Chief of Tennessee education group SCORE to step down and pass baton to colleague

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is flanked by David Mansouri and Jamie Woodson. Frist founded the State Collaborative on Reforming Education in 2009, and Woodson has since 2011 served as its CEO, a role that Mansouri will assume in 2019. (Photo courtesy of SCORE)

The longtime leader of one of Tennessee’s most influential education advocacy organizations is stepping down and will be succeeded by her chief lieutenant.

Jamie Woodson will leave her job as CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, to become the group’s senior adviser.

David Mansouri, SCORE’s president for the past three years, will take over as both president and CEO with the new year.

The transition was announced Thursday in an email to SCORE’s supporters from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy and research institution that he founded in 2009.

Frist said Woodson requested the change after eight years at the helm. He credited the former state lawmaker, who championed public education during her 12 years in Tennessee’s General Assembly, for helping SCORE to become “one of the nation’s best-in-class, policy-focused nonprofits” advocating for students, families, and communities.

Earlier this week, the group’s board of directors voted unanimously to name Mansouri as SCORE’s new leader.

Mansouri joined the organization in 2010 and has had roles in communications, outreach, management, policy, and research, stepping increasingly into the limelight on SCORE’s advocacy work in recent years.

“He is uniquely positioned to lead SCORE as we support the transition of so many state and local leaders,” Frist wrote supporters, “and he will also launch and lead SCORE’s new strategic planning process to quickly set the course for where our organization will lead moving forward.”

Frist founded SCORE the year before a massive overhaul of Tennessee’s public education system in conjunction with the state’s $500 million federal award in 2010 from the Obama-era Race to the Top competition. At the time, Tennessee ranked near the bottom on national tests and was considered a laggard in public education.

SCORE produced a roadmap for improvement and convened state, local, and national partners to promote policies and practices aimed at greater student success. Since that time, Tennessee has become one of the nation’s fastest-improving states in student achievement.

Woodson, 46, recently was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to the board of trustees at the University of Tennessee, her alma mater, and also serves as national co-chair of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which seeks to restore civic discourse and public trust in leading democratic institutions.

She has been mentioned as possible state education commissioner under gov.-elect Bill Lee, but told Chalkbeat that she’s not a candidate for that job. She said the timing of the handoff at SCORE is “purely coincidence.”

“My goal right now,” Woodson said, “is to make sure that the next governor and the next commissioner get off to a great start and continue the momentum that’s been created by partners all across Tennessee and the nation to help Tennessee students achieve their full promise and potential.”

Mansouri, 34, previously worked in political consulting and public relations and once was an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He attended Tennessee public schools and earned degrees from Rice University and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and also is a founding board member of Nashville Classical Charter School.

He told Chalkbeat that he comes into the CEO job at a “unique moment,” as SCORE approaches its 10th year and as a new governor and General Assembly take office.

“Our No. 1 priority over the next six months will be making sure that the new administration and new members of the legislature and new leaders in public office have the right support, knowledge, and context about how we have made so much improvement in Tennessee, “ he said.

SCORE, which has a 20-member staff and offices in Nashville, is funded by private donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Among its supporters in Tennessee are the Hyde Family Foundation, the Ayers Foundation, and the Benwood Foundation. National supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Chalkbeat, which is an independent and nonprofit news organization, also receives funding from some of these groups. You can find our full list of supporters here.)

The group’s engagement work includes the SCORE Prize to celebrate high-performing schools and districts and the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, which has developed more than 185 teacher-leaders across the state.

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:

Movers and shakers

These Colorado lawmakers will shape education policy in 2019

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Colorado House of Representatives

When the Colorado General Assembly convenes in January, Democrats will control both chambers for the first time since 2014. That shift in the balance of power, along with a lot of turnover in both chambers, means new faces on the committees that will shape education policy.

The incoming committee chairs in both chambers  — state Rep. Barbara McLachlan of Durango and state Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora — are former teachers themselves and experienced lawmakers. One of the incoming members, representative-elect Bri Buentello of Pueblo, is currently a special education teacher. The ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, state Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, is also a former teacher and school superintendent. He’s the only Republican returning to the committee from the previous session.

In the House, Democrats now hold a three-seat majority on the committees responsible for deciding which bills will advance to a floor vote. In the Senate, Democrats have a one-vote advantage on most committees.

The new Democratic majorities open the possibility of advancing issues that once stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, like funding full-day kindergarten — a priority of incoming governor Jared Polis — and expanding access to mental health services in school. But these decisions will have to be made without major new revenue and in competition with other budget needs. Democrats may also have to grapple with disagreements among their own ranks on charter schools, teacher evaluations, and school choice, issues that have long enjoyed bipartisan consensus. 

But one newly appointed member of the Senate Education Committee won’t serve out his term. State Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat from Cherry Hills Village, recently announced he’ll resign in January following accusations that he repeatedly used a women’s restroom in the state Capitol. State Rep. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, has announced his intention to seek the vacancy and could take Kagan’s place on the education committee.

The other new Democrat on the Senate committee, Tammy Story, has a long record as an education advocate in Jefferson County. She worked to recall school board members there that supported charters and performance-based teacher pay.

Senator-elect Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, is a former member of the State Board of Education and served on the House Education Committee. State Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, the ranking Republican on the committee, is the former chair.

House Education Committee:


Chair: Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango

Vice-Chair, rep.-elect Bri Buentello, Pueblo

Rep. Janet Buckner, Aurora

Rep. James Coleman, Denver

Rep.-elect Lisa Cutter, Jefferson County

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Julie McCluskie, Dillon

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Commerce City


Ranking member: Rep. Jim Wilson, Salida

Rep.-elect Mark Baisley, Roxborough Park

Rep.-elect Tim Geitner, Colorado Springs

Rep.-elect Colin Larson, Ken Caryl

Rep. Kim Ransom, Littleton

Senate Education Committee:


Chair: Nancy Todd, Aurora

Vice-Chair: sen.-elect Tammy Story, Conifer

Sen. Daniel Kagan, Cherry Hills Village


Ranking member: Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs

Sen.-elect Paul Lundeen, Monument