Education

‘We’re Not On Fire Anymore,’ APS Board Member Explains Shift In Support For Carstarphen

APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, center, told reporters Wednesday she was surprised by the school board's decision not to extend her contract.
APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, center, told reporters Wednesday she was surprised by the school board's decision not to extend her contract.
Credit Johnathon Kelso / For WABE
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Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen reiterated her desire to stay in her current job during her quarterly media round table Wednesday.

“The reason- I’ve explained to the public and the board- that I want to stay is because I believe the work isn’t done,” Carstarphen told reporters.

The Atlanta Board of Education decided Monday not to extend Carstarphen’s contract after it ends June 30, 2020.

“We Needed A Firefighter”

Carstarphen has rolled out some big initiatives since she became Atlanta’s schools chief in 2014. She has consolidated some schools, opened wrap-around services at schools in low-income neighborhoods, and launched a ‘turnaround plan’ that targeted some low-performing schools.

She’s gained supporters and critics. Her admirers like how accessible she is, showing up at community and PTA meetings, and even high school sports practices. Her detractors accuse her of favoring charter schools over traditional public schools, a charge Carstarphen refuted Wednesday.

“Atlanta Public Schools has had a 19-year history with charter schools,” she said. “We know that if a charter provider is interested in being a [charter] provider…they have to follow [APS’s charter schools] policy, they have to follow the application process, and I don’t get to choose.”

The decision not to extend Carstarphen’s contract has caused some public confusion. The board gave her a positive performance review in June. The board has also been somewhat vague about its reasons for rejecting an extension. Some members who had supported her in the past seemed to have changed their minds.

“[Vice chair] Eshé Collins and I, as board leadership, tried hard to get consensus amongst board members and the superintendent,” said board chair Jason Esteves. “We’ve had discussions with Dr. Carstarphen since June related to this extension. As we stated…there was an indication that there was no majority support for an extension.”

Since Monday’s vote, board members have credited Carstarphen for the work she’s done. They’ve praised her for helping improve the system she was brought on board to rescue, as the city was still reeling from a massive cheating scandal.

“We needed a firefighter, and she was a fabulous professional firefighter,” said at-large board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who supported Carstarphen in years past but now thinks it’s time for a change. “We’re in a very different place. We’re not on fire anymore. I think going forward, it’s going to be…slower and I think we need a different skill set.”

What’s Next? 

Reporters asked Carstarphen if she’d like the board to change its mind and ask her to stay.

“The board would have to sort that out for themselves,” she replied “As it stands right now, they’ve announced a position and I will respect that position.”

However, Cynthia Briscoe Brown said a board reversal is unlikely.

APS at-large board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, center, has supported Carstarphen in the past, but now says the district needs new leadership. (Johnathon Kelso/For WABE)

“I don’t see any way that could happen,” she said. “It was not particularly close.”

The board has said it will address its upcoming superintendent search at its October meeting.

The DeKalb County School District is also in need of a leader, after Stephen Green announced he’ll step down when his contract expires in June. When asked if she’d consider applying for that job, Carstarphen seemed uncertain.

“Where I am right now is just…level setting, staying focused on the North Star…and trying to ensure I just do my job at the highest level possible,” she said.

Notes of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license. Cynthia Briscoe Brown is the APS appointee to WABE’s board of directors.