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40 Memphis schools will get new principals in district shakeup

Man sits behind podium with his arms crossed

Superintendent Joris Ray announced extensive personnel changes during a Tuesday school board meeting, including two new cabinet appointments, 15 central office hires, and 40 new principals.

Ariel Cobbert for Chalkbeat

Nearly two in 10 Memphis schools will get new principals next school year, as Tennessee’s largest school district accelerates a district-wide restructuring that began last summer.

Superintendent Joris Ray announced the extensive personnel changes during a three-hour school board meeting Tuesday. The changes include two new appointments to Ray’s cabinet, 15 central office hires, and 40 new principals.

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Ray said he hopes the appointments will help improve and sustain academic performance across Memphis-Shelby County Schools in the next school year.

“The best is yet to come this school year,” he said.

This round of restructuring, coming a week after a gunman killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, also includes three new leaders in the district’s department of safety and security.

The district has been making personnel changes since Ray launched the restructuring initiative last summer. In the spring, MSCS announced that teachers at Kingsbury and Hamilton High Schools and Airways Achievement Academy must reapply for their jobs in order to return next school year, a move that has stirred controversy across Memphis. Last summer, he announced the hiring of about 25 new principals, in addition to a host of internal administrative promotions.

The most recent wave of restructuring appears to be Ray’s most far-reaching step toward the goals he’s set since taking the helm of the district, like boosting early literacy and improving students’ overall academic performance. 

Many of the new principal appointments are the result of reshuffling due to the consolidation of several schools and the addition of three schools the district gets back from the state’s Achievement School District next year.

Among the other appointments announced Tuesday were two additions to Ray’s cabinet: Cathryn Stout, Chalkbeat Tennessee’s bureau chief, has been named the district’s next chief of communications. She will replace Jerica Phillips, who recently left the district for a position at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Stout’s last day at Chalkbeat is Monday; her first day at MSCS is June 13. 

Carolyn Jackson will also officially join Ray’s cabinet as the district’s chief of safety and security. She has served as the interim chief since Gerald Darling retired from the role in January. 

Other new central office hires include:

  • Greg Sanders, deputy chief of safety and security
  • Terrence Riley, director of security
  • Lakira Elliot, director of safety
  • Docia Generette-Walker, assistant superintendent of high schools
  • Daniel Jack, assistant superintendent of middle schools
  • Amie Marsh, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction
  • Tracie Scott, assistant superintendent of professional learning and support
  • Terrence Brittenum, instructional leadership director
  • Yvette Renfroe, instructional leadership director
  • Phyllis Jones, instructional leadership director
  • Ronald Schuyler, central office leadership support
  • Robert Davis II, educational technology director
  • Lashanda Fason, director of early literacy
  • Keenan Sloan, director of high school innovation
  • Rod Peterson, director of human resources strategic placement

And the 40 new principals announced Tuesday are: 

  • Shenise Anderson, AB Hill Elementary
  • Eureka McAfee, Alcy Elementary
  • Erika Lowe, Balmoral-Ridgeway Elementary
  • Tonya Miller, Cordova Elementary
  • Tiffany Curry, Crump Elementary
  • Jacqueline Brown Lewis, Double Tree Elementary
  • DeAngela Graham, Frayser/Corning Elementary
  • Derrick McIntosh, Georgian Hills Elementary
  • Krystal Bledsoe, Hickory Ridge Elementary
  • Tia James, Keystone Elementary
  • Staci Hendrix, LaRose Elementary
  • Michael Gee, Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Nicholas Dominquez, Macon Hall Elementary
  • Taurus Hines, Rozelle Elementary
  • Vonda Beaty, Whitney Elementary
  • James Patton, Winchester Elementary
  • Patrick Certion, Dexter K-8
  • Quay Jackson-Porter, Hamilton K-8
  • Leslie Banks, A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Larissa Jackson, American Way Middle
  • Kamiah Turner, Colonial Middle
  • Christopher Hardiman, Cordova Middle
  • LaKeisha Haywood, Craigmont Middle
  • James Gordon, Hickory Ridge Middle
  • Danielle Berry-Leach, Mt. Pisgah Middle
  • Dione Curry, Raleigh Egypt Middle
  • Kimberly Shaw, Ridgeway Middle
  • Markenston Jean-Louis, Sherwood Middle
  • Brandon Hill, Treadwell Middle
  • Willie Bolden, Woodstock Middle
  • Brandon Poyner, Bolton High
  • Pamela McKinley, East High
  • Jon Stencel, Germantown High
  • Derrick Hardaway, Melrose High
  • Phillip Nelson, Ridgeway High
  • John Bush, Southwind High
  • LaTonja Robinson, Wooddale High
  • Charisse Wooding, Kingsbury Career and Technical Center
  • Timothy Batts, Sheffield Career and Technical Center
  • William Taylor, Southwest Career and Technical Center

Board rejects controversial custodial services contract

The school board also rejected a $34.4 million custodial services contract on Tuesday, after several board members voiced longstanding concerns with the cleanliness of school buildings.

Board members voted 4-2 against the proposed four-year contract with ServiceMaster Clean, a commercial cleaning company that currently has two franchises serving the district. Board Chair Michelle McKissack and member Kevin Woods were the two who voted to approve the contract. Board members Billy Orgel, Sheleah Harris, and Miska Clay-Bibbs were not present.

The discussion of the contract has rekindled debate about whether the district should bring cleaning services back in-house.

The board first outsourced custodial services nearly a decade ago to cut costs during the merger of Memphis City Schools with suburban Shelby County Schools. The move saved the district about $12 million at the time, but it resulted in pay cuts for Memphis City Schools’ custodial employees.

During an April school board work session and a May committee meeting, board members questioned why administrators would recommend they continue working with any ServiceMaster operation when many in the community had expressed frustration with school buildings not being properly cleaned and employees not being paid a living wage.

But Ray on Tuesday said he believed the proposed $34 million contract — a 30% jump from this year’s nearly $26 million contract — would address those issues. The increased investment from the district would allow ServiceMaster Clean to boost the base pay rate for employees to $15 per hour from $10 hour. With higher wages, Ray said, the district could see less turnover and, in turn, cleaner schools.

Addressing the board during public comment, LaQuanta Lee, a ServiceMaster Clean employee, said she feels a raise is well deserved — and needed because of inflation.

Lee said she and other school custodial workers come into contact with children’s feces, urine, vomit, and blood. Amid the pandemic, they faced heightened COVID risk, cleaning school buildings and sometimes helping take care of sick children.

“There’s no way we can honestly keep surviving off of $12,” Lee said, referring to her hourly wage. “Twelve dollars is plenty of money for a teenager, but for the grown men and women who have bills, it’s hard on us.” 

Ray also emphasized that the boost to the minimum wage would increase the household income of custodial employees, 85% of whom are minority women, and many of whom have children or other family members in the district. He said that if board members didn’t approve the new contract, the current one would remain in place and wages would likely remain stagnant.

“This is an opportunity for Memphis-Shelby County Schools to step up and do the right thing for our custodial workers,” he said. “Many of them are the breadwinners of their home.” 

Four board members disagreed, though. After the vote, board member Althea Greene said she voted against the contract because she has too many outstanding questions, and said she would like to see the contract come back before the board during its June meeting.

McKissack, who voted in favor of the contract because she supported the wage increase and believed administrators could ensure higher standards for cleaning in the future, said she would consider adding the contract to the June agenda.

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” she said. “I’m in favor of giving those employees what they deserve.” 

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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