Former Memphis superintendent Kriner Cash could lead New Orleans school district

Former Memphis superintendent Kriner Cash is one of three finalists being considered for the top job in Orleans Parish School District, in New Orleans.

The Times-Picayune reported last week that Cash, former New York City schools chief operating officer Veronica Conforme, and former Bermuda education minister Edmond Heatley are being considered to permanently replace Stan Smith, who has been the New Orleans district’s interim superintendent since July 2012.

The 11,000-student New Orleans school district is made up of just a fraction of public schools in the city: Louisiana’s state-run Recovery School District (RSD) runs 62 New Orleans schools, while the traditional district runs just 20, 14 of which are charter schools. Just how and when schools will return from the RSD to the New Orleans district is unclear. The superintendent job notice says candidates must have a “high tolerance for ambiguity.”

Cash may be able to cite his time in Memphis as a qualification for that requirement. Cash, who became superintendent of Memphis City Schools in 2008 and resigned last January, led the district through preparations for a merger with suburban Shelby County Schools, which involved an evolving school board and contentious debate about the future of the area’s public schools. That merger became official last July.

Cash was also chief when the district was awarded a nationally-touted $90 million teacher effectiveness grant from the Gates Foundation, as the state-run district in Tennessee took over and began running its first schools in Memphis in 2012, and as the charter sector in Memphis began to grow. 

A board had already decided not to renew Cash’s contract after the 2012-13 school year. He officially remained in an advisory role after he resigned, until July 2013. 

Dorsey Hopson II, then the attorney of legacy Memphis City Schools, became interim superintendent after Cash’s departure and was selected to be permanent superintendent of the merged Shelby County Schools system in September. Hopson’s contract is itself up for renewal soon.

Jon Aitken, who had been superintendent of the suburban Shelby County school system before the suburban and Memphis school systems merged, also resigned last winter but remained in Shelby County, unlike Cash. Aitken will be superintendent of Collierville’s school system.

Second-round interviews for the New Orleans post will take place in June.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of schools in the RSD. The RSD has 62 schools in New Orleans, and an additional five schools are run by the state.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.