The principle of focusing on the good instead of the bad is not exactly a new idea. People tout this as the key to break-throughs in teaching students, enhancing relationships, and improving groups like sports teams, but Meria Carstarphen, the new school district superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools, plans to take this transformative mentality to a school system that has not seen this positive perspective for some time now.
In a recent opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Carstarphen gives a general outline for this new direction. Not only does she seem to be focused on the strengths of APS, but she also seems to be open to collaborating with supporters from outside of the traditional public school setting. Her decision to hire David Jernigan as her deputy superintendent signifies that she values the insights that the former executive director of KIPP Metro Atlanta will bring to the table.
What’s interesting about this is that, even though many times charter schools are pit against traditional public schools, one of the purported missions of charter schools from their genesis was that they would be places where alternate teaching and administrative methods would be implemented with the goal being the transfer of those insights into the traditional public school setting (according to the National Education Association, one of the largest teacher unions in the country). Perhaps APS will be able to reap the benefits of this type of approach and will be able to demonstrate a positive national model of this type of collaboration.
Something else I appreciate about Ms. Carstarphen is her willingness to include current leaders from within APS. Whenever a leader shows up from the outside and brings along with him or her a completely new set of individuals, current valuable leaders within the system have a difficult time adjusting because they know that many people were undervalued and overlooked during the process. Carstarphen demonstrates the ability to see the strengths of those within Atlanta Public Schools while combining them with a good blend of fresh faces with new perspectives.
Hopefully her tenure will prove to be more than just good intentions — because APS students deserve more. Her desire to focus on what is already strong within APS demonstrates that she not only sees the value in realizing the assets the school system possesses, but that she also realizes the power of hope. As Carstarphen put it when citing a recent Gallup poll, ” [H]ope is the one variable most likely to predict whether a student will complete college. When students feel hopeful, they do better in school. The same is true for adults.” This model of leadership — where everyone knows that great things are expected of them — has proven more successful than other approaches that lacked this aspect (consider the so-called “Pygmalion Effect” where studies have shown that higher expectations produce greater performance).
Carstarphen definitely has her work cut out for her, but let’s “hope” that she and her team are able to lead this school district into a school year that delivers more than just a cliché of great expectations.