Just a decade ago, Atlanta Public Schools were in the throes of an academic and ethical nightmare. The APS cheating scandal which found that 44 out of 56 APS district schools cheated on state-administered standardized tests implicating some 135 teachers and prisoners in the process. As the trial for educator took root in 2014, Meria Carstarphen left Austin, Texas to begin her tenure with the troubled district. But just four years later, following a contentious relationship with APS school board members, the much-lauded educator is out, with the school board announcing recently their decision not to renew her contract.
School board Chairman Jason Esteves read in a statement following the board’s when it emerged from a three-hour closed-door session.
“Her efforts … have helped repair many of the issues that plagued our school system a decade ago,” said Esteves, reading from a statement issued on behalf of the entire board. “[But] it’s critical the APS superintendent work in a spirit of continuous collaboration with the board and our community to address obstacles that keep students from reaching their full potential.”
Remember it was the rise in student test scores that first alerted officials that there was something afoul in 2009, leading to the indictment of the late former superintendent Beverly Hall. Now in 2019, Carstarphen has legitimately increased the graduation rate by 20.8 percent — from 59 percent in 2014 to 80percent in 2018. SAT and ACT scores also are up system-wide.
“The record speaks for itself,” said former school board Chairman Courtney English, who was on the board when Carstarphen was hired.
English was sharply critical of the current board’s decision to part ways with Carstarphen, and many of Atlanta’s political leaders came to her defense during the days leading up to the board’s decision on her contract.
Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition, wrote a letter to Esteves dated Sept. 7 listing several prominent local leaders supporting Carstarphen, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, former Atlanta mayors Andrew Young and Shirley Franklin and former Gov. Roy Barnes.
English said Carstarphen always put students first during the four years they worked together.
“I know her to be a fighter, but she’s always fought in the best interest of students,” he said.
Carstarphen wrote in her official blog following the board’s decision that she wanted to stay in Atlanta because she hasn’t completed what she set out to accomplish.
“The disparity in educational outcomes for Atlanta’s children has been inter-generational and systemic,” she wrote. “The solutions are not easy, which is why I so passionately wanted to stay and finish the job I was hired to do. … Despite progress and gains, this work is not done.”
English said he’s worried the reforms Carstarphen started won’t get done without her at the helm.
“I am gravely concerned all that momentum is at risk,” he said.
Although the school board will have until June to search for Carstarphen’s successor, Dolinger, a former superintendent of the Fulton County School System, said the transition period promises to be difficult.
“With any churn of leadership, there’s going to be a churn of staff,” he said. “It could become messy with her in a lame-duck status. … It depends on how they decide to work together over the next several months, or not.”