The first day of school is a milestone for every student, but this year, it was also a milestone for the new head of the Atlanta Public Schools.
New APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen oversaw her inaugural first day of school Monday as an estimated 50,000 children headed back to class. Carstarphen has been tasked with the monumental job of rebuilding community trust in the wake of a cheating scandal that tainted the schools' image from the superintendent’s office down.
“I think this year we got off to a really good start,” Carstarphen said Monday afternoon. “Everything’s not perfect. I mean, there were things that I could not fix fast enough.”
Those “things” included some schools where students outnumbered textbooks or where air conditioning systems were not quite up to par.
“I can’t make the publishing companies make textbooks, you know, publish and print more textbooks faster. But we’re doing what we can to, you know, to band aid and bubble gum those issues,” explained Carstarphen.
She said some principals did not order books in time, while other books were out of print.
“It’s very difficult in Georgia,” Carstarphen said. “We have the Common Core Standards and having textbooks align to that that meet the Georgia standards—that list is very short and we also haven’t adopted new textbooks in APS in years.”
Late Monday, portions of about a dozen schools were still being cooled by portable air conditioning units. Carstarphen emphasized that the AC outages did not affect entire school buildings.
Despite the initial challenges, Carstarphen and her team believe the school year started on a positive note. APS worked hard to communicate with parents and students about school assignments, bus and class schedules well in advance of the first day.
“Staffing was a big focus this year. All of our principals are on board and I can’t remember, but I think at the last count, we were short seven teachers compared to last year it was around a hundred,” said Carstarphen. “So, our classrooms are filled with qualified teachers and that is a big step forward. That’s the most important thing about the school year.”