MSCS Supt. Dr. Joris Ray speaks at the kickoff of last month’s Leadership Symposium, which afforded hundreds of principals across Shelby County and the region to learn from top experts. (Photo: MSCS Twitter)
TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: “We need to throw the entire wish list of gun-control measures at this problem, including assault-weapon bans, ammunition magazine restrictions, red-flag laws, universal background checks, higher age restrictions for gun purchases and waiting periods.”

Let’s see, where do I start? 

Last week, we finally got a chance to see the academic progress our children made last school year as measured by our district’s TCAP results.

While we are indeed trending up as a school system, it is clear we still have “miles to go before we sleep.”  

But then this added news about allegations of sexual impropriety by our superintendent made the little enjoyment we might have experienced resulting from our children’s TCAP performance dissipate completely. 

What a mess!

Let’s start with the TCAP scores. 

MSCS used this online message to help promote the district’s TCAP results. (MSCS Twitter)

There is no question that the last two years have been difficult. It is indeed fair and accurate to describe those years as “unprecedented.”

Memphis-Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris Ray, I believe, has done a great job guiding our school system through one of the most challenging public health crises in our nation’s history. 

This year’s TCAP scores finally are trending in the right direction and seem to suggest that we are returning to pre-pandemic levels of normalcy.

But keep in mind that our children’s academic performance before the pandemic left a lot to be desired.  

We have simply returned to our usual level of subpar performance. Looking at it from that perspective, there is little to celebrate.

For example, in English for grades 3-5, we are right back where we started. In 2019, only 22.3 percent of students met grade-level standards, compared to 22.8 percent in 2022. 

In Math, 33.5 percent met grade-level standards in 2019, compared to only 17.4 percent in 2022. 

The numbers are similar in almost all other performance categories.

While we celebrate the 17 percent (in the example above), who met grade-level standards in math, on the flip side, a staggering 83 percent of our elementary children did not meet grade-level standards in mathematics.

Again, while the numbers this year were indeed trending up in several categories, they show, however, that the vast majority of the more than 110,000 students in our district are still performing below grade-level expectations.

The learning loss these gaps represent are almost never closed. The fact is, we have tens of thousands of children walking around our great city with an education level that sucks!

I understand the need to celebrate our successes, but when talking about TCAP scores, Superintendent Ray keeps using terms like “thrilled” and “unprecedented” when describing our students’ performance on the exams. 

Our school system is not, as he proclaims, “stronger than ever,” especially with an 11 percent success rate.

So, it doesn’t matter how we dress up our performance. We are still treading water at the bottom of the barrel. We have an awful long way to go to get to the top or to a respectable level of performance. 

Let’s keep things in perspective.

Urban education is an incredibly challenging field of work. Leadership is so very important. To succeed, our educators and our children need leaders they can trust, look up to, and respect. 

I applaud the superintendent and his team for the hard work they have put forward in guiding our school district through the pandemic and navigating all the challenges that accompany an urban school system during times of crisis. 

I have supported almost every decision the superintendent and his team have made to help keep our children safe and, at the same time, the teaching and learning process moving forward.

However, these latest allegations of impropriety against Superintendent Ray are extremely troubling. 

School board chair Michelle McKissack announced last week that an external investigation into those allegations is now underway. 

As if our school system doesn’t have enough to be concerned about, such allegations of impropriety can and will crush any momentum and credibility this administration may have earned over the past three years.  

The nature of these allegations in and of themselves, if true, is an indictment of Ray’s leadership. 

If he remains, his integrity will be forever suspect and will surely hamper his ability to lead our school system.

In his response to the allegations, Dr. Ray has assured us that his private actions have not broken any rules of conduct nor violated any district policies.

Running a school system is difficult enough without the nastiness of an investigation of this nature hanging over your head. But this is not a “there is nothing to see here” type situation. 

If the allegations of impropriety against Superintendent Ray are true, then we have an incredibly messy situation that must be quickly resolved quickly. 

To Supt. Ray, if the reported allegations are true, please resign, immediately, and spare the Memphis community the embarrassment of an investigation and all the drama that comes with it. 

If the allegations are NOT true, then fight as hard as you can to clear your name.

We trust you will make the right decision.

(Follow me on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected])