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Restoring the Pride: APS’ New Superintendent Is Ready To Go

By Stan Washington | 4/18/2014, 10:15 a.m.
Meria Carstarphen addresses the audience after the Atlanta School Board voted unanimously for her to be the next superintendent of school system. Her overall goal is to rebuild the tattered reputation of the school system. She officially starts on July 7. AP photo.
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APS Superintendent Opening Remarks

APS Supt. finalist and now Superintendent Meria Carstarphen addresses a crowd at a townhall meeting at Mays High School in March. Carstarphen officially starts July 7, 2014.

APS Supt. finalist and now Superintendent Meria Carstarphen addresses a crowd at a townhall meeting at Mays High School in March. Carstarphen officially starts July 7, 2014.

On a mild Saturday afternoon this past March, an audience of parents, teachers, school administrators and former graduates sat patiently in the main lobby of Benjamin E. Mays High School in southwest Atlanta waiting to meet the lone finalist and apparent next Atlanta School Superintendent. The school’s jazz band pleased the audience with their interpretations of several standard tunes.

Meria Carstarphen who beat out 400 other applicants including three other semi-finalists was running behind schedule. Some members of the Atlanta school board had been ferrying her from one townhall meeting to another since that morning and here it was going on 6 p.m. Saturday evening and she had three more engagements after that.

When Carstarphen arrived she came in with this enthusiastic energy and a smile like it was her first meeting of the day. Instead of making her way straight to the podium to start the meeting she first worked the audience shaking hands and thanking them for coming out.

Compared to the stodginess and reserved manners of the school system’s past two chiefs, you could see that her friendliness was a refreshing change for the audience.

When someone asked if she was tired, she replied, “Oh no. I love this!’

After two days of meeting the public and the who’s who in Atlanta politics and business, it would have been the second biggest shocker in the history of the school system if Carstarphen had not been confirmed as the new superintendent by the board three weeks later.

So as expected on Monday (April 14), Carstarphen became the new superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools after a 9-0 vote by the Atlanta school board.

Carstarphen, 44, succeeds Dr. Errol Davis whose contract expires at the end of June. She will assume her new position July 7. Davis was appointed to the position on an interim basis three years ago following the resignation of Dr. Beverly Hall. Hall resigned in shame from the fallout from the test cheating scandal which made national headlines.

The normally tight-lipped Davis said the board made the right choice.

“I’m confident that we will have a knowledgeable superintendent who can lead this system into the future. Her greatest challenge is to learn the system, learn where the challenges are and then put strategies in place to address those issues,” he said.

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Atlanta Superintendent Town Hall Meeting - Retirees

Mera Carstarphen, then finalist for Atlanta Public School Superintendent listens to suggestions at a town hall meeting at Mays High about using retirees more when she takes office.

Mera Carstarphen, then finalist for Atlanta Public School Superintendent listens to suggestions at a town hall meeting at Mays High about using retirees more when she takes office.

Carstarphen accepted a three year contract of $375,000 a year with a $1200 yearly car stipend and $800 a month for expenses. The contract doesn’t include any performance bonuses. Carstarphen made $283,412 a year in Austin, Texas where she is credited with raising graduation rates and test scores during a difficult financial period in the school system where 1,100 positions had to be cut.

The Selma, Alabama native will oversee a school system of 50,000 children where the graduation rate is around 59 percent.

Since the testing scandal and the indictment of a large number of administrators, teachers including Dr. Hall who is suffering from breast cancer, the system has lost many students, teachers and principals to other metro area systems or to retirement. Carstarphen said her immediate priority will be to fill those vacancies before September.