I feel we are well on that path. In fact, APS has made great progress from rising graduation rates to higher test scores to increased autonomy and resources for our schools. 

I love hard. I work passionately. And when necessary, I fight for you and Atlanta’s children. I have always done what I believed to be right. I've always worked conscientiously to execute our mission and vision. And I have always had the belief that, despite challenges we have faced, we have always been able to come together and take actions in the best interests of children. For that, I am really proud of all of us.  

The disparity in educational outcomes for Atlanta’s children has been intergenerational and systemic. The solutions are not easy, which is why I so passionately wanted to stay and finish the job I was hired to do. 

The Atlanta community entrusts its children and its hard-earned tax dollars to us. We owe it to our community to continue to get up each day and show up for our children. I am incredibly humbled by the support and grateful for our community of students, caregivers, principals, teachers, staff, alumni and partners who have been so supportive of the work we have done. 

I’ve said many times: I love Atlanta … I believe in Atlanta. I believe in you, and I believe our team will continue to get the job done for children. Despite progress and gains, this work is not done. 

As hard as it is sometimes, given the challenges inside and outside of the system, I do love my job and want to work to ensure that Atlanta has a homegrown educated workforce. I’ve made Atlanta my home, and there is still so much more work to be done. We have come a long way since the dark days of scandal, and I hope we can continue the progress. 

Our children need all of us — the Board and Superintendent, along with the community — to fight for them and to be their voice to have the best chance at choice-filled lives.

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