Education Advocate Criticizes APS Charter System Decision


200_ed_johnson(APN) ATLANTA — At the Monday, November 03, 2014 meeting of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, the Board voted nearly unanimously to recommend to the State of Georgia that the Atlanta Independent School System become a charter system.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, becoming a charter system does not mean all APS schools would become charter schools; it would mean, however, that the system would have additional flexibility from the State regarding its operations.  Ironically, the State is using its coercive power to incentivize school systems to take on the additional flexibility; the one thing they are being flexible about is maintaining the status quo.

Board Member Steven Lee (District 5) was the only dissenting vote.  Lee called APS’s options “bad, worse, and god awful,” at the meeting, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

Atlanta Progressive News made numerous attempts to contact Mr. Lee regarding his vote.  Lee first agreed to a phone interview, but was not available for the interview and did not respond to several subsequent calls.

School systems have until June 30, 2015 to adopt either the charter model, and IE2 model (Invest in Educational Excellence), or the status quo.

Lee was opposed to the manner in which the State was forcing APS and other school systems to choose one of the flexibility options, such as the charter system option, where APS would lose all of its existing flexibility waivers if it did not abandon the status quo.

Board Member Cynthia Briscoe Brown (Seat 8 at large) supported the charter system proposal and told APN that the Board had to make the best decision they could, given the parameters set by the State.

But not everyone feels the charter system transition is so benign.

“This is Beverly Hall 2.0,” long-time education advocate Ed Johnson told APN, referring to the former Superintendent associated with the APS CRCT cheating scandal.

Johnson–who ran for the Seat 9 at large in 2013–criticizes the new APS Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen for pushing the charter system model, which is part of her affinity for charter schools.

“She tried to do this out in Austin [Texas].  They [the community] were vocal about their opposition to charter schools out there.”

Carstarphen has many critics in Austin and it seems the city’s residents shed few tears, if any, upon her transfer.

According to the Austin Chronicle, “It’s rare that Carstarphen’s loyalists and opponents generally agree on anything.  But this time, they all seem to endorse the idea that the best thing is for her to leave Austin.  Speaking diplomatically, AISD Trustee Gina Hinojosa suggested that Georgia may just be a better fit for her at this time… That’s the polite way of saying that Car­starphen’s position in Austin was untenable.”

“My voting and encouraging others to vote to put Cynthia Briscoe Brown on the Atlanta school board has turned out to be a great mistake.  So I offer my apology to all I had encouraged to vote for her,” Johnson wrote in an email sent to APS Board Members and stakeholders.

“I had hoped, actually believed, Cynthia would bring a greater measure of intellectual, moral, and ethical maturity to the board than would especially the four Teach for America youngsters on the board.  Never was there the thought that Cynthia would go along with the stupidity of turning APS into a Charter System or go along with any effort to undermine APS as a public institution, as a public good,” Johnson wrote.

“APS as a Charter System will do nothing but keep the district stuck in a Beverly Hall kind of status quo, but with a difference.  Beverly Hall obviously held scant empathy for the adults in APS.  Now, even at this early stage, we see a new superintendent who is pushing that lack of empathy down upon the children, and implicitly blaming the children for the superintendency’s failure to learn to improve the district,” Johnson wrote.

“Now it has become inarguably clear that all the rigmarole APS put into deciding to turn APS into a Charter System amounts to nothing more than Cynthia Briscoe Brown and fellow board members (save perhaps Steven Lee) and the superintendent showing they bring nothing beyond the capacity to maintain the status quo, the real status quo, under a different name.  The rigmarole has been a colossal waste of time and money that could have gone into engaging all stakeholders in learning how to improve the current state of APS.  But that would have required leadership,” Johnson said in his email.

The letter the APS BOE submitted to the State states as follows:

“Our mission in the Atlanta Public Schools is to graduate every student ready for college and career.  To accomplish this, we are working closely with our community, and we believe that the charter system model, which provides opportunities for flexibility as well as shared governance, best aligns with the needs of all students across our diverse school system.

“Our plans for innovation, accountability and distributed leadership are a match with the intent of the charter system legislation.  The APS application will include a plan to phase in governance with a high school cluster-based approach.  The Atlanta Independent School System will submit an application as soon as possible to begin operating as a charter system no later than the 2016-17 school year.”


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