Tennessee’s Achievement School District has hired a Memphis native for a new position overseeing community engagement for its school turnaround work.
Bobby S. White, 44, joined the ASD’s offices in Memphis this week as chief of external affairs. He previously served as senior adviser and chief of staff for former Memphis and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr..
In his new job, White will work with the neighborhoods where the state-run district has taken over chronically low-performing schools. He said he will be “redirecting anger” toward common goals.
“We need to be taking that energy and putting that into helping in making our schools better,” he said Friday. “… Community engagement sets the stage for everything else.”
Challenges in engaging the Memphis public school community are not unique to the Achievement School District, which now operates 27 schools in Memphis. Shelby County Schools is in the process of revamping its family and community engagement initiatives overseen by Natalia Powers, hired in February to a cabinet-level position.
White grew up in Memphis’ Whitehaven community and graduated from Central High School. His father, Robert Samuel White Sr., was a principal at Manassas High School for 14 years in the 1980s and ’90s. There is no relation to Bobby White, the founder of Frayser Community Schools, a charter operator authorized by the ASD.
The ASD has sought to increase community involvement in its process of taking control of struggling schools and converting them to charter schools as part of its school turnaround work. However, last year, its process came under fire from numerous local leaders and parents who questioned whether the district’s new community engagement process had authentic impact on the ASD’s final decision to take over four more schools
District leaders have acknowledged there is room for improvement.
“The ASD has unfortunately been met with an amount of unfair criticisms … and some of it fair,” said White, a former math teacher at Southside High School.
He said the mission of the ASD is to improve education in the cities it serves.
“These folks aren’t in it for the money, for the fame, for the acclaim. They’re in it because of love for these young people,” he said of the ASD and its charter operators. “We have to get beyond these spreadsheets and pie charts and get at the heart.”
Correction: April 29, 2016: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that White was replacing Anjelica Hardin Hall at the ASD. He is not. His is a new position within the district.