Atlanta’s new school superintendent says now is the time to remake a school system battered by scandal.
“This is our best opportunity,” Dr. Meria Carstarphen told school officials and parents who gathered at North Atlanta High School on Sept. 9 to hear her first “State of the Schools Address.”
Carstarphen started her job as superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools in July. She said she has already made some personnel changes at schools and reorganized some district departments, but that more changes are needed. “If we don’t grab it and plant it in the ground and grow it, we will have missed the greatest opportunity,” she said.
Carstarphen’s said that for her talk, the 10th “state of the schools” address, she reviewed remarks from past superintendents and found they had made pronouncements such as the district was “climbing the hill” or “almost [at] the mountaintop.”
“The time for proclamations is over,” she said.
“We need to go backwards on proclamations. Right now, we are at the base of the mountain and we need to start all over again.”
Among the troubles Carstarphen must deal with is the aftermath of the cheating scandal that led to criminal charges against some APS teachers and administrators. On the same day Carstarphen delivered her “state of the schools” speech, a dozen former APS employees faced trial on charges stemming from changing students’ answers on high-stakes tests so they would get higher scores.
Carstarphen, answering questions after her speech, said she took the job in Atlanta because she thought she had the skills to tackle APS’ problems. What’s needed, she said, “is an extensive rebuild, but it has to happen.”
She thinks the changes will pay off. “I don’t believe your history determines your future,” she said.
She said changes she’s instituted to start addressing the district’s troubles were “reorganizing from a best-practices approach. … It was more reorganizing and building the right organization and making sure we have the right people in place.”
In some schools, that meant making sure the right people were in place. “When we go into the smaller high schools, they have very specific designs,” she said. “Finding someone who can run a school and who [also] has that kind of passion for that area – that is a very small skill set. You want them to love the design.”
During her talk, Carstarphen said repeatedly APS educators need to focus on the needs of students. “If we focus on the children, we will never go wrong,” she said. “We will never have to look over our shoulders.”