The board of the Atlanta Public Schools system continues to face hard questions regarding the impending ouster of its superintendent Meria Castarphen, whose contract will not be renewed in 2020 after five years on the job.

At a community meeting for the district’s northwest quadrant, including Buckhead, held by the Board of Education at Bolton Academy on Oct. 24, parents and teachers expressed concern that board members have been less than forthcoming on the reasons for its decision.

Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Board of Education, speaks before an Oct. 24 meeting at Bolton Academy, where parents and teachers questioned the decision not to extend the contract of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. (Kevin C. Madigan)

Nathalie Malkoff, a mother and Bolton PTA member, said there has been progress in recent years to fix things that weren’t working, “and I would also say that we have seen a change In people’s perspective of APS.” Another mother said, “It’s a great achievement that we are functional because five years ago we were totally dysfunctional. I think we have leadership and a dynamic with principles that people trust.”

A father who attended said, “With the lack of transparency around the decision to not renew the contract, I have grave concerns that it’s a clear signal from the board that it’s going to backtrack into a less transparent environment. That is what kicked off one of the largest academic scandals that any public school system in the country has ever seen, and that to me is a red flag, and is not acceptable.”

He was referring to the infamous 2009 case in which teachers and principals in the APS were found to have cheated on standardized tests, resulting in the conviction of 11 educators for racketeering.

Another man agreed. “Transparency is something everyone likes to see. When decisions are being made, I think that, as a whole, everyone should be included,” he said. “The board did not give a direct answer as to why they were not going to renew. I think the board should have said to this constituency, ‘These are the reasons listed for not wanting to renew Dr. Castarphen’s contract,’ even if it was something that started a couple of years ago.”

Others in the audience spoke positively of Castarphen’s tenure at APS. John Ramseur, who has children at two area schools, said, “Over the last five years it feels like we’ve had an advocate that’s pushing for the interests of the school system, so we are not just sitting back and letting decisions be made without having an equal voice in the process.”

“I love how there’s more control at the local school level — deciding how budgets are spent; hiring and firing of teachers,” a man in the audience said. “I like how there’s been progress against key performance measures like graduation rates and college applications,” a man in the audience said. But there was criticism doled out as well, with transportation issues at the forefront. “It’s inconsistent across the district,” said one of the mothers in attendance. “My children live five miles from school and they travel an hour, so there seems to be a gap in planning the route.” She added that bus drivers could use some instruction in student management. “Some of the behavior I’ve witnessed on the bus is not only unsafe but is abhorrent.”

Board of Education chair Jason Esteves spoke at the beginning of the session but would not comment on the contract decision, saying board members “have been explicitly gagged and the facilitator will tell you (this meeting) is all about your perspective and feedback. It’s a very important part of the process because the information we receive will eventually be used to develop a profile look for the next superintendent.”

Esteves reminded parents they can make further comments by going to the Atlanta Public Schools website. “There’s a tool on the site called ‘Let’s Talk’ to provide feedback,” he said, “and we will be releasing a survey pretty soon that you can share with your friends.”

Carstarphen also drew audience support during her Oct. 10 appearance at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods to discuss controversial tax breaks, where she also said she wanted to keep her job.

–Kevin C. Madigan