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Memphis-Shelby County Schools board to pick next superintendent in July under proposed timeline

A woman stands in front of a podium with TV news microphones, with a man and woman standing beside her

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board discussed a proposed superintendent search timeline during Monday committee meetings. It comes over two months after the board cut ties with former Superintendent Joris Ray.

Ariel Cobbert for Chalkbeat

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board wouldn’t select the next leader of Tennessee’s largest school district until July — a month before the 2023-24 school year begins — under a proposed superintendent search timeline.

The timeline, presented to the MSCS board during committee meetings Monday afternoon, calls for the board to spend several months gathering community feedback through four public input sessions, a student input session, and a survey of stakeholders including parents, educators, and business and nonprofit leaders across Shelby County.

MSCS board Chair Althea Greene also pitched the formation of a community search committee largely composed of representatives of local education advocacy groups and nonprofits.

“This group will work to help us capture the voices of the community,” Greene said Monday.

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Though not yet set in stone, the proposed timeline offers a first glimpse of what the superintendent search will look like. It comes more than two months after the MSCS board approved a separation agreement with former Superintendent Joris Ray, who had been under investigation over allegations that he abused his power and violated district policies by engaging in sexual relationships with subordinates.

It also comes days after the Greater Memphis Chamber, the local economic development group, called on the MSCS board to establish a “rigorous” search process to attract “high caliber” candidates and to ensure that local candidates don’t get an unfair advantage.

“We cannot overstate how important the success and management of MSCS is to the future of our community,” six representatives of the chamber wrote in a Nov. 11 letter to the board, a copy of which was obtained by Chalkbeat. “The students of today are the employees of tomorrow.” 

Some board members want a faster process

Some school board members wondered whether the process should be sped up in order to attract the best candidates and allow the next superintendent more time to transition into the role.

Under the current timeline, the search firm ultimately hired by the board wouldn’t begin accepting applications until Feb. 16, 2023, and the search wouldn’t end until April 30. After that, the board would have a month to review the applications and select three finalists, who would be interviewed throughout June.

Current board policy says the interview process should include at least two public meetings “to allow members of the community and employees to meet with and submit questions to the finalists.” 

“I would like for us to be much more aggressive,” said board member Michelle McKissack, who was chair of the board when Ray resigned and is currently considering a run for Memphis mayor. “There are a pool of candidates that are out there, and they’ll be getting a lot of attention from a lot of school districts, so we want to make sure we have the opportunity to attract as many as we can.” 

Board member Kevin Woods also advocated for an accelerated search that would launch the bidding process to find a national search firm as quickly as possible. The proposed timeline says the board will start the process Dec. 1. 

District schedules community input sessions

Greene expressed willingness to adjust the timeline as needed, saying it will have to be flexible depending on how the search progresses.

She also emphasized her intent to involve the community throughout the process.

The last time the board was about to embark on a nationwide superintendent search, members changed course and hired Ray in April 2019. At the time, board members said they thought Ray, a longtime district employee who had been serving as interim superintendent for months, was an “exceedingly qualified candidate” and deemed a national search unnecessary given the cost and time it would take. 

Some Memphians disagreed with that decision, feeling the board should’ve widened its search before determining that Ray was the most qualified candidate. Memphis LIFT, a parent advocacy organization, led the charge against Ray’s appointment, and last week launched its own parent task force to give the board feedback on the next leader of MSCS.

Another prominent Memphis advocacy organization, MICAH, has publicly asked the board to hold at least two community input sessions. Greene said she decided the district needed to have four. The sessions are scheduled for:

  • Dec. 8, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Snowden School, hosted by school board members for Districts 1-3.
  • Dec. 15, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southwind High School, hosted by board members from Districts 4-6. 
  • Jan. 12, 2023, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Parkway Village Elementary, hosted by board members from Districts 7-9.
  • Jan. 21, from noon to 2 p.m. at the district offices.

A student input session is slated for Dec. 6, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. A location was not specified.

Greene also touted the community search committee, which will include her and Woods representing the board; a veteran MSCS teacher; and local advocacy groups and nonprofits including Memphis LIFT, Bridges, Literacy Mid-South, Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, MICAH, Memphis Education Fund, and Stand for Children. 

“I thought long and hard about members to serve on our community group,” Greene said. “I tried to touch every community group, because some of you have been doing this work for years — you’ve had your boots on the ground.”

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at swest@chalkbeat.org.

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