Movers and shakers

Former Teach For America leader appointed to State Board of Education

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Tennessee State Capitol

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Teach For America’s former national vice president for recruitment to the State Board of Education, a board spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

Elissa Kim
PHOTO: MNPS
Elissa Kim

Elissa Kim will replace vice-chairwoman Carolyn Pearre, who represents Tennessee’s 5th congressional district, including Davidson, Cheatham and Dickson counties.

Kim joined Teach For America’s staff in 1999 after serving as a teacher corps member in New Orleans. She oversaw recruitment for the organization until 2015.

She also served a term on the school board for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, choosing not to seek reelection in 2016.

On the school board, Kim occasionally came under fire for her ties to Teach For America. Critics said her role with the organization posed a conflict of interest on votes regarding the approval of charter schools that promised to contract with Teach For America. Charters have been a deeply divisive issue within the board, and Kim said she tried to go down the middle, according to her 2013 interview with the Nashville Scene. She recused herself from voting on the district’s contract with TFA.

Kim is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she majored in history and religion.

Haslam also recently appointed Tiffany Cook as the student member of the State Board of Education. Cook attends Cherokee High School in Hawkins County.

The State Board sets education policy for Tennessee according to recommendations from the State Department of Education and legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. The board has nine members who serve five-year terms.

comings and goings

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has a new education leader

Sandra Liu Huang speaks onstage during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference at Monarch Beach Resort on November 14, 2017 in Dana Point, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Fortune)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s education work has a new leader: Sandra Liu Huang, who has worked as the organization’s head of product and technology.

Huang now holds one of the most influential jobs in education: overseeing how CZI — which has already spent more than $300 million on education and is set to receive Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune — tries to influence schools and classrooms.

Huang takes over for Jim Shelton, the former deputy education secretary under President Obama. Unlike Shelton, her background is in technology, and she ran product teams at Quora, Facebook, and Google before moving to CZI in 2017.

There, she oversaw the education team’s partnership with the Summit Learning platform, the personalized learning program that Facebook engineers helped build and is now supported by CZI. (The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also supports Chalkbeat.)

CZI announced the hire Tuesday.

“With her deep background in managing complex, interdisciplinary teams and building tools and products that help people learn, Sandra Liu Huang is the ideal leader to carry forward our vision for what’s possible in education,” Priscilla Chan, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s co-founder, said in a statement.

Huang’s appointment ties CZI’s education work even more closely to Summit, which CZI says is now used in 380 schools nationwide. Offered free to schools, Summit has emerged as a poster child for the personalized learning approach — and attracted some backlash from students and parents, too.

CZI says its education mission remains the same, and Summit is a key part of its work.

“Since my tours at Google and then at Facebook, I’ve essentially been on a pursuit to build the products and platforms that I see as inevitable — the Jetsons world is at hand,” Huang said in a 2015 interview with the website Brit + Co describing her career. “I’m inspired by how technology massively accelerates knowledge sharing, but I also think the web can be more than ways to pass time.”

New leader

District chief Joris Ray named Memphis schools’ interim leader

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Joris Ray, center, was appointed interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

Joris Ray, who started his 22-year career as a teacher in Memphis schools, will be the interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

The school board voted 5-4 Tuesday evening to appoint Ray, who as a member of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s cabinet oversees the district’s academic operations and student support. An audience composed mostly of educators applauded the announcement.

“A lot of people call Dr. Ray, and he gets things done,” Hopson said at the meeting.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Dorsey Hopson and Joris Ray, right.

Ray could be at the helm of Tennessee’s largest district for anywhere from 8 months to 18 months, as the board looks to hire a permanent leader, Board Chair Shante Avant said. Hopson is leaving the 200-school, 111,600-student district after nearly six years; he will lead an education initiative at the health insurer Cigna, effective Jan. 8.

Hopson will still help Ray transition into his new role a few weeks after his resignation takes effect because of his current contract terms.

Ray, a graduate of Whitehaven High School, said he intends to apply for the permanent position.

“I’m about pushing things forward. No sense in looking back,” told reporters Tuesday, noting that his goal, as he gets started, is “to listen, to get out to various community groups and transition with the superintendent … but also I want to talk to teachers and I want to talk to students because oftentimes they’re left out of the education process.”

The other two nominees to serve as interim superintendent were Lin Johnson, the district’s chief of finance, and Carol Johnson, a former superintendent of Memphis schools.

Hopson commended both Lin Johnson and Ray as “truly my brothers in this work.” He also acknowledged the work Carol Johnson has done in recent years to train teachers in her role as director of New Leaders in Memphis.

Some school board members wanted to preclude the interim appointee from applying for the permanent post — especially if the interim selection was an in-district hire — but a resolution formalizing that position failed in a 6-3 vote.

“If it were me… I’d think twice about going up against that person to take the job. I really would,” Teresa Jones, a board member, said. But she said she wants to create an environment “where individuals feel where they can come forward and apply” for the superintendent job.

The appointment comes one day after Hopson presented a plan to combine 28 aging school buildings into 10 new ones. Ray said he will look to get community input before pursuing the plan while he is at the helm.

“We need to continue to unpack the plan,” Ray said after the meeting. “And I rely on the community to get their input. But most of all, it’s what’s best for students.”

There’s more from the meeting in this Twitter thread: