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

Atlanta school board outlines search process for superintendent

The week after the Atlanta school board announced it would not extend the superintendent’s contract, the search launched to find her successor.

The board met Friday for several hours to discuss its approach to and timeline for hiring the next Atlanta Public Schools chief. The search follows the board’s Sept. 9 announcement that a majority did not support extending Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract, which expires June 30.

The board aims to have a new superintendent on the job by July 1. District attorneys said the board should aim to post the position in December, complete interviews in the winter and early spring, announce a finalist in late April and vote to hire a superintendent in mid-May.

Board members said they favored announcing just one finalist — instead of several top candidates — out of fear that exposing names would deter qualified candidates from applying.

Board members and the district’s attorneys emphasized the need to keep specifics about candidates confidential. The board does plan to hold public meetings in the coming weeks to get input on what skills and character traits the next superintendent should have.

Georgia law allows school boards to keep the search process private, but the board must vote in public to hire a superintendent.

Board chairman Jason Esteves said “it’s incredibly important” the board maintain confidentiality once it starts receiving applications.

“Some people get nervous, and when they feel like their name is about to be released, they back out,” he said.

While the board should post a public notice when it meets to interview candidates, attorney Glenn Brock said steps can be taken to keep the candidates’ identities secret. He said out-of-town candidates can be picked up at a hotel and taken via the service elevator to a secured conference room at the law office where the board can conduct interviews.

“It can get tricky,” he said. “I’ll tell you that we’ve not had a breach so far.”

Several board members expressed interest in selecting a small group of parents, teachers, students and others to participate in confidential interviews with candidates and provide feedback to the board. But board members stressed they would make the final decision.

“Community members become concerned when they feel like there’s an elite group of people, a search committee, that is substituting their judgment for that of the board,” Esteves said.

The board also plans to look for a search firm to help.

The APS search that led to hiring Carstarphen in 2014 was one of the most expensive superintendent searches launched by a metro Atlanta district in the last decade.

The district had previously suspended a 2011 search, for which it had signed a not-to-exceed contract of $60,000 with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates and instead hired an interim superintendent to repair the system after a major cheating scandal.

A couple of years later, the school board chose PROACT Search to assist with a search for a permanent leader. The board then fired that firm out of concern it wouldn’t attract a top candidate. APS paid the dismissed firm about $10,000.

Officials then selected search experts from BoardWalk Consulting and Diversified Search to continue the work, paying out another $183,000 to finish the job.

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