In a special called meeting, our school board has voted unanimously to relieve Dr. Joris M. Ray of his responsibilities as superintendent of Memphis Shelby County Schools.
Ray was on paid leave as outside counsel investigated allegations of extramarital affairs with district employees.
Based on the trickles of information that leaked into the public sphere, it was clear from the beginning Dr. Ray would not survive this unfortunate situation.
The board meeting Tuesday night (Aug. 23) was filled to capacity. I sat in the overflow area. After waiting for more than an hour while the board conducted its regular business, we finally got to the part everyone had been waiting for.
Dr. Ray’s resignation was submitted and accepted by the board and thus ended his tenure as superintendent of Memphis-Shelby County Schools.
Moments after the board accepted his resignation, there was an eerie silence in the overflow area, no anger, no cheers, no emotions, just silence.
I commend our school board on the way this entire situation was managed. The investigation was conducted both quietly and professionally.
It was not the soap opera I expected.
Deal with school board ends run as superintendent
I have no interest, however, in rehashing the details leading up to this unfortunate moment. I’ll leave others to debate the particulars and circumstances we now find ourselves in.
Instead, I want to see the district move forward as quickly as possible.
What our school system needs right now is stable and competent leadership.
The search for a new superintendent, I’m sure, will begin immediately. But we should not have to look very far; our leadership for the future already is in place.
I want to once again recommend to our school board that they not rush to launch a national search for Dr. Ray’s replacement.
We have two very capable deputy superintendents, Dr. John Barker and Dr. Angela Whitelaw, who I believe would do an outstanding job leading our school district as co-superintendents.
We should keep the current leadership arrangement in place and build the support infrastructure around them that will keep our school system moving forward.
I understand the need for competent leadership, but we need stability as well.
So far, under the leadership of Dr. Whitelaw and Dr. Barker, our district seems to be off to a pretty good start, despite all the turmoil.
They have calmed the waters and point our school system in the right direction.
While such a leadership arrangement is unusual for an urban school district like ours, I believe we have two exceptionally talented leaders who could make it work.
They were both personally involved in developing the district’s strategic plan (Destination 2025), which is now in use to help improve operations and educational outcomes for our children.
They have an excellent personal and working relationship with each other, and by keeping them in place, we can continue to build on the progress from last year’s level 5 performance by our school system.
Not only that, but we’ll also get a chance to explore a different kind of leadership paradigm. To my knowledge, no other large urban school district in America is led by two co-superintendents.
It is a different and unique kind of leadership framework that can only work if you have two individuals like Dr. Barker and Dr. Whitelaw.
They both are deeply knowledgeable and experienced at their jobs. They communicate exceptionally well with each other. Allowing them to share superintendent responsibilities may help our district operate more efficiently.
So, before we get all hyped up and start making arrangements to launch a national search for a new superintendent, our board should at least consider allowing our two deputy superintendents to lead our district through the 2023-24 school year.
Evaluate them at the end of each school year. If our school system is not making progress and moving forward, then launch a nationwide search for new leadership.
But give them a fair chance to lead our district and implement the strategic plan for which they had a significant role in developing.
If we launch a national search, which we’ve done multiple times over the past two decades, the new leadership will want to develop their own strategic plan and essentially start all over again.
Right now, we need stability.
We have a plan. Let’s focus on its implementation. We’re pointed in the right direction. Let’s not get distracted and abandon ship so quickly.
We’re now faced with the kind of national attention no one enjoys. We must learn from this situation, close ranks, and keep moving forward.
As I have heard many times this year from district leaders, “We’re Trending Up!” Let’s try to keep it that way.
(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)