by Laura Testino —
Althea Greene will remain chair of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board for a second year as the district continues its search for a permanent superintendent, despite criticism of how she handled the initial search.
Greene received seven votes from the nine-member board. Board member Frank Johnson, who is recovering from a stroke, was not at Tuesday’s meeting. Newly-appointed member Mauricio Calvo voted “present.”
“I pray that my colleagues, that we will lead together,” Greene said Tuesday. “We will march together. We will disagree, but disagree together.”
Greene was first appointed to the board in 2019 and ran unopposed in 2020. She has been part of the leadership for most of her time on the board, serving two terms as vice chair alongside Michelle McKissack in 2021-22 and Miska Clay Bibbs the previous year. Her District 2 seat will be up for election next fall.
Joyce Dorse-Coleman, who is halfway through her second term as a board member, will remain the vice chair for another year.
“The work that I’ve done speaks for itself,” Dorse-Coleman said before the final vote. “That’s what I’m going to say. I’ve been dedicated.”
The vice chair election divided the board, which has strived to present a united front while it seeks a new district leader and develops a plan for its aging school buildings. Dorse-Coleman prevailed over the other nominee, Amber Huett-Garcia, after three rounds of voting. McKissack ultimately switched her vote to provide Dorse-Coleman the needed majority.
Greene’s reelection as chair signals that most board members still trust her leadership, despite some wavering last spring and calls for a change.
The board elected Greene “to finish a job that I know that she’s very focused on and seeing to completion,” McKissack said.
Explaining his “present” vote to Chalkbeat, Calvo said, “I read the news, and I know that the community and the public wants a different direction for the board.”
“We don’t have a great reputation,” he later added.
Greene oversaw the start of the district’s superintendent search in late 2022, along with search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. But after Hazard Young presented three finalists for the role at a meeting in April, Greene abruptly paused the search amid rancor over the selection process. Several top candidates withdrew their names from consideration.
Dorse-Coleman and another board member, Stephanie Love, took over for Greene as the search coordinators, and the board ended up rebooting the search in June, with a looser set of job requirements. Interim Superintendent Toni Williams, initially chosen as a finalist to take the post on a permanent basis, agreed not to pursue the post anymore.
New cleaning plan approved, but timing of transition is unclear
MSCS board members unanimously voted to move forward with a new custodial services plan, which will distribute the work among four cleaning vendors, and revamp the way those vendors are evaluated to include more regular input from school staff.
But the timing of the transition to the new plan, most recently set for December, is up in the air.
Board member Kevin Woods suggested a delay due to the disruption of business to the sole current vendor, Service Master Clean, which would share the work under the new plan. Three company leaders and an employee addressed the board in public comments Tuesday.
District officials will review their procurement procedures and consult with the vendors to see whether that’s appropriate, but it means the transition could be as late as July 1, 2024.
(Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at [email protected].)