Though Atlanta Public Schools students have made tremendous progress in the five-plus years Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has led the district, she said there is still much work to be done.
“In 2019 we made an intentional focus to start our process to ensure everyone would be in proficiency and above (status), so when we talk about this, we have 36.9% of eighth-graders proficient in English language arts, which is an increase from previous years,” she said. “Among our white students, 84.1% are proficient and above while the rest do not. Among our black students, only 25.3% are proficient and above. … The journey is not complete. The work is not done. It’s not done until we’re at 100%.”
Carstarphen spoke on that topic and more during her final State of the District Address as superintendent, Nov. 7 at Harper-Archer Elementary School.
“I’m still the very proud superintendent of Atlanta Public schools,” she said as she entered through a doorway in the back of the school’s gym, drawing applause from the audience.
In September the Atlanta Board of Education chose not to renew Carstarphen’s contract, which expires June 30, following the 2019-20 academic year, a move that upset many students, teachers, parents and supporters. She is expected to remain as the superintendent through the final day of her contract.
Unlike a traditional “State of” speech, Carstarphen’s was part theatrics and part oration. As in past years, hers included a theme, with this year’s being “Epic.” It included speeches by district supporters, students and school leaders and performances by students in puppetry, debate, dance, slam poetry and music.
Three students, who served as narrators for the event, said, “Gather all as we relate to you the epic tale of Atlanta Public Schools,” mentioning the district’s 52,000 students and 6,000 educators. “Join us on a voyage where we’re no longer left adrift, a journey to excellence,” they added.
A video then showed a map with the different school clusters featured as if in a “Lord of the Rings” movie. It also provided statistics on the district. Schools were referred to as ships and principals as captains.
Carstarphen mentioned the district’s recent success in standardized tests and other benchmarks. Though the district has made progress in many categories, it still lags behind the state and other major metro Atlanta districts in most of them.
Carstarphen mentioned the district’s graduation rate increasing by 18.8% over the past five years, to 78.0%. The district set an all-time high in 2018 with a graduation rate of 79.9.
“The college acceptance rate for graduates is 62%, up 11% over the past five years,” Carstarphen said.
Eulonda Washington, King Young Women’s Leadership Academy’s principal and the district’s principal of the year, talked about the district’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores. They increased from 73.4 in 2018 to 74.1 this year.
“Forty-eight of 87 schools saw increases of CCRPI scores over last year,” Washington said. “But we still have much work to do. Much of CCRPI is based on the Georgia Milestones (program). … APS scored year-over-year gains in 21 of 24 assessments on end-of grade and end-of-course exams, 88%, up from 52% five years ago.”
Carstarphen also touted the district’s pre-kindergarten program, in which children are selected via a lottery system.
“We’re so excited the district offers 1,336 pre-K seats, a 35% increase over the past five years,” she said.
But during the debate portion of the event, one student debater said there are 35,000 children who want to attend district-sponsored preschools but a minimal number of slots available.
Carstarphen said the district will continue to strive to make each student better.
“No matter where the debate turns for the rest of the school year,” she said, “this administration will continue to work on the turnaround and achievement plans.”