Praising superintendent’s response to pandemic, Memphis school board to consider extending Joris Ray’s contract

Superintendent Joris Ray during a weekly video update as school buildings are closed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Shelby County Schools)

Update, April 28, 2020: The school board declined to add the resolution to its meeting agenda Tuesday but plans to discuss in an upcoming committee meeting.

One year into a four-year contract, Superintendent Joris Ray could receive a contract extension under a resolution a Memphis school board member plans to present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Shelby County Schools board member Althea Greene said Ray has done a “phenomenal job” responding to the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic and wants to reward him by adding a year onto his four-year contract

Ray’s annual salary is $285,000, the same as his predecessor. He took the helm as interim superintendent in January 2019. A few months later, the board suspended a national search for a replacement and hired him. 

Shelby County Schools board member Althea Greene (Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat)

“In my years of working for the district, I’ve seen so many superintendents come and go,” said Greene, a retired teacher who worked for the district for more than 30 years. “I don’t want him to start new initiatives and not have the longevity to finish them.” 

Earlier this month, Ray announced a long-term plan to provide devices and online access to all Memphis students. Greene also praised Ray for closing school buildings to stem the spread of the coronavirus before Gov. Bill Lee urged other districts to do the same.

The last four Memphis superintendents have averaged four years in the position, slightly lower than the national average for big-city superintendents.

The resolution, if approved, would be the board’s first official recognition of its approval of Ray. The board is overdue on delivering Ray’s first performance evaluation. Members are working on a new way to evaluate him, with a goal of including more data from the district’s “Destination 2025” strategy to improve literacy and prepare students for life after graduation.  

Since closing school buildings March 13, Ray’s administration has televised lessons for students, printed thousands of learning packets, and partnered with several community groups to feed children who are usually dependent on school meals. The district also has created a way for struggling seniors to improve their grades. A plan for graduation ceremonies is expected to be announced this week. 

The school board is scheduled to meet and vote via video conference at 5:30 p.m. You can watch the livestream through the district’s radio and TV station 88.5FM and C19TV (on Comcast cable), the board’s website, the Voice of SCS, Facebook, or Twitter.

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