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A woman sitting at a dais speaks into a microphone above a sign reading “Memphis Shelby County Schools”

Memphis-Shelby County Schools board Chair Michelle McKissack handily won reelection on Thursday. She’s represented District 1 since 2018.

Ariel Cobbert for Chalkbeat

Memphis school board election: Two incumbents, union leader win

Two incumbents and two newcomers won election Thursday to the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board, according to unofficial results. 

Michelle McKissack, the board chair, and Joyce Dorse-Coleman both easily won second terms. Amber Huett-Garcia, who ran unopposed, and Keith Williams will be the board’s new faces. Williams, a union leader, prevailed in a crowded six-way race for one board seat.

The election comes at a critical time for Tennessee’s largest school district. The board could soon be facing decisions about district leadership as an external investigation into Superintendent Joris Ray continues. At the same time, educators across the city are preparing for another school year focused on COVID recovery efforts.

McKissack, who was first elected in 2018, will continue to represent District 1, which spans downtown Memphis and much of Midtown. She beat out Chris Caldwell, a former MSCS board member who lost his seat to McKissack in 2018, and Rachael Spriggs, a former Memphis educator who raised the most money of any candidate.

McKissack said Thursday evening that throughout her reelection campaign she was continually reminded of why she ran for school board in the first place — she wanted to help families and educators, listen to them, and bring their perspectives to the board. 

And that’s what McKissack says she plans to keep doing for the next four years — especially as the district builds on the momentum of this year’s improved state standardized test scores and continues its focus on improving early literacy.

“I am so honored to serve on the school board representing District 1,” she said. “I just feel wonderful that people had confidence in me and in my leadership going forward.”

Dorse-Coleman will also retain her spot on the board after overcoming challenger Rebecca Edwards, the founder of Cultural Arts for Everyone, an organization that provides diverse artistic experiences to underserved communities. Dorse-Coleman has represented District 9, which includes the Orange Mound neighborhood, since 2018. 

Williams, head of the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, the larger of Memphis’ two teachers unions, bested five candidates including incumbent Charles Everett, who Shelby County commissioners appointed to the board in March to fill Shante Avant’s District 6 seat. Williams, a longtime critic of Ray, began his teaching career in Knoxville in 1974 and has remained in the profession for the last four decades. He’ll represent District 6, which covers South Memphis, Riverside, Westwood, and Whitehaven, for the next four years.

Huett-Garcia ran unopposed in East Memphis’ District 8 after longtime board member Billy Orgel decided not to seek reelection. Huett-Garcia is a former MSCS teacher, former policy adviser to the Shelby County Office of Education, and a former director with the Tennessee Department of Education.

Meanwhile, the board is poised to lose two longtime board members later this month, with Huett-Garcia replacing Orgel and Miska Clay-Bibbs leaving the board to join the County Commission. Orgel has served on the board since 2011 and Bibbs joined in 2014.

New board members will be sworn in sometime in late August, district officials said Tuesday. It’s unclear whether the board will provide any updates on the external investigation into Ray before then.

The current school board voted 7-2 last month to place Ray on leave for the duration of an outside investigation into allegations that he had adulterous relationships with subordinates. Chalkbeat has since confirmed that Ray supervised at least two women his wife alleges he had affairs with in recent divorce filings.

McKissack said Thursday that former U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III, who is leading the investigation, is in the process of conducting interviews, sorting through documents, and gathering information. She still doesn’t have a timeline for how long the investigation will last or when the board will take action.

If the investigation has not concluded before the new board is sworn in, McKissack said she’ll “make sure that all the new board colleagues have been brought up to speed.”

Ahead of the election, the majority of school board candidates — including McKissack, Williams, and Huett-Garcia — broadly supported strengthening policies to hold the superintendent accountable. 

But Dorse-Coleman, who voted against the motion to put Ray on leave and formally launch the investigation, has not offered an explanation of her vote. At a Chalkbeat-sponsored candidate forum, Dorse-Coleman said: “Whatever decisions that we have to make, I don’t take them lightly.”

District 1 results
Winner Candidate Votes Percentage
Chris Caldwell 2,836 26.2%
Michelle McKissack 5,038 46.5%
Rachael Goodwin Spriggs 2,949 27.2%

District 6 results
Winner Candidate Votes Percentage
Charles Everett 1,822 15.7%
Tim Green 1,364 11.8%
Kenneth Lee 565 4.9%
David Page 436 3.8%
Tiffani Perry 2,529 21.8%
Keith Williams 4,874 42.1%

District 9 results
Winner Candidate Votes Percentage
Joyce Dorse-Coleman 4,821 59.0%
Rebecca Edwards 3,347 41.0%

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