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Sunday, April 14, 2024

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To Memphis Shelby County Schools’ New Superintendent: “Welcome to Memphis!”

Finally, we have a new school superintendent for Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS).  Welcome to Memphis, Dr. Marie Feagins; we wish you great success in your journey to create a successful school system in our great city.  

TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers

The process of getting to this point was a long and arduous journey that lasted over a year and involved two rounds of searching.  But, hopefully, the final outcome will be worth all the anxiety and frustrations the community has had to endure.  

Although only two-thirds of the board voted in her favor during the first round, I was glad to see that during the second round, members agreed amongst themselves to make the final vote unanimous.  

So what do we know about Dr. Feagins?  

Dr. Feagins comes to MSCS with a rich background in urban education.  She started her education career in Alabama, served as a principal in Cleveland, Ohio, and is currently Chief of High Schools and Leadership Development for Detroit Public Schools.  That’s the short list of accomplishments.  

She holds a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Samford University, an Education Specialist/Master of Education in School Counseling from the University of West Alabama, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Alabama, and a Certificate in Education Finance from Georgetown University​​.

Her experience suggests that she has a deep understanding of urban education, a commitment to equity, and a vision for academic excellence.  She also strongly advocates for more mentors and resources at the school level.

In the Detroit school system, she was noted for her work in improving district graduation rates.  Her “whole-soul” leadership style has been credited with sparking growth across high schools in Detroit, reflecting both improved student achievement and staff accomplishments in the classroom. 

As superintendent here in Memphis, Dr. Feagins will face many challenges, including budget woes, poor performance on state assessments, teacher recruitment, juvenile crime, student attendance, and the lack of parental involvement, just to name a few.  But her biggest challenge, of course, will be improving academic achievement across all grade levels.  

I am anxious to see her plans take shape and unfold in the years to come.  

During her interviews, Dr. Feagins expressed a belief in the importance of public education and the critical role of leadership in the success of public schools, advocating for a more collaborative approach to enhancing the educational landscape in Memphis and Shelby County.  

Dr. Feagins will officially begin her tenure as superintendent after the close of the 2023-24 school year, taking over from interim Superintendent Toni Williams, who has led MSCS for the last two years following the resignation of former superintendent Joris Ray.  

I have nothing but great respect and gratitude for interim superintendent Williams.  She has done an outstanding job holding down the fort over the last two years, and I’m sure she will do everything in her power to help Dr. Feagins successfully transition into her new role.  Although I believe the superintendent’s job should have been hers, I sincerely hope she decides to return to her previous role and help Dr. Feagins create a dynamic leadership team.  I’m sure her stint as superintendent has enriched her career, and she will be an invaluable team member going forward.  

Both the Detroit Public School District and Memphis-Shelby County Schools share similarities as large urban school systems facing comparable challenges.  MSCS is the 23rd largest school district in the United States and the largest in Tennessee, twice the size of Dr. Feagins’ Detroit school system.  Thus, she can expect the challenges here in Memphis to be twice as large as well.  

While I haven’t observed a lot of pomp and circumstance around her selection, her lack of prior superintendent experience has raised concerns for some.  But her fresh perspective as an outsider and her experience with many of the challenges facing Memphis Shelby County Schools will undoubtedly be a very important advantage going forward.

Dr. Feagins appears to be a good choice for Memphis Shelby County Schools.  Of course, how she performs as superintendent here in Memphis remains to be seen.  Her success will depend on her ability to address the district’s many challenges and build trust with community stakeholders.  While I’m sure she doesn’t have the answers to all of what ails Memphis Shelby County Schools, with her background and experience, she comes well-equipped to help our school system get to the right answers.  

So again, congratulations, Dr. Feagins, we are here to support you.  We will do all we can to help you succeed.

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