by Laura Testino —
The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board is rebooting its superintendent search, with plans to solicit fresh community input, invite new candidates, and hire a permanent leader in early 2024.
The move to restart the search could entice qualified candidates who experts say may have been repelled by a process that got derailed by discord among board members.
The new leader would start on or before July 1, potentially with a transition period concurrent with interim Superintendent Toni Williams, who received a contract extension Tuesday. Based on that timeline, the process to find a permanent successor to Joris Ray — who departed in August 2022 amid an investigation into alleged misconduct — will have taken nearly two years.
It’s the first time that the merged Memphis-Shelby County district has resolved to complete a national search since it was formed a decade ago. Ray and his predecessor, Dorsey Hopson, were both elevated from the interim post. Williams, who was named a finalist in April, withdrew from consideration as a condition of her contract extension.
Board members met on Wednesday with Max McGee, president of search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, to discuss how to proceed.
McGee commended the board’s “extraordinary” efforts to get the search back on track.
The board expects to relaunch a community engagement effort for the search, too, as a step toward mending strained relationships with community advocates who have grown frustrated with the board’s actions.
When they launched the national search in late 2022, board members promised a process that would help restore trust in district leadership. But the board began to fracture after the initial three finalists were named in April, and it paused the search for two months. Only recently did board members agree on a set of qualifications and nail down their policy on minimum requirements for the job.
Those qualifications will be reflected in the new rubric for candidates that McGee refined with board members on Wednesday. Existing candidates in the pool will have to reapply, including the two remaining top contenders. McGee suggested that the job be posted by Aug. 1.
“Today it is about us, united as a board, moving forward with HYA as we continue this journey to get the best leaders for the students of Memphis-Shelby County Schools,” said board Chair Althea Greene.
The new qualifications include:
- Strategic leadership on budget and finance
- Governance and board leadership
- Community advocate and politically savvy
- Courageous decision maker
- Attract, retain, and build capacity of a strong team
- Ability to positively impact culture and climate
- Dynamic, visionary, adaptive leader
- Proven track record of success
- Effective change management
- Strong academic visionary
Candidates will also have to meet the minimum job requirements set by board policy. The board relaxed those requirements this month to allow candidates with 10 years of work experience and an advanced degree in any of several fields, rather than just education.
Some board members raised concerns about the $19,000 price tag and longer timeline associated with restarting the search.
In a letter dated June 23, Hazard Young told board members it had developed a new finalist list after evaluating current candidates against the new criteria and would present it Wednesday. Amber Huett-Garcia asked at Wednesday’s meeting if the slate would be shared. But no new finalists were presented.
“We’re not using any names today,” said newly elected Vice Chair Joyce Dorse-Coleman.
Board member Kevin Woods, citing a vote made in mid-June, said, “We stated very publicly that we were going to open the search up for new candidates.”
(Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at [email protected].)