This post has been updated.
By Jeff Cochran, publisher of Atlanta Loop and Dan Whisenhunt, publisher of Decaturish
Vanessa McCray, reporting today in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes that the Atlanta Public School Board will not extend the contract of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. In a meeting behind closed doors this morning it was determined there weren’t enough votes to keep Carstarphen past June 30, 2020, when her current contract expires.
School boards love to talk about the children being their priority. Concern for the children is foremost, so they say. Then the members of the APS Board should think how hundreds of children in the Atlanta schools will perceive their latest move.
Aren’t children told they’ll be rewarded in life if they work hard, follow the rules and make a difference? They certainly aren’t told you can do all these things and still be shown the door in a bruising display of public humiliation.
Carstarphen hasn’t done everything perfectly. She’s ruffled some feathers. Not everyone likes her style. But she’s led an amazing turnaround job for APS. The cheating scandal under a previous superintendent, Beverly Hall, shook the system to its core and made it a national joke. Carstarphen was undaunted by the challenge. She went to work on putting the scandal behind us.
Above all else, Carstarphen showed she cared about the students. She showed that every single day. She showed it again in her statement about the board’s decision to end its relationship with her.
“I’ve said many times: I love Atlanta … I believe in Atlanta,” she said, according to the AJC. “I believe in you, and I believe our team will continue to get the job done for children. Despite progress and gains, this work is not done.”
But despite Carstarphen’s passion and energy, the School Board ultimately concluded it didn’t believe in her.
The School Board, which knew that its decision would alienate many, did what any courageous group of public officials would do. They hired a PR firm to manage its talking points and avoided saying where individual board members stood on the matter of renewing her contract.
The board issued a joint statement saying it informed Carstarphen in July that the votes weren’t there to give her an extension, a fact they hid from the public until the board’s silence about her contract led to curiosity and questions. In the statement, the board said it didn’t want the news to disrupt the start of the school year.
Because making this decision a few weeks into the school year won’t be a distraction at all.
To be fair, board members eventually did clarify their positions on her contract after the meeting in follow up interviews with the AJC.
But the board’s initial joint statement was vague about the reasons Carstarphen no longer enjoyed the same level of support she did a few years ago. One part of the letter may be a clue that this wasn’t really about the students and test scores but about disagreements between Carstarphen and certain board members.
“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,” the board’s statement says.
Carstarphen appeared to allude to these disagreements, taking time in her own statement to talk about collaboration.
“I’ve always been committed to working diligently and collaboratively to achieve the District’s goals and our mission to prepare every student for college and career,” she said. “I feel we are well on that path.”
So what were these disagreements about?
A few people have tried to pin the superintendent’s departure on the expanded use of charter schools in the district. While there are many who disagree with the idea that charter schools are the solution to failing public schools, the idea that the possibility of more charter schools and the privatization of education created this wedge between Carstarphen and the board seems flimsy at best.
John Lewis and Andrew Young, who have spoken up for workers and schools all their public lives, supported Carstarphen. Apparently the charter schools issue didn’t worry them.
Maureen Downey of the AJC wrote that she heard from other critics who said Atlanta Schools weren’t improving quickly enough and that some teachers complained she was too demanding.
Which, frankly, sounds like someone talking out of both sides of their mouths.
“We want schools to improve quickly. Just don’t be too demanding about it, OK?”
Add all these things up and they don’t amount to much of a reason to run off a superintendent who was succeeding at the job she was asked to do.
She ranks in a small handful of Georgia public officials who will leave things better than she found them. As with the cheating scandal, her dismissal is another embarrassment for public education in Atlanta.
On the bright side, there will soon be an opening for a superintendent in DeKalb County Schools. Carstarphen would be a great candidate for that job, assuming she is interested and not burned out by the Sisyphean task of dramatically overhauling a public school system while keeping everyone happy.
One thing Carstarphen said in her statement sticks with us.
“I love Atlanta … I believe in Atlanta,” she said.
Her faith in Atlanta is touching. We believe in Atlanta, too. We do not, however, believe this School Board has made a decision that’s in the best interest of this school system or its students.
We sincerely hope the School Board proves us wrong.