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MSCS board speeds up superintendent search, unveils new website

A student wearing a red shirt and protective mask raises his hand in an elementary school classroom.

Aside from the new hiring deadline, the new timeline for the Memphis-Shelby County Schools superintendent search remains largely the same.

Joe Rondone / The Commercial Appeal

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board on Thursday announced a sped-up timeline for its superintendent search and launched a website to give the public more visibility into the process.

The new timeline calls for the board to name the next leader of Tennessee’s largest school district by April 2023 — several months sooner than initially proposed last month. The new superintendent would start between May and July, at least a month before the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Several board members had advocated for an accelerated search process in order to attract the best candidates and allow the next superintendent more time to transition into the role. 

Board members also pushed to begin the bidding process sooner to select a search firm to help find the new superintendent. A request for qualifications to screen potential search firms is now live on the district’s website, with a deadline of noon Dec. 21.

Aside from the new hiring deadline, the search timeline remains largely the same as the one board Chair Althea Greene presented last month: MSCS will begin hosting community input sessions and surveying residents next week, and, based on the feedback they provide, the selected search firm will build a profile for the desired superintendent and launch the search in February. The updated timeline appears on the new Super Search site, along with an FAQ page.

Greene’s plans for collecting community input also remain largely unchanged, though the new schedule trades one in-person public input session in favor of a virtual event for parent-teacher organizations and associations. That session will be held Jan. 3, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

“It is critical to this board that we receive robust feedback from the community regarding key characteristics and goals for this position,” Greene said in a news release Thursday.

During the last superintendent vacancy in 2019, the board was about to embark on a nationwide search, but board members changed course and hired Joris Ray. At the time, board members said they thought Ray, a career district employee who had already 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.

Ray resigned in August amid an investigation into whether he violated district policies on personal relationships with employees.

Some groups argued the district should’ve widened its search before deciding on Ray, and they’re pushing for a more robust process to find his successor.

Memphis LIFT, a parent advocacy organization, led the charge against Ray’s appointment. This time, Memphis LIFT executive director Sarah Carpenter is slated to become a member of the board’s advisory search committee, and the organization started its own parent task force to inform Carpenter’s feedback to the board. The MSCS board will finalize the makeup of the advisory committee during its next scheduled board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

MICAH, another prominent Memphis advocacy organization, wanted the MSCS board to host at least two community input sessions to inform the search. The board will have three, scheduled for the following times: 

  • Dec. 8, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Snowden School, hosted by school board members for Districts 1-3.
  • Dec. 15, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Southwind High School, hosted by board members from Districts 4-6. 
  • Jan. 21, from noon to 2 p.m. at the district offices.

In addition, a student input session is slated for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Tuesday at an unspecified location, and the district will launch a stakeholder survey of educators and parents, as well as business and nonprofit leaders, on Dec. 15 to be available on the website.

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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