A local education philanthropy is willing to pay for Shelby County Schools’ forthcoming superintendent search.

The CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, Terence Patterson, attended a school board meeting Wednesday and said his group is “interested” in covering the cost of the national search firm the district hires to find its next leader. Earlier in the day Patterson, in a statement, called for a “swift national search” so a superintendent could be in place by August.

“If that leader is already in our community – even better – but we believe the national search should be launched immediately and completed before the beginning of the next school year to find the very best leader to guide our public schools,” the statement said.

Former Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson recently stepped down to take a job at the health care company Cigna. Joris Ray, a career Memphis educator, is serving as interim superintendent.

School board members expressed openness to outside entities funding the superintendent search, but directed the district’s chief financial officer Wednesday to draft a request for proposals in case the district pays for a search firm.

(Memphis Education Fund supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

Memphis Education Fund stewards private dollars that local philanthropies, such as Hyde Foundation and Pyramid Peak, have earmarked for education initiatives.

All of the board members present Wednesday agreed that the superintendent search committee should be composed only of school board members. That’s a reversal from chairwoman Shante Avant’s announcement Tuesday that the committee would include parents, teachers, and students.

Still, the board said that there would be numerous public meetings, and ample time for input, as the search progresses. The community meetings would center on desired “prior achievements, skills, and attributes” of a superintendent, according to board documents.

“My only concern is, I don’t want this to be messy,” board member Stephanie Love said. “We want feedback from the public, but when it comes down to putting pen to paper, it’s the Shelby County school board that has to make the decision. … I want to make sure we keep this as transparent as possible.”

After the meeting, Avant said, “I think the board has really decided they want it to be a committee of the whole [board] that really drives the process. But we want the external engagement …. We’re accountable to this community.”

Avant passed out binders of information compiled about the potential search firms, but later refused to provide a copy to Chalkbeat or post online. Avant said the information was incomplete and instead provided reporters with a two-page summary of the binders’ contents.

According to the summary, Memphis Education Fund, a national group Council of Great City Schools, and a district consultant Pete Gorman, recommended five firms:

  • Isaacson Miller
  • Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
  • McPherson and Jacobson
  • Ray and Associates
  • Tennessee School Boards Association

If Shelby County Schools pays for the search firm, there would need to be a formal request for proposals and the district would accept the lowest qualified bid. The school board could skip that process if an outside entity foots the bill.

The summary also noted the board should consider the track record of each firm’s searches in similar communities and examine the success rate for the superintendents they have placed.

Below is the board’s summary: