With five of nine seats on the line, today’s school board election could change the way Shelby County Schools are run. But the race didn’t get much attention in the mainstream press and had only one debate, leaving voters with little guidance about whom to pick.
Chalkbeat reporters fanned out across the county today to talk to voters about the election. We’ll be updating this page all day with their responses. (As a reminder, the school board section is at the end of the 15-page ballot, which also asks voters to weigh in on state and local races.)
8:40 – Waiting for results:
Take a moment to listen to voters in Frayser reflect about why they voted today. The voices in these interviews are Denita Harvey, Shaqwendalyn Barrett, Jerry and Mary Humphreys, Janell Simpson, Joyce Connor, Janice Stewart, and Renae Manning.
8:19 in District 3:
In Frayser, awaiting results, Stephanie Love is surrounded by her family. Her pastor came in and asked her how she is doing. “Nervous,” she says.
School board chair Kevin Woods, whose seat was not up for election, congratulates Billy Orgel and Miska Clay Bibbs. Both ran uncontested:
Congrats to Billy Orgel and Miska Bibbs. Neither had opposition on the @SCSK12Unified School Board. We are thankful for your service.
— KevinWoods (@KevinWoods) August 8, 2014
6:15 p.m. in District 1:
Poll watcher at Central Christian told me 615 voters have cast their ballots. About 43 mins til polls close. — Tajuana Cheshier (@TajuanaCheshier) August 7, 2014
5:00 p.m. in District 1:
Only 169 voters reported at the Gaston Community Center, a poll watcher told me.
— Tajuana Cheshier (@TajuanaCheshier) August 7, 2014
Another voter told me even if I offered him $100, he couldn’t remember if he voted for Caldwell or Williams. Some voters opted not to vote. — Tajuana Cheshier (@TajuanaCheshier) August 7, 2014
Of the voters I spoke with, majority complained about the lengthy ballot. Some didn’t know the school board candidates , so they didn’t vote
— Tajuana Cheshier (@TajuanaCheshier) August 7, 2014
4:50 p.m. in District 1: @ the Gaston Community Center in south Memphis where voters not sure who to vote for in District 1- Caldwell & Williams race. — Tajuana Cheshier (@TajuanaCheshier) August 7, 2014
2:30 p.m. in District 9: When Kevin Moore went to Memphis City Schools, he had homework assignments to make sure he was learning, he said at Bethel Grove Elementary School, a polling place in District 9. But his son hardly ever has homework now, and Moore said he wants more evidence that his child is learning. That’s part of the reason he’s voting for Roshun Austin, whom he was also campaigning for.
“They rarely give him homework,” he said. “He said his teachers give him the answers at school. I said, ‘Now, what is the purpose of that? How are you going to learn?'”
He said that Austin is a “friend-of-a-friend,” and assured him that she will make big changes in Shelby County Schools to ensure more learning.
Moore was also concerned about classroom size — he says his son’s classes have up to 30 children in them, making it difficult for teachers to do their jobs — and discipline wayward students.
“They’ll send kids home for things they can deal with at school,” he said, remembering a student who was suspended for a week for wearing the wrong color shirt. “Then they’re not learning.” Alcus Chell, a grandfather of a Shelby County Schools student who also voted for Austin, chimed in, saying that more discipline in the schools, rather than out-of-school suspensions, was also a concern of his.
Chell also said he hopes the school board can help put more “advanced” teachers in the classroom. “You 23, how are you teaching the kids?” he said. “The young can’t teach the young. They need someone to look up to.”
1:30 p.m. District 6 and 7: By midday, just under 100 voters had come by the Whitehaven Community Center in district 6. Campaign workers for a number of campaigns chatted with voters and passed out flyers. School closings were on the tip of everyone’s tongue. George Gaston, who was holding a sign for Shante Avant’s campaign, said that Avant’s support for a new school building in Westhaven was important to constituents.
Eugene Roberts, out supporting district 6 candidate Jimmy Warren, said his candidate was “trying to get the schools right.” Down the road at Robert Church Elementary School, District 7 Candidate Miska Clay Bibbs and two family members were at Robert Church Elementary School holding signs. Clay Bibbs is running unopposed in the district.
By midday, just over 100 voters had come to the polling station. Clay Bibbs said that more voters had come out during early voting. Jerrika Boyce, who has a 3rd grader at Raineshaven Elementary, said school-level resources were a concern for parents in her area. She said she had paid $60 for school supplies for her elementary schoolers. She said she also believes the board should try to get the money that is owed to the school system by the city of Memphis.
Meanwhile, parent Brenda Metcalfe, who has a 10th grader at Soulsville Charter School, said that she wished more people from her community would vote. She said things like lack of public transportation were affecting how students could get to schools.
12 p.m. in District 3:
A poll-worker for Stephanie Love, SCS board candidate in Dist. 3, takes refuge from the heat at former Frayser High. pic.twitter.com/KnEfFoG3xg
— Chalkbeat Tennessee (@ChalkbeatTN) August 7, 2014
11 a.m. in District 5: Parco Upchurch, the father of two students at White Station High School, said with the merger and the subsequent fracturing of the school system into eight districts, he’s afraid Shelby County Schools won’t have the resources or time to pay attention to its neediest students. “With a larger body, I’m afraid several students will be left in the shadows,” said Upchurch, who said he could not remember which candidate got his vote. “They need to give the same resources and tools to every child in the district.”
Antoinette Brady, a recent transplant from Maryland, said she’s concerned about the future of the school system that her goddaughter attends. “There’s definitely an effort to create a racial divide in Tennessee and in Memphis,” said Brady, who did not know which candidates were running in her district. “There needs to be more focus on building the depth and quality of the education they’re providing. More focus around solid reading and writing skills.”