New Atlanta Public Schools superintendent sworn in

Lisa Herring called it a time of hope but also anxiety as she was sworn in Wednesday as Atlanta Public Schools superintendent.

The district held the short ceremony at its downtown headquarters. The event was closed to the public because of the coronavirus, but viewers could watch it on the district’s Facebook page.

“We stand in a space of anxiousness, curiosity, worry, anxiety, excitement, hope, optimism. All of these feelings are real whether you are a board member, a superintendent, a judge, a chief operating officer, a pastor,” Herring said, moments after taking the oath. “Whether you are a mom, a daughter, a sister, somebody’s somebody -- we are all standing in a season that is new to us.”

Herring, 48, graduated from Spelman College and was most recently superintendent of the Birmingham City School District in Alabama. She led the district for three years. Before that, she worked in administrative roles in the Charleston County School District in South Carolina and as the chief academic officer for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky.

The school board in September announced it would launch a national search to find a superintendent to succeed Meria Carstarphen, whose contract ended Tuesday.

Herring was named the only finalist for the job in April, and the board voted to hire her in May.

Since then, she’s worked as a consultant for APS, trying to get acquainted with the system before her three-year term begins.

Herring will be put to the test immediately. July usually begins as a slow month for school districts. In the past, APS has closed its central office during the first week of the month.

But this year, amid the pandemic, administrators are trying to figure out how to start the school year on Aug. 10. APS has waited to announce its reopening plan until after Herring takes over, and a decision is expected by mid-July.

She referenced both the national protests against systemic racism and the pandemic, saying APS would rise to the challenges.

“What I want you to know about this superintendent -- this somebody’s daughter, somebody’s momma, somebody’s sister-- is that my heart is grounded and my head is structured in doing unapologetically what is right for our children,” she said.

How school will reopen is a high-stakes decision for all districts, and one that’s already receiving scrutiny.

The parent group Atlanta Thrive released a “Parent Manifesto” on Wednesday, just hours before Herring’s swearing-in.

The group, which has advocated for increased accountability and quicker interventions to turn around failing schools, has received financial support from RedefinEd Atlanta, a nonprofit whose executive director previously founded an Atlanta charter school.

Now, Atlanta Thrive is calling for APS to respond quickly to inequities and learning loss exacerbated by the pandemic.

“With a new superintendent starting today, this is an opportunity to hit the reset button on how Atlanta Public Schools engages with parents. With this new manifesto, we are making it clear that Atlanta schools must not only take significant steps to close the digital divide but demanding that parents be heard and involved in the policymaking process,” said Kimberly Dukes, one of the group’s founders and a parent of APS students, in a written statement.

Read Atlanta Thrive's Parent Manifesto:

By Nov. 1, the group wants the district to provide each student with a personalized plan to help them catch up academically after the coronavirus disrupted learning last school year. It also wants APS to ensure each student has internet access and a computer.

Parents should be able to continue virtual learning from home rather than sending their students to school buildings, and families that choose to do so should not have to provide any justification.

If parents are not satisfied with the district’s virtual learning program, the group wants APS to allocate the per-pupil funding for that student to pay for his or her enrollment in another district’s program.

Atlanta Thrive said it collected more than 700 signatures in support of its demand.

In a news conference after her swearing-in, Herring said she had not seen the document yet. She said the district plans to give all students the option to learn virtually next school year. She said she’ll look into the feasibility of providing individual learning plans that gauge a student’s academic needs.

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