Atlanta Board of Education members spoke about the search for a new superintendent and other updates about the district at a Jan. 28 North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools meeting.

Board Chair Jason Esteves said the search is about taking the Atlanta Public Schools district from a successful “turnaround” into new growth.

In September, the board decided to not renew Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract. Her contract expires June 30.

Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Board of Education. (File)

“All of us acknowledge that Dr. Carstarphen was the right leader when we hired her in 2014,” Esteves said at the meeting, held at Morris Brandon Elementary. “She is a turnaround leader. She came in and grabbed the school system and gave it the shaking that it needed and because of that, we are on a stronger foundation than we were five years ago.”

But, Esteves said, looking forward, board members are faced with the decision of when to bring in a new superintendent and what type of leader they should be.

“We know for a fact as a board that we are not at a place where we can just bring somebody in that’s going to maintain where we’re at because where we’re at is still not acceptable,” Esteves said. “But we also believe that we’re not at a place where we need that turnaround leader. We believe we need a leader who can drive that growth.”

But Carstarphen has said she wants to stay in her current position. “I think my track record for not only the turnaround work, but our overall growth and improvement as a district speaks for itself,”

Carstarphen said in an email. “I’m appreciative of everyone who had a part in improving the quality of education for Atlanta’s students.”

Esteves said the search is well on its way and interviews for candidates will begin soon. “We plan on moving pretty quickly,” Esteves said. “We plan on knowing what the pool is in March.”

Esteves said the district is attracting a wide range of candidates from large county school systems in Florida, the west and the midwest, as well as Atlanta-sized cities.

“Our consultants have told us it’s going to be a pretty difficult decision because we’re getting some pretty good applicants,” Esteves said.

Board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown spoke about some updates in APS, including the new equity policy, facilities master planning and strategic planning.

Atlanta Board of Education member Cynthia Briscoe Brown. (Special)

Last year, APS created an equity policy, which is the first of its kind in the school system. The policy states that APS believes that every child should get what they need to be successful in college, career and life.

“It’s our ‘this I believe’ statement,” Briscoe Brown said. “Our statement about what’s important, what direction we want to go and the foundational core elements about who we are as a system.”

“It affects every single thing we do,” she added.

The district is also amid facilities master planning, which is looking at all the properties APS owns and figuring out how to best allocate them. Much of that is being used for active schools and administrative buildings, Briscoe Brown said, but the district also owns a fair amount of vacant land and surplus buildings.

“We’re looking to create guidelines for what to do with the property we’re not using right now,” Briscoe Brown said. “What can we do with that piece of land that benefits our students, our families and our city?”

APS is looking at ways to contribute to alleviate to the affordable housing crisis or selling the land to put back into school programs, Briscoe Brown said.

The district is also creating a five-year master plan, which will go into effect in July 2020.

“That will guide the steps of the district for the next five years,” Briscoe Brown said.

Board members Nancy Meister and Michelle Olympiadis were also in attendance.

Atlanta City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents Buckhead, was in attendance and briefly spoke to parents about taxes.

“We are making sure that we keep taxes low but also that we look at our commercial taxes and be sure that they are equitable and that people are paying their fair share and we don’t have too big of a burden on residential property tax folks,” Matzigkeit said.

Matzigkeit also mentioned his interest in putting speed cameras in school zones. In 2018, state law was passed to regulate drivers by allowing cities to place cameras in school zones. Some metro

Atlanta cities have approved the new cameras, but Atlanta has not pursued the legislation yet.

“I’m a big proponent of sidewalks and making sure that we have safe ways for kids to walk to school,” Matzigkeit said.