MSCS superintendent search advisory committee wants to hear from more citizens

A woman at a conference table with her hand slightly raised. Two men are visible in the background behind her.
Beverly Davis, a member of the community advisory committee for the MSCS superintendent search speaks at a meeting on Friday, as the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr. checks his notes and Paul Garner looks on. (Tonyaa Weathersbee for Chalkbeat)

Members of an advisory committee guiding the search for a new Memphis-Shelby County Schools superintendent said they want the firm picked to lead the search to gather more feedback from the community on what kind of candidate it should look for.

The panel, which includes representatives from the school board and local advocacy and nonprofit groups, resolved at a meeting Friday that once the search firm is chosen — likely by Jan. 31 — it will be asked to do additional surveys to capture additional input from students and businesspeople. 

The committee said it believed that more time was needed to gauge the leanings of a wider swath of the community. 

The decision responds to concerns that the results of the community survey, which was administered by KQ Communications, a public relations firm that’s working with the school board on the search, might not have fully captured responses from certain constituencies. Business leaders, for example, may have identified themselves as community members, or vice versa.

About 650 students responded to the KQ survey. Of the nearly 3,000 adults who responded, only about 6% identified themselves as businesspeople.

The committee’s decision also came amid concerns that the process was being rushed, and that the Jan. 31 deadline to select the search firm should be extended. 

“Most of what I’m hearing from my colleagues, who are mostly clergy, is that it feels rushed,” said the Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr., pastor of the New Olivet Worship Center and a former MSCS board member.

But school board Chair Althea Greene, who presided over the meeting, along with Sarah Carpenter, executive director of Memphis LIFT, reminded attendees that one reason the timeline for hiring a superintendent was moved up from July to April was concerns from the board and others that the process would be too slow.

“A lot of people already think it’s moving too slow, and you all have to realize that people are looking for superintendents all over the country,” Carpenter said. 

At its meeting Friday, the advisory committee also discussed qualities they’d like to see in candidates for the superintendent job, in particular experience leading an urban district. They also talked about the importance of the search firm’s track record in placing candidates.

“If that firm has placed 25 superintendents, I would like to know how long those superintendents have remained on the job,” said Greene.

The previous superintendent, Joris Ray, served in the job for about three years before resigning in August under a cloud of scandal. Ray was under an investigation into claims that he abused his power and violated district policies by having adulterous affairs with subordinates.

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