Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen held her quarterly meeting Wednesday with the media. She highlighted valedictorians and STAR students at each high school and spoke about the gains the APS has made this year. Carstarphen also spoke about summer plans and the third annual Back to School Bash on July 29, where students can get vaccinations and school supplies before classes start.
It was a wide-ranging conversation that touched upon many issues surrounding the Atlanta Public Schools. Here are the four takeaways from today’s meeting:
1) Governor Deal’s school turnaround plan
The issue: Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 338, otherwise known as the ‘school turnaround plan,’ into law last week. It gives the state more authority to intervene at individual schools that are struggling. The state will appoint a “Chief Turnaround Officer” to work with low-performing school. Some school systems disagree with the plan to have a state official oversee plans to improve local schools.
Carstarphen’s comments: Carstarphen said Atlanta Public Schools launched a plan several years ago to improve its low-performing schools.
“The Governor’s office has been very receptive to just listening to how things are going with the Atlanta Public Schools. They’ve been very supportive the entire time I’ve been here even when we were at our very worst in my first year, first summer.”
“I’ve deliberately worked in Capitol cities my entire career for this very reason. I do think the capitol city school district has a responsibility to… I do think you have to lean in. I shared everything I could with people who were willing to listen.”
2) Controversial school consolidations and closures
The issue: Atlanta Public Schools approved a plan to close and merge several schools. The decision was met with anger and frustration from many parents.
Carstarphen’s comments: She said it was part of a long-term plan to improve schools and communities.
“Yes, you might need to merge or consolidate schools so that 5 years from now you can plan for a renovation, adding another school back to a community and what would that school look like. What would be the appropriate grade levels and what would be the appropriate programming.”
“We look at housing patterns, apartment developments, where people are putting grocery stores, MARTA stations, where the beltline is going, where they’re cleaning up a creek, or an area that was once industrial but they’re trying to make green space. We’re looking at all of those things so we’re trying to crystal ball, as much as we can.”
“It’s going to take years to do it, but we’re trying to change that conversation in a way that says we’re being thoughtful about the kids we have today, fix some of the stuff we did in the past, because some of the kids we have today have been victims of our lower performance and low quality educational services, and then plan for the future.”
“You can start understanding why they’re (parents) so circumspect, so untrusting, so concerned we’re going to make it worse if we don’t have a thoughtful plan. We agonize on that every single day.”
“We don’t have a fighting chance if people don’t have a place to live, cant’ get a job, there’s no food and crime is so bad that kids can’t even play outside. Children tell us all the time how they spend their summers indoors, in their grandmother’s houses, while their parents are at work.”
“What does the school need, what does that cluster look like, what’s happening all around in that community, and you build these pipelines into these high schools that make sense. In some of these communities you have to build the whole thing from scratch.”
3) Lawsuit with City of Atlanta over school property deeds
The issue: The City of Atlanta and the APS are embroiled in lawsuit over property deeds to schools and school buildings. Currently, the City of Atlanta holds the deeds to dozens of APS buildings which means they technically own the property. APS cannot sell the buildings until they have the deeds.
Carstarphen’s comments: “We’re still in a lawsuit to receive those deeds. We’ve received some. Many of them had mistakes on them so we had to send them back to get corrections.”
“Most properties are worth in the $400,000-600,000 range.”
“There’s some that I would argue, given how Buckhead’s growing, one’s probably worth $25 million. We need our deeds. We need our deeds.”
4) How to help Atlanta children who are struggling
The issue: Carstarphen says many children come into the APS for the first time, in kindergarten, and are unprepared for school. She is trying to come up with a plan to help them, as well as students who struggle at any point during their time at APS.
Carstarphen’s comments: “We’re seeing kids coming to school completely unprepared for pre-k, kindergarten. Can we do more? What’s happening in the 0-3 years space?”
“What can I do, as a district, to remove any barrier they have?”
“Maybe instead of us trying to get them to come to programs that we’re doing, why don’t we just go there? If there are 50 kids in one place (that need educational help), that’s enough to bring a team. We’ll bring a team to go to them in the summers.”
“The kids have suffered enough probably if you’ve been in APS your whole school career, in some areas, so the sooner we help the better for the child.”