The St. Paul Board of Education spent the last few days interviewing five finalists for the superintendent position. After several hours of discussion yesterday the board offered the top job in the district to the 36-year-old Carstarphen. In her current position as the chief accountability officer for the public schools of Washington D.C., Carstarphen overseas assessment, professional development and student services for that district.
Her career includes a stint as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, and various administrative positions in Ohio and Tennessee. She'll take over a district here that has 42,000 students, significantly smaller than Washington's enrollment of 60,000. Carstarphen did not attend the board meeting where her selection was announced, and she was not available for an interview. But school board members, parents, and district staffers were enthusiastic about her, despite Carstarphen's relatively young age.
Board Chairwoman, Elona Street-Stewart says she's excited about Carstarphen's hiring.
She's in a powerful and influential position doing excellent work in a politically-charged environment. St. Paul is a natural next step for herElona Street-Stewart, chair St. Paul Board of Education
"Meria is clearly a rising star. She's grown professionally under some of the best superintendents and administrators in the country. She's in a powerful and influential position doing excellent work in a politically-charged environment. St. Paul is a natural next step for her," Street-Stewart says.
Al Oertwig, the senior member of the board, said the selection was difficult because all of the candidates were so qualified. He said it was Carstarphen's history of helping students succeed that swayed him.
"She talked about going to Appalachia and going to a school where all of the students were expected to be failures. And in her class all of the students but one of the students passed the test, where no one was supposed to," said Oertwig. "That is somebody who knows how to make school improvement work and that's, frankly, exactly what we need in this district."
Board members were also looking for someone who will help them convince voters to approve a tax increase later this year. The current levy of about $17 million dollars expires at the end of the next school year. Board member Ann Carroll says Carstarphen has what it takes to get community support for the measure.
"She's got clear talent. She's got inspirational and strategic leadership abilities. We have a referendum this summer and I think she's going to help us gather the community around that for the future of our kids," says Carroll.
During the extensive interview process, the finalists met with several constituencies, including teachers, staff, students and parents.
Joe Maternowski has two children in the St. Paul public schools and was part of the citizens advisory committee that helped with the search. He welcomed Carstarphen's selection.
"She came off as a very serious committed and passionate person about education," says Maternowski. "I'm thrilled to have her as the new superintendent."
Carstarphen also got high marks from some district staffers.
Yusef Mgeni, director of the district's Office of Education Equity says he and other staff members were pleased with what they heard from Carstarphen during a lengthy interview yesterday.
"She was very collegial. She was very respectful. It was very encouraging to hear her discuss her collaborative style, treating us as co-workers and respecting what we bring to the table, recognizing that none of us can do it alone," Mgeni says.
Carstarphen still has to negotiate a contract. She is still in the Twin Cities, and will meet with some board members later today. Carstarphen will replace Pat Harvey, who resigned last September after six years as superintendent.