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New Atlanta Superintendent Calls for 'Culture Change'

Meria Carstarphen, the incoming superintendent of the Atlanta Public School system, is hoping to move beyond the controversies of the last few years—including a widespread cheating scandal— and put the district's students first.

In a speech to the Atlanta Press Club, Carstarphen called for a "culture change" in the nearly  50,000-student district that she is expected to take over as lead administrator on July 7, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Carstarphen said the district should learn from but not dwell on the 2009 cheating scandal in which 189 educators allegedly changed students' answers on standardized tests to inflate their performance, the newspaper reports.

"In some ways, it can hold the system back if we don't start letting some of those things go," said Carstarphen, who is coming from the Austin Independent School District.  "It's not to forget that they happened, it's not to ignore the problem, but it is to start putting it in its place and to start shedding some of these things and stepping out of the past and into a very very bright future."

But the scandal is likely to remain in the forefront and a black mark for the district, at least in the near term. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall is expected to stand trial in August on charges of racketeering, theft, and false testimony in connection to the cheating scandal.

Hall and 34 other educators were indicted last year  for their alleged roles in inflating students' scores on standardized tests. Twenty-one of those implicated have struck plea deals.  Hall  was scheduled to go on trial in April, but her attorneys were successful in getting it postponed to August due to her failing health.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Carstaphen  said she hopes to cut the bureaucracy, strengthen employee morale, and raise the district's graduation rate, which is at 59 percent.  And she is already in the process of hiring staff and assessing the district's needs.

"Once we do it right, there's an expectation that we continue long past my tenure," she said. "Once we do it, we don't ever want to have to go back and redo it."

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