clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

In first performance evaluation of Memphis’ superintendent, board says he excels in community relations, not as great with staff

Superintendent Joris Ray stands at a podium with a microphone at Whitehaven High School in an award ceremony.
Superintendent Joris Ray
Max Gersh / The Commercial Appeal

Shelby County Schools board members said that Superintendent Joris Ray “mostly met expectations” during the first months of his tenure in 2019 based on their first evaluation of him presented Tuesday.

The board gave Ray a score of 3.92 out of 5 for how he opened the 2019-20 school year between May and September. His highest scores were in his relationships with policymakers and community groups, and seeking public input into district decisions.

His lowest score was in his relationship with district staff, especially in implementing a “rigorous, accurate” employee evaluation system. But the overall score for his relationship with staff still mostly met expectations.

Board member Scott McCormick, who leads the board’s committee on evaluating the superintendent, said the score is an “excellent start.”

As the district heads into a school year with a lot of uncertainties because of coronavirus-related disruptions, the evaluation shows a continued vote of confidence from the school board that quickly went with a local hire instead of a national search.

Board Chairwoman Miska Clay Bibbs, noted Ray’s “love for students” and leadership style that seeks to serve others.

“You came in and you hit the ground running and you’ve done an excellent job,” she said.

The evaluation is the board’s first official assessment of their sole employee, whom they appointed in April 2019. Ray was appointed interim superintendent in December 2018. The superintendent is responsible for all other district hires.

“It’s not I, it’s my team,” Ray told board members after the presentation. He also thanked principals, teachers, parents, and students. “They are so resilient and we will do great things this school year.”

McCormick sent the evaluation to board members 30 minutes before their work session began Tuesday, drawing ire from two board members who said they would have preferred more notice for presenting on one of the board’s primary functions. The board contracts with a company that created an evaluation method and compiled each members’ scores for an overall score.

Board member Stephanie Love said she was “confused and a little disappointed” that she received the report 30 minutes before the meeting. Board member Michelle McKissack said she agreed and that board members should “go the extra mile” to keep each other informed while they meet via videoconference.

Ray has broad support among board members. Staff and community pressure influenced the board’s appointment last year because Ray started as a teacher and has spent his career in the district. Supporters flooded board meetings with shirts and signs donning the slogan “Stay with Ray.” Other groups, including parent advocacy organization Memphis Lift, called for a national search.

Since then, he still has supporters among staff, but his relationship with associations representing teachers has eroded. In the midst of negotiations for a new agreement with educators, Ray created a separate teacher advisory council and excluded association leaders from participating. At the time, Ray said he wanted to cultivate additional leaders and give other teachers a chance to speak directly with him.

On his relationship with the community, Ray is a staple at many community functions and convened the county’s seven superintendents for the first time early in his tenure. His initiative to improve academics for Black boys attracted support from many local policymakers. And most recently, he coordinated with the Memphis City Council to draft a resolution to allocate city money to the district, the first in nearly a decade.

A section of Ray’s evaluation addressed student achievement, but not in depth because it only covered the opening of the 2019-20 school year.

A longer evaluation on Ray’s performance during his first full school year is expected this fall.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Connect with your community

Find upcoming Tennessee events