APS faces rocky future with non-renewal of Meria Carstarphen’s contract
By Maria Saporta
The recent move by the Atlanta Board of Education to not extend Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s contract raises serious concerns about the future of Atlanta’s public schools.
I have a sinking feeling about the board’s lack of wisdom or strategic thinking about what the future holds. This is a board where a majority of members might agree they no longer want Carstarphen, but they appear to agree on little else. There is no board consensus on where we should go from here.
Just two questions would expose that lack of consensus. Should we have more public charters, fewer or none? Should we have more investment in the majority-white northern sections of Atlanta or more investment in the predominantly-black neighborhoods on the Southside?
This is a divided board. And more importantly, it is a board with a relatively short shelf-life. They will be up for re-election in November, 2021. Several board members are not expected to seek re-election. And I believe those who opposed Carstarphen have hurt themselves politically.
On Monday, Sept. 9, the board met for three hours in executive session (where the public was not privy to the discussion). The board then released a statement that simply said it would not be extending Carstarphen’s contract beyond the current end date June 30, 2020.
Carstarphen has let it be known she wanted to stay because her job was not finished.
When election day comes, remember that these are the board members who did not support Carstarphen: Leslie Grant, Jason Esteves (chair), Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Michelle Olympiadis and Erika Mitchell.
Those who did support Carstarphen were: Eshé Collins, Kandis Wood Jackson and Nancy Miester, who told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the executive session: “It’s a very sad day for the kids in the City of Atlanta.”
Let me tell you how sad it is.
Presumably the board will begin searching for a new superintendent to begin July 1, 2020. But this board will only be in place for 18 months before a new board takes over.
Certainly, a strong and qualified superintendent would think twice before coming to Atlanta to work for a board with such uncertainty of future leadership.
And any prospective candidate would have to question why he or she would want to work for a board that had parted ways with a successful superintendent who was making significant progress in student outcomes during her five-year tenure.
In other words, this board has done a major disservice to our city and our public school system by not thinking through this move.
As I see it, we likely are doomed to having several years of instability at APS coupled with a lack of strategic leadership for the foreseeable future.
It reminds me of a similar situation we had at the Atlanta Housing Authority when in 2011, the recently-elected Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed decided he did not want Renee Glover as the agency’s CEO.
At the time, Glover was considered among the best, if not the very best, CEO of a housing authority in the county. Glover had transformed the city’s public housing “projects” into mixed-income communities where there was no distinction among those who were receiving subsidized rent and those paying market rates.
Glover left the agency in 2013, with a negotiated separation agreement. While Reed was able to push her out, he had no plan on how to move the agency forward. As a result, the agency has had recurring turnover. And the Atlanta Housing Authority has built almost no new housing units or spearheaded the development of new communities in the intervening seven years.
On Tuesday, Sept. 10 (the day after the APS board met behind closed doors), the Atlanta Housing Authority hired Eugene Jones Jr., CEO of Chicago’s housing authority who has more than 35 years of experience in the field. It appears we finally have tapped a decent professional to tackle the affordable housing crisis in our city.
But I can’t help but think about all the years we have wasted because we kicked out a leader at the top of her game and because we didn’t have a game plan on moving forward.
Similarities exist with Carstarphen’s situation. It is not clear whether Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms played a role with pushing her out, but it is clear the mayor has yet to voice support for the superintendent.
So we now have had a superintendent who also is at the top of her game. She is considered to be among the best, if not the best, public schools superintendent in the country. Carstarphen is applauded for her energetic leadership style and tireless focus on improving results for APS students.
By pushing aside a strong leader at APS at this critical moment when real progress is underway, I fear we are destined to years of floating aimlessly in rough waters without a clear direction of where we’re going.
It would have made so much more sense for this board to give Carstarphen a two-year extension so the new board taking office in January 2022 could select its own leader and implement its own strategy.
Isn’t it only fair for this board to let the future board decide who should serve as the next superintendent of APS?
It would be so refreshing if current APS board members would reconsider their stance. After all, I don’t think they had a clue how their behind-closed-doors decision would send shock waves throughout the community and how much support Carstarphen enjoys in every corner of Atlanta.
It’s not unheard of for boards to reverse their stance.
The board of the Houston Independent School District voted 5-4 on Oct. 11, 2018 to replace interim superintendent Grenita Lathan. But that move sparked such a backlash in the community that a week later the board voted unanimously to reinstate Lathan.
We should be so lucky.