Longtime Memphian Bobby White out as official at state-run turnaround district

A senior official in Tennessee’s Achievement School District was ousted Thursday morning – the first major shakeup the district has seen under leader Sharon Griffin.

Bobby White told Chalkbeat that he was forced to step down by Griffin. He joined the achievement district in 2016 as the chief of external affairs, a new role for the district at the time. He previously served as senior adviser and chief of staff for former Memphis and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

White called Griffin’s decision “very disappointing,” adding: “I have never had this happen in my 25 years in public work.” Griffin did not return multiple inquiries for comment.

When Griffin was hired last summer to take over the turnaround district, White was one of two previous Achievement School District staff to remain in her top cabinet. For the last three years, White has been one of the most public faces of the district as he communicated with parents, the media, and the charter networks that make up the turnaround district.

The district – founded in 2012 to take over low-performing schools – has struggled to establish trust and build parent engagement in the communities it serves. White, a longtime Memphian, was tasked with building this work. He was hired under previous district leader Malika Anderson and weathered two central office restructures.

“Linkedin just reminded me that it’s been three years, and that’s a very long time for the ASD,” White said. “I’ve seen my role as being a familiar face – for both folks who are in the district and outside of it.”

This year, White was establishing a parent advisory congress and a coalition of faith leaders to support achievement schools. He said he also was creating a student mentorship program to launch at one elementary school and developing a career-and-technical education program with a local community college.

White was making $114,996 a year.

He had served from 1997-2006 as the district director for Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., a Democrat from Memphis. White grew up in Memphis’ Whitehaven community and graduated from Central High School. His father, Robert Samuel White Sr., was a principal at Manassas High School for 14 years in the 1980s and ’90s. There is no connection to Bobby White, the founder of Frayser Community Schools, a charter operator authorized by the achievement district.

Van Turner, the Shelby County Commission chairman, told Chalkbeat that White was a “tremendous asset for the organization.”

“He provided a much needed friendly face, a much needed front person for the district,” Turner said. “People in the community did not like the state coming in and taking over schools, but they knew Bobby.”

White said that he saw his role as a “translator,” to explain the complicated nature of the district.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about charter schools and the broader district,” White said. “I feel like I’ve been able to get people to better understand this work, and what teachers are doing in these schools every day. It’s hard work.”

Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Tennessee, said White had always been easy to access when she had questions about Green Dot’s four achievement schools and “didn’t sugarcoat things.”

Quaile said that she hadn’t yet received communication from the district on White’s departure.

“Bobby’s communication work was really important… and we hope the district continues to prioritize it,” she said.

White said he didn’t know what his next steps would be exactly, but he that he would stay engaged with Memphis education.

This story has been updated with additional comments from Achievement School District charter operators.