Caldwell and Kernell out on Memphis school board, other incumbents return

Two incumbents are out and two are staying on the Shelby County School board.

Chris Caldwell and Mike Kernell lost to newcomers Michelle Robinson McKissack and Joyce Dorse-Coleman while Billy Orgel and Shante Avant kept their seats.

Board chairman Chris Caldwell and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson listen to a budget presentation in 2015.

It was 1,146 votes that separated McKissack, the editor at Memphis Parent Magazine and a board member for Crosstown High School, and Caldwell, a financial consultant seeking his third term. Both are White Station High School graduates. The race for District 1, which includes downtown Memphis, attracted more than $50,000 in campaign support for McKissack by TennesseeCAN, a Nashville-based education advocacy organization. McKissack also drew in plenty of other donors making her the second-highest spender in the four races.

Joyce Dorse-Coleman

Dorse-Coleman, a longtime parent volunteer in schools, beat Kernell, a former state legislator who has been on the board since 2014, by 248 votes, according to unofficial numbers. Her support amounted to 31 percent of the 10,317 votes cast in District 9. She already had some campaigning under her belt when she served on a committee that successfully kept Dunbar Elementary School from closing.

A total of 15 people ran for the four seats. McKissack’s arrival represents another board member who could push the district to be more friendly to charter schools. Shelby County Schools has been in an open war with charter schools for student enrollment. Dorse-Coleman’s volunteer and organizing background could represent a much-needed tie for a district that struggles to connect with parents. This year’s election results still leaves the board without an educator, a frequent gripe among teachers.

Board members Miska Clay Bibbs, left, and Mike Kernell listen to arguments during an appeal hearing for former Trezevant High School coach Teli White. (Rebecca Griesbach/Chalkbeat)

Orgel retained his District 8 seat in East Memphis by 1,744 votes over Jerry Cunningham, a retired teacher. Avant came away with 63 percent of the votes cast, beating out three challengers in District 6, which includes Whitehaven.

You can read the winners’ answers to Chalkbeat’s survey below.

Update Aug. 3, 2018: This story has been updated with vote tallies.