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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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MSCS Superintendent search – the ‘drama’ continues!

TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers.

I am not the kind of person who likes to say, “I told you so.”

But I told you so!

It never fails, somehow or another “drama” has a way of finding a welcoming seat at the table when it comes to searching for a superintendent for our beloved Memphis-Shelby County Schools. 

Is it just me, or does the “search” process seem incredibly flawed at this point? 

First there were three (finalists), then there were seven, now there are four. 

My head, I’m certain, is not the only one spinning out of control right now. 

After watching Tuesday’s (April 18) work session, board members seem frustrated and unsure of what the next steps should be. 

The School Board is at a critical stage of the process, and clearly, board members are not happy with the four finalists left standing. 

And so, the finger-pointing is in hyper mode right now. We now have a process that is in total disarray. 

Based on concerns that are being publicly expressed by board members, key details about the search process and the criteria used to evaluate candidates are the central issues. 

While that is unacceptable, the blame rests squarely in the laps of board members, not the search firm. 

This is not the school board’s first time conducting a search for a superintendent. The district has been through this process multiple times over the last two decades or more. 

The School Board should have its own step-by-step playbook on how to manage this process successfully.

So right now, here’s where we stand.

First, board members cannot agree on where we are from a policy perspective with regards to the qualifications needed to be considered for the superintendent’s job. 

The policy in question dictates that superintendent candidates must have 10 years of education experience to be considered for the job. 

This is why some members of the board are ignoring policies that might disqualify certain candidates, namely Toni Williams. 

Some board members (not all) want the policies revised (or ignored) so Toni Williams can remain a finalist. 

In other words, they want to make the rules up as they go along. 

So now, we’re at a standstill.

There are now four finalists waiting to be vetted. 

Dr. Carlton Jenkins currently serves as superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a career educator whose experience includes a principalship and two superintendent positions. 

The Madison Metropolitan School District has 54 schools and serves just over 27,000 students. Thirty-six percent of MMSD students are economically disadvantaged, and only 18 percent of the district’s enrollment is African American.

Earlier this year, Dr. Jenkins announced his retirement from the Madison Metropolitan School District, effective at the end of this school year. 

According to reports, Dr. Jenkins decided to retire “so he could spend more time with his family.”

He now wants to suspend his plans for retirement and lead one of the largest, most challenging urban school systems in the nation. 

Keith Miles Jr. is superintendent of Bridgeton Public Schools in Bridgeton, New Jersey. A career educator, he has served as superintendent of schools, an assistant superintendent, a high school principal, and World Language and STEM instructor. 

Dr. Angela Whitelaw currently serves Memphis-Shelby County Schools as the deputy superintendent of Schools and Academic Support.

The departments falling under her leadership include Academics, Strategy and Performance Management, Student, Family and Community Affairs, Academic Operations and School Support, and Research and Accountability.

She is highly qualified. 

In her years of service in Memphis-Shelby County Schools, she has served as Chief of Schools, Assistant Superintendent of Schools and Leadership, Instructional Leadership Director, Southwest Regional Coordinator, Principal, Assistant Principal, and Instructional Resource Teacher. 

Toni Williams, MSCS interim superintendent, has been involved in an extensive interview process while leading this school system after the departure of Joris Ray. Thus far she has done a pretty good job. 

So where do we go from here? 

The board wants to suspend the search process until it receives more information about the candidate pool and their concerns about the process (which are many) have been sufficiently addressed. 

But I have the solution and it’s not complicated. 

First, go ahead and revise the policy so Toni Williams can be considered along with the other three candidates. 

If the board refuses to change the policy, then she needs to withdraw from consideration because she does not qualify under current board policy. 

While it is going to be messy and highly controversial, the board needs to go ahead and get that piece of business out of the way while we are at a pause in the process.

The other three candidates meet board policy and so the process can now move forward. 

Second, restart the interview process with the four finalists and choose the person who will lead our beloved Memphis Shelby County Schools into the future. 

As I alluded to earlier, we seem incapable of running a clean, drama-free superintendent search process without some degree of “drama” tagging along. 

So, let’s just hold on and enjoy the ride as we head towards the finish line. 

It’s going to be a bumpy one!

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


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