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Photo: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

APS has made strides, but Carstarphen wants time to do more

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen touted achievements during her first five years of leadership, but said she needs more time to transform the district.

APS was still reeling from a massive test-cheating conspiracy when the school board hired Carstarphen in 2014.

“I felt like I was recruited to pick up the pieces after the cheating scandal, to get the district back in place, and to also address what everybody was saying was true about the district — the inequities, the gross disparities,” Carstarphen said during a Monday meeting with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board. “I believe that we can get the job done.”

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen high fives Atlanta school district police department members before a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, June 23, 2016. AJC FILE PHOTO HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carstarphen has led a major — and at times controversial— effort to improve the lowest-performing schools as the district tries to rebuild public trust. APS has closed and merged troubled schools, poured money into social services and academic programs and hired charter school groups to run six schools.

Carstarphen points to successes — a graduation rate that’s improved from 59% in 2014 to nearly 80% last year, a jump in philanthropic support and a drop in principal turnover — but says much work remains to be done.

It’s unclear if she’ll get that chance.

Carstarphen’s contract expires June 30, 2020 and the school board has yet to vote on extending it.

Last June, the board voted 6-3 to extend her contract. The three board members who opposed her contract renewal cited a mix of concerns, ranging from a perceived emphasis on charter schools at the expense of traditional schools to the belief that APS needs to be more accountable for finances and students’ academic progress.

School board chairman Jason Esteves said a decision about the superintendent’s future is “top of mind” but said he doesn’t have a timeline yet for when the board could act.

“We’re constantly assessing and having conversations with the superintendent,” he said.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen greets children on a school bus on Aug. 12, 2019, the first day of the school year. AJC file photo. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In addition, the board is down one member. The vacant seat representing central Atlanta’s District 2 will be filled after a fall election.

Esteves, who supported the superintendent in the last contract vote, declined to give his opinion on the matter. He said he didn’t want to comment publicly before conversations with fellow board members and the superintendent wrap up.

Michelle Olympiadis and Leslie Grant, two board members who opposed the contract extension, also declined to comment. Erika Mitchell, the third board member who voted against it, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Though the board has held off so far on voting to renew the superintendent’s contract, it did conduct an annual performance evaluation. State law allows the board to do the review in secret, but Esteves said at a public meeting two months ago that Carstarphen “continues to be the strong leader that the district needs.”

Carstarphen is looking ahead to what she said the district needs to accomplish. That includes narrowing the achievement gap between white and black students, creating the next five-year strategic plan with a focus on equity, and getting more outside partners and political leaders to help APS with the tough work of improving schools.

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