some analysis on the content
Yesterday the AJC issued a story titled Likely Atlanta schools chief had rocky road in Texas (behind pay wall). There is a lot of good information on Carstarphen’s tenure in Austin and I think a bit of additional analysis is in order. Direct quotes from the article are in italics and any emphasis to the quotes has been added.
The probable next superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools is coming off a controversial tenure in Austin, Texas, where public ire over budget cuts and a school closing rose as much as the improved graduation rates and finances.
Comment – I find it interesting that the paragraph essentially creates an equivalency between the perceived negatives (budget cuts and school closings) and the positives (improved graduation rates and finances). However, think about it for a minute – the closing of some underperforming or under-enrolled schools is a bad thing? Also, are budget cuts that improve the district’s financial position while at the same time improved educational outcomes are achieved is a bad thing? Count me on board for hoping to see both of those things happen in APS!
She left it in better financial and academic shape, but riled enough voters to undermine the support of the school board.
Comment – This is true “Can’t see the forest because of the trees mentality.” The Austin ISD is in “better financial and academic shape”, but she lost support due to her efforts to improve the system. These types of critics need to be watched carefully as their own agendas often supersede what is most important in a school district – educational outcomes. Unfortunately there are many such critics in Atlanta as well who place their own political or ideological agendas over the improvement of the student’s education.
With her contract set to expire in a little over a year, there has been no vote in favor of extending it.
Comment – This is a consistent meme that the media has seized on. But before you accept the conclusion that Carstarphen was not going to be rehired at the end of her contract in 2015, let’s look at the facts. Her initial contract starting in 2009 was for three years. In 2011 and 2012 she was given a one year extension. This past December her performance was reviewed with the following results (see TWC News article here):
The school board of the Austin Independent School District sang the praises of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen during Monday evening’s board meeting, but did not extend her contract.
School Board Vincent Torres says four years in the job, Carstarphen is delivering higher test scores and graduation rates with fewer dropouts. “We cannot achieve our goal of having all students graduate from high school if they drop out along the way,” Torres said. “These are remarkable improvements that have occurred for the most part over the past four years.” Torres said the district reached a record high 82.5 percent graduation rate in 2012, which is up seven percentage points since Carstarphen arrived.
Still, trustees are waiting to extend Carstarphen’s contract beyond its current end date of June 2015. The trustees say it’s nothing indicative of their confidence in Carstarphen. The board can still move to extend her contract at any time.
Based on the sole fact that the Board add another year to her contract this past December, does not lead to the conclusion that it her contract would not be renewed next year. The Board “sang her praises” – my sense is that they will now regret their short-term view and, as a result, the loss of a superintendent that made substantial improvements at AISD. [Added] Also, in fairness to the other side on this, here is a column written by one of Carstarphen’s critics.
Critics say she rammed through changes without consulting the majority Hispanic parents in the Austin Independent School District. “Her corporate-reform-backed agenda didn’t fly here because we fought it, and that’s why she’s leaving,” said Vincent Tovar, whose wife is a teacher, and whose daughter attends Austin schools.
Comment – the inherent self-serving and ideological stupidity of this statement is beyond belief. Let me make sure I have this right – even though she was successful in improving educational outcomes, she didn’t spout the bumper sticker ideology we wanted and so we are glad she is leaving! Incredible!
Drew Scheberle, a senior vice president at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said members of the business community pushed to hire someone like Carstarphen, and they were pleased with the results. She cut a quarter of the jobs in the central office yet improved academic outcomes, he said. “She’s left this community stronger than how she found it.”
Comment – Now this is an assessment we hope we can count on when Carstarphen assumes her duties in Atlanta. She “cut a quarter of the jobs in the central office”. Does anyone remember the story from last year that the AJC published on the district’s bloated bureaucracy (see here)? Didn’t all the Board of Education candidates run on the proposition that it was important to reduce the cost of the central office and reallocate spending to in the classroom? If the APS Board is true to their campaign speeches, Carstarphen will have a lot of support in replaying some of her past efforts.
But it was a 2011 proposal to close a school and reopen it as a charter operation that made the biggest waves, he said. “That caused a revolt.” That action was approved by one school board but reversed by another after an election changed the makeup of the board.
Comment – OK, in other words, elections have consequences. However, in reviewing Carstarphen’s record, this one event – along with the controversy surrounding the adoption of a budget that had to be cut back severely due to State budget cuts – seems to make up the “controversy headlines”. This is pretty ‘thin gruel’ as far as I am concerned.
Williams said controversy should be expected of any leader who makes big changes, such as cutting budgets and personnel. But he credits Carstarphen for increasing Austin’s graduation and college-ready rates, and counts one other metric as an important achievement in a high-poverty school system: “We’ve been able to keep some of our middle class in the school district, which some other districts haven’t,” he said.
Comment – Carstarphen appears to be willing to take on tough and controversial issues. This matches up well with the new APS Board that consistently said it wants to tackle the difficult issues facing APS. Let’s encourage them to work as a team to do what is necessary to improve educational outcomes in Atlanta.
Scheberle, the chamber official, said that despite the controversy surrounding her, Carstarphen managed to stay in Austin beyond the typical three-year tenure for a Texas superintendent. He said she is a “relentless” leader who would work as hard in Atlanta as she did in Austin.
Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, the area’s teachers advocacy group, described her as “tenacious” and “deeply committed.”
Comment – “Relentless”, “work hard”, “tenacious” and “deeply committed”. These are very encouraging words and represent a refreshing change from the descriptions of the current APS leadership. Also, after seeing her at several presentations in Atlanta, I would add – energetic, steeped in education research, data driven, a deep thinker, personable, self-deprecating and a great communicator.
I really liked it when she recently noted that it was important that the Board and the community come together as they consider solutions to the many problems APS is facing. Why is this critical? Because as Carstarphen said,
“I can implement anything. I feel like I’ve had to do that, “she said during her introduction at Hope-Hill Elementary. “Be careful what you ask for, because it will be done.”
Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction