Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen delivered her final State of the District address Thursday. The outgoing leader touted her successes but also said there’s room for improvement.
Each year, the State of the District has had a different theme. This year it was “Epic,” detailing the “epic” journey Atlanta Public Schools has gone through to get where it is now. The dramatic presentation featured students dressed up as characters from “Game of Thrones” and students dancing to the song “Glory” from the movie “Selma.” The event took place at the newly-renovated Harper-Archer Elementary School.
During the address, Carstarphen highlighted the progress the district has made in the five years she’s been superintendent. That includes improved test scores and graduation rates. Carstarphen pointed out the APS graduation rate went from 59.1% during her first year as superintendent to 77.9% in 2018.
“Although our graduation rate did decline by two percentage points [in 2019], we continue to graduate more kids,” she said.
She also highlighted the district’s college acceptance rate, which climbed 11 points to 62% during her tenure.
Carstarphen, however, also admitted the achievement gap between different groups of students persists.
“There’s a lot of percentage points — 58.8 for English/Language Arts alone — between black kids and white kids, for example, between rich and poor, for example, that we have to tackle, but that’s why APS isn’t finished,” she said.
Carstarphen said further improvements could take decades to complete. She won’t be around to see them through. The board decided in September not to extend her contract. She expressed disappointment in the decision, saying she wanted to stay in Atlanta to follow through with the initiatives she put in place, including a massive turnaround plan for some under-resourced schools.
After the address, some education advocates released a statement urging further changes in APS.
“What I hear from the parents I work with every day is that APS might be better off than it was a decade ago, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Steven Quinn, the state outreach director of GeorgiaCAN. “With a new strategic plan and a new superintendent on the horizon, now is the time to push for change.”
The school board has begun its search for a new superintendent and plans to decide on a search firm to help with the process next week.
A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.