Curtis Weathers: The job of a principal is difficult and challenging during normal times, much less during the unprecedented era of a COVID-19 pandemic. When new principals come on board, building culture, systems and processes suited to the new leadership takes time. We certainly hope these new appointees are up to the task and can improve their schools’ performance.
TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers

A few weeks ago, the Memphis Shelby County Schools announced it was replacing 40 of the school system’s elementary, middle, and high school principals.

I was shocked when I first heard the news.

This is unprecedented, and being a former principal, I know how contentious and disruptive such a process can become.

This past year, MSCS Supt. Dr. Joris Ray launched a comprehensive restructuring initiative that included fresh-starting three schools (Kingsbury, Hamilton, and Airways), restructuring his executive staff, and now replacing 40 school principals. 

Oh, and remember, the district already had replaced 25 principals the previous school year. 

So, over the last two years, 65 principals have been replaced in the Memphis Shelby County Schools. 

That is about one-fourth of your entire principal leadership that Dr. Ray and his team deemed unfit to lead their schools. 

It is indeed rare that a school system would replace that many principals over a two-year span.

There hasn’t been a lot of pomp and circumstance around this announcement but make no mistake about it, this was a significant move by Supt. Ray and his executive team. 

The movement of school leadership of this magnitude, to my knowledge, is extraordinary.

I could not help but wonder why such a large number of principals were being replaced at this particular time. 

And when I saw the list of schools that were losing their leaders, my curiosity grew more. 

But the district is saying little about the principals being replaced. We have learned that some of the new appointments are the result of reshuffling due to the consolidation of several district schools. 

Other than that, we really do not know if some of these principals are retiring, being demoted, or even fired. 

I would like to believe that these individuals being replaced were informed at the start of the school year that their jobs were in jeopardy. 

While I have not seen (TCAP) data pertaining to the schools these principals oversaw, one must assume that their results this year were not particularly good. 

The job of a principal is difficult and challenging during normal times, much less during the unprecedented era of a COVID-19 pandemic. 

When new principals come on board, building culture, systems and processes suited to the new leadership takes time.

We certainly hope these new appointees are up to the task and can improve their schools’ performance. 

There is, of course, the issue of what to do with the replaced principals. Do they go back to the classroom? Do you place them in other schools in lower-level positions? Are they disgruntling? 

Sometimes principals harbor ill feelings after they are relieved of their duties, which makes their subsequent placement in the system potentially troublesome. They can sometimes be a disruptive element in another principal’s building. 

Ray is under fire from parent organizations who have asked for his resignation. They cite, among other things, low test scores and an administration that is too top-heavy. 

The district is fully aware of how important this year’s TCAP scores are. “I do not want my legacy to be a failing legacy,” Ray said in May 2021. 

However, he has shared with board members that this year’s scores make him “cautiously optimistic.”

District scores will be released to the public in July, and this year will carry the weight of state accountability. 

With all the hiring and firing taking place inside the district, it is clear we are witnessing a significant “shake-up” within the Memphis Shelby County Schools. 

While Dr. Ray has only been on the job for a brief period, he certainly has the right to his own hand-picked principals and executive team members. 

With this move – another 40 new principals – along with his Fresh Start initiative, and all the changes being made to his administrative team, he is clearly building an organization loyal to and in tune with his style of leadership. 

I actually am intrigued by how he is going about this process. He has been very methodical, although sometimes things feel somewhat chaotic (like now). 

The district hopes the appointments and all the reshuffling will help improve and sustain academic performance across Memphis-Shelby County Schools in the next school year and beyond.

According to Ray, “The best is yet to come….”

Let us pray for his success. He is going to need it.

(Follow me on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected])