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APS parents want plenty of skills, experience in next superintendent

Parents, employees and residents participate in a community meeting Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy. The meeting was a chance to get public feedback about the search for the next Atlanta Public Schools superintendent. VANESSA McCRAY/vanessa.mccray@ajc.com
Parents, employees and residents participate in a community meeting Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy. The meeting was a chance to get public feedback about the search for the next Atlanta Public Schools superintendent. VANESSA McCRAY/vanessa.mccray@ajc.com

The next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools could have a very long to-do list, judging by the host of improvements that parents and others want the new chief to tackle.

The chosen leader also needs an impressive resume if he or she is to meet all the community expectations.

The school board on Tuesday held the first of four public input sessions aimed at finding out what kind of superintendent the district should hire and what APS needs to improve.

The list is not for the faint of heart.

About three dozen parents, employees and residents suggested a dizzying array of skills, talents and experiences they want the next superintendent to have.

The board began searching for a new leader after announcing last month that it would not extend Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's contract, which expires June 30. The board wants to have her successor on the job by July 1.

Those who attended Tuesday’s meeting said the district needs to improve how it listens and connects with parents. They want students of color to perform as well academically as white students. They called for ethical leadership, greater financial transparency, more rigorous academic standards and better customer service.

Some said the next leader should be an experienced administrator who’s moved up the teaching ranks. Others want someone from Atlanta with a keen understanding of local politics. The superintendent should be focused on academics and teaching and have a long-term commitment to APS, others suggested.

Niger McMath, a parent of a child in special education, wants a superintendent who brings the whole package. That means a leader who encourages direct communication between parents and teachers and who has experience working with both lower-income and affluent schools.

“Someone that knows both sides, a balance,” she said. “We have a lot of poverty, and you have to address that.”

RaShaun Holliman has a student at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, an APS charter high school. He wants the next superintendent to be a leader who has narrowed the academic gap between white students and students of color. The school chief needs to create an equitable learning environment not just from school to school but within individual schools, ensuring that all students have opportunities.

“The next person needs to have clear experience with closing achievement gaps,” he said.

It will be the board's job to determine what priorities and skills it thinks are most important as it hunts for the next superintendent. The board was divided 5-3 over the decision to look for a new superintendent.

Board members who opposed extending Carstarphen’s contract cited a mix of reasons, ranging from the need for more financial and academic accountability to a desire to hire a new administrator who will guide the district’s next five-year strategic plan.

The board faced criticism from Carstarphen’s supporters but has pledged to listen to the public as it conducts the superintendent search.

“We will be looking for a leader who is going to guide APS in the next phase of transformation, the next phase of progress,” board Chairman Jason Esteves said Tuesday. “The voice of our community, the voice of each one of you is very important in that discussion.”

The board plans to conduct a survey to gather more feedback. It also will hold a Nov. 1 work session to discuss the search.

Each of the three remaining community meetings will begin at 6 p.m. They will be held Oct. 24 at Bolton Academy, Oct. 28 at Gideons Elementary School, and Oct. 30 at Benteen Elementary School.