The search for a new superintendent for Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS) seems to be off to a pretty good start. I like the selection process and I love all of the public discourse.
Plenty of people have opinions about how the process should unfold, including yours truly.
Full disclosure: I am no fan of national searches for superintendents, especially for MSCS-sized schools. Past results have never justified the cost.
Our school district is a billion-dollar entity, with almost 14,000 employees. We should not have to look elsewhere for leadership. We should be growing and nurturing our own.
Within our community, we have the resources and wherewithal to find, nurture and produce a plethora of executive leaders capable of leading the district.
I refuse to believe that out of all the educators and leaders born and raised in Memphis we cannot find someone “homegrown” capable of successfully leading our school system.
I had an opportunity to chat last week with MSCS School Board Chair Althea Greene. I learned she is not opposed to choosing someone local to lead our system but wants to make sure we check all of the boxes in our efforts to find the next superintendent.
“I believe what we need is actually right here in our community,” Greene said. “And I say that because MSCS is unique in its makeup, and Shelby County is unique.
“So, I know we’re doing a national search, and people will probably apply from all over the United States, but I pray that what we need will come out of our community.”
Be advised, I am cheering for the home team. If it doesn’t pan out, I will enthusiastically support whomever the board chooses.
School board chair Greene and our school board are committed to picking the best candidate available, whether that candidate is from outside of Memphis Shelby County Schools or employed by the district.
Interim Supt. Toni Williams is engaged in a perfect job interview process. She will be under a microscope for the entire school year, subject to one monumental challenge after the other. Thus far, according to Greene, she is doing an excellent job.
“I have been sitting in the background watching our interim superintendent, and she has exceeded all of my expectations,” Greene said. “She is out in the community, eating lunch with the students, building relationships, repairing some bridges that were knocked down by past administrations….”
And, Greene is no longer opposed to Williams tossing her hat into the ring.
“No, she can apply just like anyone else,” said Greene. “I am retracting what I said before. She has done such an outstanding job, and I would not want to hinder her from applying. She is more than welcome to apply, and I say that with all transparency.”
So, with Toni Williams doing a great job as interim superintendent, why should she be replaced with an unknown and maybe unproven candidate?
It does not make sense, Memphis!
At the end of a search process and there are three top candidates, with one from Memphis, I would be inclined to pick the Memphis candidate every time.
The board has launched the MSCS Super Search website, which includes a feedback form, timeline and a few frequently asked questions. In conjunction, the board also has started hosting community input sessions.
On Thursday (Dec. 8), I attended the first session at Snowden Middle School. While I was slightly disappointed in the crowd size, I was encouraged by the comments shared by parents, principals, teachers, and community members.
Those attending the session wanted what we all want in our superintendent: someone the community can “trust,” supports teachers, listens with an open mind, and shows “genuine” concern and love for our children.
Those in the audience made it clear that while superintendents matter, the real heavy lifting in a child’s education is done by the parents, classroom teachers, and the principal leadership – in that order.
The community sessions, including one scheduled for a Saturday to accommodate those who work during the week, will continue into the new year. For a full listing of meeting times and locations, visit mscssupersearch.com.
I look forward to the remaining sessions. I hope to see more people in attendance. This is an important process.
Public input is greatly needed.
(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)