Carstarphen reflects on accomplishments during final State of the District


Royce Mann

STORYBOOK ENDING: Superintendent Meria Carstarphen reads aloud to students from Harper-Archer Elementary School at the annual State of the District on Nov. 7th.

Royce Mann

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen watched intently as the Grady Shadow Puppetry Troupe re-enacted the history of the district, kicking off her final State of the District on Nov. 7.

The event, held at the newly opened Harper-Archer Elementary School, featured numerous student performers and district faculty. The program promised to guide attendees through the “Epic of APS.”

This year’s event focused on performing arts, with poetry, dance and a full chorus. Dr. Carstarphen recently announced her plan to begin the process of opening a fine arts school.

Talking to reporters after the event, Dr. Carstarphen said she intends to submit a proposal for the project before the end of the school year. She said she decided to take up the effort while working with student artists from APS, including the Grady shadow puppeteers. The puppeteers were among a handful of Grady students to take the stage alongside the superintendent.

Senior Maya Hadley, who is a member of the Harvard Diversity Project, participated in an on-stage debate with members of the Grady Jesters that focused on strategies for remedying educational inequities.

Hadley described the event as both “exciting and sad,” in light of the superintendent’s upcoming departure on June 30, 2020. Hadley said she hopes the new superintendent maintains the “sense of family” that Dr. Carstarphen has cultivated across the district through her work.

“The way that [Dr. Carstarphen] interacts with students, I feel like, is something that’s really rare in administration,” Hadley said. “She’s super outgoing and fun, and she never makes anyone feel isolated.”

Speaking to a crowd of a few hundred, Dr. Carstarphen recounted the district’s progression under her leadership and shared her goals for her remaining time in office.

“We still have a long way to go, but let’s recognize that we have made progress together,” Dr. Carstarphen said.

Over the past five years, there has been an 18.8 percent jump in graduation rates and a 35 percent increase in the number of Pre-K seats APS offers. Despite those gains, the district continues to experience significant gaps in student achievement.

“You ready for a sobering truth about our students?” Dr. Carstarphen asked the audience, which included parents, APS employees and elected officials. “When we drill deeper and consider other demographic characteristics like socioeconomics and race, it reveals startling gaps.”

Those gaps are evident in end-of-course literacy test scores for the ELA Milestones exam. Nearly 85 percent (84.1 percent) of white students in APS scored proficient or above. Only 25.3 percent of black students in the district scored similarly.

Carstarphen identified the disparities as a primary area of concern for the district, acknowledging the challenges the next superintendent will face.

“This is why we cannot declare victory,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “The journey is not complete. The work is not done.”

Carstarphen’s contract, which the school board declined to renew, is set to expire at the end of the school year. Aretta Baldon, the school board’s newest member, said she hopes the next superintendent supports the entire district’s diverse student body.

“I know that there are hard skills that our superintendent is going to need,” Baldon said. “But it’s those other things … having an awareness and a sensitivity to the fact that we’re dealing with a very diverse group of children.”

Baldon attended the State of the District with the rest of the school board.The board named a search firm on Nov. 14 to facilitate the process of choosing superintendent candidates.

In closing the event, Dr. Carstarphen spoke about the future of APS and sent a message to her eventual successor.

“For only when all students can read and see choices in life, will there be an end to the cycles of violence, illiteracy and strife,” Dr. Carstarphen said.  “If we get this right for our kids, it will be epic.”