Meet Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen

Meria Joel Carstarphen, Ed.D., has more than 20 years of transformational leadership and management experience, 14 of which she served in chief executive officer roles, with a focus on America’s capital cities in diverse, urban environments. She has extensive experience setting, achieving and surpassing strategic goals in order to improve dramatically student and organizational outcomes. She is skilled at improving culture, leading collective bargaining and developing strong labor and Board relations. Dr. Carstarphen has a track record of being a passionate, inspirational, creative and compelling thought partner and leader during both crisis and calm and ultimately achieving positive outcomes in complex organizations.

Dr. Carstarphen was most recently the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools (APS) where she led the district’s nearly 52,000 students, 6,000 full-time employees and 87 schools and oversaw the system’s $1 billion annual budget. Prior to serving in Atlanta, she was superintendent in other major metropolitan public school districts, including Austin, Texas, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has successfully stabilized, balanced and managed large budgets (up to a billion dollars), oversaw intricate staffing systems and grew enrollment and fundraising efforts.

In 2014, Dr. Carstarphen was charged with leading the transformation of APS following the largest cheating scandal in the history of public education. She has worked to restore organizational integrity through transparency, engagement and access, and create a student-focused culture not driven by adult agendas and corruption. Through her leadership, the District has moved away from an over-reliance on high-stakes testing to emphasize equity and whole-student development. During her tenure, APS has seen improvements in the graduation rate, student achievement, staff, parent and alumni engagement and college-going rate.

By intentionally working in capital cities, Dr. Carstarphen has demonstrated experience working closely with governors, state legislature, and state education chiefs to make recommendations and advise on policy impacts to public institutions, ranging from human trafficking and community health to accountability assessments and economic impact. As a dedicated member of her communities, she often serves on the boards of the local arts organizations such as Ballet Austin and Atlanta Ballet and the Woodruff Arts Center. She gives generously to college scholarship programs and as an alumnae of her alma mater she serves on the President’s Council for Tulane University. For several years, she served on the Board of the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit educational measurement organization to advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments. She recently completed terms of service on the visiting committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education and as a commissioner with the Aspen Institute’s AspenSEAD, a national commission focused on social emotional and academic development.

She is passionate about working to make communities stronger especially through the equalizing power of education from early childhood through college. She also has experience in research, journalism and documentary photography. She is an avid runner and dedicated mentor to many.

Dr. Carstarphen hails from Selma, Alabama where she was born and raised in a family of four girls.


Doctor of Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy Concentration in Urban Superintendency

Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA - Herold Hunt Fellowship, 1998-2002

Master of Education in Administration, Planning and Social Policy

Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA - John E. Stevens Fellowship, 1998-1999

Master of Education in Administration of Elementary and Secondary Schools

Auburn University, Auburn, AL - Graduate Research Assistant, Truman Pierce Institute, 1996-1997

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Spanish

Tulane University, Newcomb College, New Orleans, LA - Class Speaker at Commencement, 1988-1992


National Down Syndrome Congress Honoree

Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Power 100 – Most Influential Atlantans”

American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees and the Georgia Federation of Public Service Employees Superintendent of the Year

Newcomb Alumnae Association at Tulane University Outstanding Alumna Award

National School Public Relations Association Communication Technology Award

Anti-Defamation League Torch of Liberty Award

Georgia Trend Magazine’s “Top 100 Most Influential Georgians”

CoolGirls Cool Woman of the Year

Jackson Foundation Phoenix Award

Atlanta Business Chronicle Most Admired CEO

NAACP DeWitty/Overton Award

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Regional Superintendent of the Year Award

Faculty Fellowship with National Geographic Magazine and Freelance Photographer

Southern Community Partners of the Lyndhurst Foundation Fellowship

Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life!

What people are saying

"I met her family. They are just wonderful people. She is someone who came out of Selma, Alabama and was able to do well in other parts of the country. To have her in Atlanta is a tribute to the city. She’s among the best superintendents in the country."

— John Lewis
United States Congressman (1986 - 2020)

"Her leadership is bold and inclusive, Dr. Carstarphen is the best Superintendent in the state of Georgia, and our students and community are blessed to have her."

— Demetric Bishop.
GFPSE Immediate Past Executive Director

“You are so impressive. Really proud to be your friend.“

— Art Acevedo
Miami Chief of Police

"Keep doing all that you are. You will never get enough credit or know how far your impact reaches.“

— Qwantayvious Stiggers
Mentee, Former Student