Austin NAACP Honors Carstarphen with DeWitty/Overton Freedom Award

Community leaders recognize education leader for efforts to address disparities within district

This weekend, the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded the 2013 DeWitty/Overton Freedom Award to Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

The award is based on the collective works of the honorees in the areas of civil rights and social justice. Carstarphen received the award at the 48th Annual DeWitty/Overton Freedom Fund Banquet Saturday, Dec. 14.

President Nelson Linder said Carstarphen has “steadfastly demonstrated support for, and dedication to, communities which have been ignored and victimized by inequities in teacher quality and resources. The entire Austin community should applaud her efforts.”

During the superintendent’s tenure at AISD, the district’s most vulnerable student groups have seen increased achievement. In particular African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students have made gains—from increasing attendance and graduation rates, performance on state assessments, school ratings, college readiness and post-secondary enrollment to decreasing dropout rates and disciplinary referrals.

Results in performance show that the graduation rate for African-American students has increased by 13.9 percentage points to 79.6 percent. The graduation rate for Hispanic students has increased by 14.7 percentage points to 78.6 percent. The graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students has increased by 17.7 percentage points to 78.9 percent. The dropout rates have declined by several percentage points for these historically vulnerable students.

One of the superintendent’s proudest program changes includes decreasing the disproportional rate of disciplinary removals for minority and special education students. In 2013, there was a 65 percent reduction in the overall number of discretionary removals throughout the district. At the high school level, AISD has decreased the number of students suspended to home by 699 and the number of students removed for discretionary reasons by 248. During the past four years, the district has decreased discretionary removals for African-American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students by between 76 and 81percent at the high school level.

The DeWitty/Overton Freedom Award is the Austin NAACP’s highest honor. It is named in honor of former Austin NAACP President Arthur B. DeWitty and Austin civil rights pioneer, Volma Overton.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized by an institution that has played such an important role in the fight against inequality in education in our country,” Carstarphen said. “Knowing our district has a school named for Volma Overton, I am especially proud as the first African-American superintendent for AISD to be recognized as part of his legacy through this award.”

Carstarphen has served as superintendent of AISD since July 2009. Before moving to Austin, she was superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. She has held accountability positions for school systems in the District of Columbia, Tennessee and Ohio as well as serving as a middle and elementary school teacher. Carstarphen earned a doctorate in administration, planning and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a Bachelor of Arts in political science and Spanish from Tulane University, and Master of Education degrees from Auburn and Harvard universities. She mentors a student every week through the Seedling Foundation, which supports children affected by the incarceration of one or both of their parents.