TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: "The top issues facing Memphis residents are crime, education and jobs. While each issue is interconnected, pulling together a plan to address all three will be a challenge for our new mayor."
TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers.

The city of Memphis mayoral race is heating up. The candidate pool is crowded with 17 individuals trying to convince Memphis citizens that they have the leadership wherewithal to turn this city around.

Strong leadership is a critical need in our city right now. The citizens of Memphis are in the process of filling two crucial leadership positions – superintendent of the largest school system in Tennessee and mayor of the second-largest city in Tennessee.

And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The top issues facing Memphis residents are crime, education and jobs. While each issue is interconnected, pulling together a plan to address all three will be a challenge for our new mayor.

The person elected will hold the unenvious distinction of being mayor of “The Most Dangerous City in America.”

The Memphis-Shelby County School Board is in the middle of a nationwide search for a strong and effective leader to serve as its school superintendent.

With this new leadership, we have an opportunity to create a fresh and dynamic partnership between the city of Memphis, school systems in Memphis and Shelby County, and the city’s law enforcement community.

It is my hope that our leaders (mayor, superintendents, chief of police), whomever they might be, will come together with other key leaders and create a comprehensive plan to address the many challenges facing our great city.

We have several candidates who are more than capable of leading our city as mayor, some with strong educational backgrounds and experience, i.e., former mayor and school superintendent Dr. Willie W. Herenton and former school board chairperson Michelle McKissack.

While it is true that the city mayor has no direct power over public schools, the relationship and collaboration between these entities need to be strengthened.

I keep listening for one of the candidates to outline the elements of such a relationship, but I have yet to hear it fully addressed.

I’ve listened to and read all their plans for how they will improve our city. Most of their ideas, especially those related to education, are piecemeal, a scattering of assertions that lack cohesiveness and coherence to a larger plan.

We need a Community Summit!

 While the three areas most in need of attention in our community are crime, jobs and education, the area of education is central to addressing the other two.

They are all interrelated.

This is why the leadership in all three areas should come together and create a coherent plan that outlines how each entity will support the other.

Any strategies to reduce crime in our city should include our education systems and business community as partners.

The educational landscape in Memphis is splintered, to say the least. It includes a growing sector of charter schools, a state-run Achievement School District, and six suburban school districts.

The city has the highest concentration of low-performing schools in the state. While coordinated efforts may be underway at the state, county, and among the philanthropic community to turn our schools around, most people are unaware of what those efforts might entail.

I’m fully aware that the city mayor has no direct power over public schools. They each, however, along with law enforcement and the business community, have a common interest – the health and well-being of the citizens of Memphis.

While it’s important to note that the relationship between education and crime is complex and influenced by a range of ifactors, research generally suggests that effective schools and higher levels of education are associated with lower levels of crime.

A comprehensive approach to crime prevention should consider a combination of factors, including education, social services, community support, and economic opportunities, to effectively address the complex nature of criminal behavior.

But I’m not naive; while education can play a crucial role in reducing crime, it is still just one piece of the puzzle, and while employment can be a significant deterrent to crime, neither of these is a panacea for all crime-related issues.

We need a Community Summit that brings together key stakeholders willing to work together to address crime issues, improve our schools, and bring jobs to our great city.

So, maybe this year, once we have a new superintendent in place and a new mayor, we can get with our relatively new police chief along with key business and nonprofit leaders and construct a comprehensive plan (together) to improve our city.

(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)