Movers and shakers

Community organizer named leader of Nashville parent engagement group

PHOTO: Project Renaissance
Parents collaborate at a 2016 Nashville Rise training event.

An education group backed by former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has tapped a community organizer from a national black advocacy group to spearhead its parent engagement efforts in Nashville.

Neonta Williams will be the new director of Nashville Rise, according to an announcement Monday by Project Renaissance, a nonprofit group formed in 2014 with the goal of increasing the number of Nashville students in high-performing schools.

Williams has worked for two years in Alabama and Tennessee as a community organizer with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, or BAEO, which promotes school choice. She moved to Nashville last February and stayed with the national group after its Tennessee chapter broke off in June to form the Memphis-based Campaign for School Equity.

Neonta Williams

In Nashville, Williams has focused on building relationships with clergy and said Monday she’s excited to reach out to families across Davidson County. “Parents should be informed and engaged about what’s going on in their child’s education,” she said. “Our goal is for parents to be the child’s first advocate.”

Project Renaissance started Nashville Rise last year and reports that its parents group now has 100 parent leaders and 500 members. As its director, Williams will help oversee parent advocacy trainings and build relationships with community partners.

Parent advocacy organizations are a growing part of the public education landscape across America, where research increasingly ties parental engagement with academic improvement. Many groups are aligned with the school-choice movement, advocating for charter schools and, in some cases, tuition vouchers to attend private schools.

Memphis has Memphis Lift, which kicked off in 2015 with the help of Natasha Kamrani, director of Tennessee’s chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and the wife of Chris Barbic, founding superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District.

Movers and shakers

Memphis Raleigh-Egypt principal will return to Bolton High School

PHOTO: Daarel Burnette II
James "Bo" Griffin, who became principal of Raleigh-Egypt High School in 2014, will return to Bolton High School as its leader.

A principal who shepherded academic growth at a high-profile Memphis school will return to the school where he previously served as assistant principal.

James “Bo” Griffin has been tapped to lead Bolton High School after completing this school year at Raleigh-Egypt Middle-High School, a spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools confirmed Wednesday.

District leaders have not yet announced his replacement at Raleigh-Egypt, which is set to enter the Innovation Zone this fall. Schools that join the district’s turnaround program often undergo major leadership and staffing changes.

Griffin took the helm of Raleigh-Egypt High in 2014 just as the state-run Achievement School District announced it would take over the high school because of chronically low test scores. Within the year, the school boasted some of the biggest gains in the district, sparing it from eligibility for state intervention.

Last fall, he led the school as middle school grades were added in response to the ASD’s takeover of the adjacent Raleigh-Egypt Middle. The changes created a unique campus with two schools run by separate districts.

Griffin was an administrator at Bolton High before coming to Raleigh-Egypt. His return there was decided before the district’s decision to transition Raleigh-Egypt to the iZone, said spokeswoman Natalia Powers.

He replaces Bolton High Principal Chad Stevens, whose removal sparked parent and student protest.

familiar face

Former interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather ‘discussing’ new role in Detroit district under superintendent Nikolai Vitti

New Detroit superintendent Nikolai Vitti greets principals and job applicants with former Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather at a district job fair.

When Nikolai Vitti worked a teacher hiring fair Tuesday night, the new Detroit superintendent brought a partner — a familiar face — to stand beside him.

It was Vitti’s first full day running the Detroit Public Schools Community District. And although he was the new guy in a room full of school principals, administrators and job applicants, he stood side-by-side with someone more well-known: Alycia Meriweather, the district veteran who served for 14 months as interim superintendent until Vitti took over this week.

Whether Meriweather’s presence at the hiring fair suggests a permanent role for her in Vitti’s administration hasn’t yet been decided, she said. “We’re discussing that right now. He has made it clear that there is a position for me and, right now, it’s just a matter of me having further dialog with him about what that might look like and figure out if it’s a good fit for me.”

The news of Meriweather possibly staying on in the district could be comforting to the teachers and staff who strongly urged the school board to consider Meriweather for the permanent post. Teachers circulated petitions and protested outside a board meeting during a finalist interview after Meriweather was dropped from consideration.

For now, Meriweather is officially a senior advisor to Vitti — a role that will last at least until the end of June.

“My main focus right now is making sure this transition is as smooth as possible,” Meriweather told Chalkbeat. “Dr. Vitti and I have had really good conversations. I think we see things very similarly and he’s made it very clear that his intention is to build on the work that’s been done, which is very affirming and encouraging.”

For now, Meriweather, who is a graduate of the district and has worked in Detroit as a classroom teacher and administrator throughout her career, said she’s focused on a smooth transition.

“I really, at the heart of hearts, just want the district to continue to evolve,” she said. “I need him to be successful because if he’s successful, the district is successful, which means my kids are taken care of.”