Shelby County Schools cabinet member leaving to head Memphis charter network

Antonio Burt sits at a table talking to reporters
Antonio Burt, chief of schools, is leaving the district at the end of the month to become CEO of KIPP Memphis Public Schools. (Caroline Bauman / Chalkbeat)

Antonio Burt is departing from his position as chief of schools at Shelby County Schools to become KIPP Memphis Public Schools’ next leader.

In a Thursday news release, the organization announced Burt will be its next CEO on Nov. 8. KIPP Memphis Public Schools is a network of five charter schools founded in 2002. The network serves about 2,000 students in Memphis.

Burt will succeed Kendra Ferguson, who left earlier this year after 20 years of service in various roles at KIPP, the organization said. 

As chief of schools for Shelby County Schools, Burt reported to the superintendent and was responsible for creating goals, training and recruiting teachers and principals, and overseeing academic strategy to meet state academic requirements. Before that, Burt oversaw all the district’s lowest performing and struggling schools as assistant superintendent. Previously he was principal at Ford Road Elementary School.

Those experiences, which earned Burt national acclaim for turning two low-performing Memphis schools into models of student achievement, made him stand out in the organization’s search for a CEO, said Kinnari Patel-Smyth, president of the KIPP Foundation, based in Atlanta.

“Dr. Burt’s strengths align with the type of leadership we seek for KIPP schools,” Patel-Smyth said in the release. “He is a visionary leader in Memphis with a stellar record of transforming schools by putting students first at every step.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray commended Burt’s efforts to turn around low-performing schools in a Thursday statement, as well as his commitment to improve the district’s overall academics.

“Dr. Burt has been a change agent and reformer for Shelby County Schools, exemplifying what excellence looks like in public education,” Ray said. “We’re extremely grateful for his service and wish him success, as he continues to drive achievement with our educational neighbors at KIPP Memphis.” 

Angela Whitelaw, SCS deputy superintendent of schools and academic support, will fulfill chief of schools duties until Burt’s position is filled, the district said. 

In a statement, Burt said he’s “deeply honored” to be selected as KIPP’s next CEO. He said he plans to focus on student achievement, engaging communities, and elevating student and family voices. 

“I will work with a hands-on, students-first mindset to maximize the potential of this network of schools,” Burt said. “I look forward to leading the KIPP Memphis network and working with its students, staff and families.” 

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