New APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen at this morning's media briefing. (Photo by Clare Richie)
New APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen at this morning’s media briefing. (Photo by Clare Richie)

By Clare S. Richie

Dr. Meria Carstarphen, the new superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, doesn’t officially begin her new job until July 7, but she met with members of the media this morning to outline some of her priorities for the system.

Carstarphen, viewed as a transformational educational leader, is preparing for “a new day for APS.” She embarks on this journey with a relatively new board; six of the nine members were elected last fall. In an effort to learn APS’ challenges and scalable strengths she has already visited every cluster.

The budget is one of her first priorities. The FY 2015 approved budget still allows for review and revision during the superintendent transition. Revisions will not be immediate.

“Everything [needs to be] on the table before we start making adjustments,” Carstarphen explained.

The district is finalizing its vision, mission, and values. The board is working to solidify its definition of equity and approach for distributing resources – time, people, money. Carstarphen is both drilling down into the budget and comparing it to similar districts.

She also called for a “citizens advisory committee” that would add transparency to APS budget and policy decisions. Carstarphen said she believes that public schools should focus on the whole child and ensure they are “life long learners that love coming to school.”

“Yes, we want them to do well on standardized tests, but that should be an afterthought,” Carstarphen said, adding that she believes  students should see their growth in grades and project work.

During her tenure as the superintendent of Austin Independent School District, Carstarphen pushed for students to have access to high quality arts and athletic experiences for at least three consecutive years, which motivated students to come to school and improved graduation rates. Alternate pathway enabled students to take nontraditional routes – like flip classrooms or evening classes – on their path to graduation. Social Emotional Learning was incorporated into the curriculum to teach children and adults the skills to manage their emotions, empathize, make responsible decisions, and have functional relationships.

Carstarphen said coming to Atlanta is a homecoming for her, since she has roots in the deep south. Born in Selma, Alabama, she began her career as a middle school teacher in her hometown. She went on to be the superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, then the chief accountability officer for Washington, D.C. Public Schools, before heading to Austin to oversee the  the education of 86,000 students.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.