The case of Meria Carstarphen is exceptional. She has been praised in nearly all the right circles for her work as Atlanta Public School Superintendent. She is exuberant about taking on the challenges of her job. She exhibits great happiness in the improvements made by Atlanta students. It isn’t just a matter of her doing well simply because her employer, so to speak, is doing well. The happiness she exhibits is genuine. She wants Atlanta students to break through the obstacles that have held back their older siblings, friends and parents. Meria Carstarphen not only wants higher scores in school achievement tests; she wants the students taking those tests to have successful and fulfilling lives. That sounds like a determined worker to us.
But the Atlanta Public School Board, for reasons covered here and elsewhere multiple times, will not renew Carstarphen’s contract. Unless she decides to leave the job early, her tenure will end in less than eight months. The APS Board is not among the right circles enthralled with Carstarphen’s performance.
However, Meria Carstarphen remains incredibly popular with Atlantans who have seen her turn around a school system plagued by a cheating scandal that made national headlines. Carstarphen introduced and implemented such standards as accountability, transparency and improvement. Public figures over the centuries have promised such in their platforms. Carstarphen hasn’t been satisfied to make it nothing more than campaign fodder. She made it her true north. But that matters not to the APS Board. They want someone else to be superintendent.
Carstarphen being virtually fired has also made her exceptional. And it’s made her a free agent, not just among other cities with school systems looking for new superintendents. She’s handled that job in other towns before coming to Atlanta. Maybe she’d like to try something else: like staying in Atlanta and running for mayor in 2021.
Carstarphen hasn’t hinted at a run for elective office but we couldn’t blame her if it crossed her mind. No public official in Atlanta has ever been as popular as Carstarphen. No doubt, the board’s action has only accelerated her standing with the city’s voters. She can never be this popular again. That would be impossible.
Her role as a free agent is like that of baseball’s Reggie Jackson in 1977 when he signed for the biggest amount of bucks out there in 1977. Jackson, though, could change things for the New York Yankees with one swing of his bat. As he said, he could stir the drink. But he did not have to deal with the entrenched bureaucracy and attendant troubles a big city mayor does. She might look at the problems facing current Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and decide she wants no part of it. But then again, we’ve seen that she relishes a challenge.
Sam Massell has been watching Atlanta politics all his life. As founding president of the Buckhead Coalition and former Atlanta Mayor, Massell has observed scores of office-seekers prepared for a big challenge. Massell told Atlanta Loop “he wouldn’t be surprised if she ran for elected office.” He adds that “The Buckhead Coalition maintains a PAC for the nonpartisan Atlanta races of Mayor, City Council and Board of Education, so we’ll be watching the options develop.”
So will a lot of us.
(photo by Jeff Cochran)