59.1 F
Saturday, April 20, 2024

Buy now


COMMENTARY: Our school board is missing a great opportunity!

TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers

A few weeks ago, Dr. Joris Ray resigned as superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS), and the school board ended the investigation into whether he violated district policy by having inappropriate relationships with district employees. 

The board also just recently approved a severance package for Dr. Ray worth more than a half-million dollars, raising eyebrows throughout the community.

Tuesday (Aug. 30) night, the MSCS school board took another transitional step away from the leadership of Dr. Ray to the new interim leadership of Dr. Toni Williams. 

BREAKING NEWS: CFO Toni Williams lands interim superintendent slot

Dr. Williams will replace Dr. John Barker and Dr. Angela Whitelaw, who were serving as interim co-superintendents. Dr. Williams will serve in that capacity until the district, through a national search, finds a permanent superintendent to lead Memphis-Shelby County Schools.

Surprisingly, the board wanted the interim superintendent to be someone “not interested in the job” permanently. This, supposedly, is paving a path forward for local candidates to apply for the position. 

The announcement of an interim superintendent was the next step in the school board’s effort to find new leadership and restore the public’s trust in our school system. 

This also was the current school board’s final decision as a group; the newly established board will begin its work Thursday (Sept. 1) week with two brand new members starting their terms in office.

Over the last several weeks, I have shared my preference for a new leadership paradigm that involves two co-superintendents at the top of the leadership pyramid. 

I will not repeat all the details supporting my suggestions, just that I believe we already have the leadership in place (or had the leadership in place) needed to maintain the consistency and stability our district desperately needs moving forward. 

In summary, my recommendation was that the Memphis Shelby County Schools promote Dr. Barker and Dr. Whitelaw to the position of co-superintendents and continue the work that got our school system to a level 5 performance in 2022. 

Someone asked me last week if I had shared my idea with Dr. Barker and Dr. Whitelaw before presenting it to the public. 

Well, the answer is “no.”  But I have not received any emails or text messages saying “stop the nonsense” either. At least not from Dr. Barker or Dr. Whitelaw. 

The board had a situation in 2019 like what we are dealing with today, and we might use those circumstances to inform our decision-making going forward. 

If you recall, Dr. Ray was named superintendent in 2019 after our school board decided against doing a national search. Board members said at the time that Dr. Ray, who had been serving in the interim position for months, was an “exceedingly qualified candidate” and that a national search would be unnecessary.

I think the same can be said for Dr. Whitelaw and Dr. Barker. They both are “exceedingly qualified,” and a national search is simply unnecessary. 

Instead, our school board and many advocacy groups in Memphis are anxious to launch a national search for a new superintendent. 

Board Chair Michelle McKissack made it emphatically clear after Tuesday’s board meeting that the school system will “definitely be conducting a national search.” 

Michelle McKissack addressed the media as MSCS Board chair after the unanimous vote to name CFO Tutonial “Toni” Williams the interim superintendent. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

The school board is free, of course, to shop for new leadership whenever and wherever it pleases. 

A new superintendent will surely want to bring in their own people and create systems and processes that suit their management style. 

That, in and of itself, will create a certain amount of disruption. 

My fear is that the search for and installation of new leadership at the top of the organization will create disruptions that will take time to adjust to, and we will lose the momentum and stability that is so hard to come by in urban school systems like ours. 

MSCS Chief Financial Officer Tutonial “Toni” Williams made intermingling with students a key element on her first full day as interim superintendent. (Photo: MSCS Twitter)

Nevertheless, I want to extend my sincere congratulations to Dr. Toni Williams for being chosen to lead our school system at this time.

I do not know her personally, but people have profound respect for her leadership. I will be praying for her success as she tackles the work of leading our school system over the weeks and months ahead. 

The transitional work that lays ahead will be significant and quite a distraction. Dr. Williams, however, will have a pretty good team supporting her. Our educators will need our support and prayers, especially the teachers and administrators in our schools. 

Speaking of teachers in our schools, I want to congratulate Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year, Memphis-Shelby County Schools’ very own Dr. Melissa Collins from John P. Freeman Elementary School. What a great honor! Keep up the GREAT work!

(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at curtislweathers@gmail.com.)

Related Articles

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest News