Superintendent Meria Carstarphen hugs a supporter before the Atlanta school board’s special meeting Monday to discuss her contract. PHIL SKINNER
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Carstarphen: APS board decision doesn’t bring needed stability

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen defended her tenure at Atlanta Public Schools, saying the district deserves stability and not the uncertainty that comes with the board’s decision to find a new leader.

The school board on Monday announced a majority of its eight members did not support extending her contract, which will expire June 30. The announcement came without an accompanying public vote, which officials said was not required.

In an interview Tuesday with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carstarphen said she’s “committed to doing the job as long as I possibly can.”

Board Chairman Jason Esteves has said he hopes Carstarphen will remain through the end of her contract and said the search process will start immediately to find her successor.

The board plans to hold a series of meetings to gather public feedback about the hiring decision. The goal is to have a new superintendent in place by the start of next school year, Esteves said.

Carstarphen said she wanted more time at APS, where she arrived in 2014 in the aftermath of a massive cheating scandal. Stable leadership matters, she said.

“Our community is starting to believe in us and trust in us, and that is something that I think is so fragile,” she said. “You can’t underestimate the shock waves that happen in a system when you haven’t taken the time to do this in the smartest way.”

She said the board didn’t cite one collective reason for its decision to move on.

“I didn’t receive any leadership guidance on, ‘Here’s the issue related to our decision,’ ” she said. “It was also said to me that it was not about my performance, that was said to me multiple times.”

A board statement did not provide a specific rationale for not retaining Carstarphen. It referenced a need to find a superintendent now to implement the district’s next five-year strategic plan.

Individually, board members who opposed her renewal cited a need to find a “long-term” leader and a leader with different strengths as APS emerges from crisis mode and continues its work to improve schools.

One board member also cited financial accountability and student academic performance as concerns.

Esteves on Tuesday said the board was at a crucial moment — developing its next strategic plan and grappling with a “stalemate” over the superintendent’s future.

After board members voted 6-3 in 2018 to extend Carstarphen’s contract, board positions hardened against her and relationships deteriorated, he said.

“We were either going to double down on Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership or move toward a new leader,” he said.

He was among those on the board who decided the time was right to find a new superintendent.

Carstarphen described herself as a leader who doesn’t try to hide from controversy. She said she faces issues head-on and raises “tough questions.” She said she’s worked as a committed soldier to carry out the will of the board: “There isn’t anything that I’ve done that was not directed by the board or baked into my evaluation…; I’m not a rogue superintendent just, you know, doing whatever I want.”

Carstarphen said she urged the board to not make its decision the way it did but to instead be more transparent.

“In my expert opinion no one is ready for this change in this way,” she said.

Esteves said the board notified Carstarphen in July that a majority of members did not support a renewal. He said the superintendent asked the board to wait to discuss a transition later, so as to not distract from the start of the school year.

He acknowledged the board hasn’t done a good job of explaining the decision. He said that’s partly because it’s a personnel issue, and the board doesn’t want to air dirty laundry. It’s also because the board respects and is proud of Carstarphen and is aware of how comments could deter candidates from applying for the superintendent opening.

Despite the controversy over her upcoming departure, Carstarphen said she would absolutely recommend the APS superintendent job.

“They would be inheriting the greatest job in public education,” she said. “I know we are a challenge, but if you really love kids, if you really don’t mind putting your back into hard work, if you want to be a full-service superintendent like I am, there’s plenty of work to do.”

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