Paul Young will be Memphis’ next mayor. What will that mean for education?

A man wearing glasses and a blue suit with a reddish-pink tie crosses his arms and smiles in a posed portrait.
Paul Young, leader of the Downtown Memphis Commission, will be Memphis’ mayor. His proposals include capital investments for Memphis-Shelby County Schools that could revive the relationship between the city and the school district. (Courtesy of Paul Young)

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Downtown Memphis Commission leader Paul Young will be Memphis’ next mayor, a position that gives him no formal authority over Memphis-Shelby County Schools, but could allow him to revive the relationship between city and district if he follows through on his campaign plans.

Such a change would come at a pivotal time, bringing additional dollars to the district as it faces hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance projects and seeks to develop a facility plan that better supports academic improvement

“We need new revenue sources for our schools, and I want to bring my track record of creating coalitions to City Hall to do just that,” Young told Chalkbeat in September. 

Those funds would support capital investments and upgrades to MSCS buildings, Young said, a proposal that aligns with the interests of the MSCS school board and interim Superintendent Toni Williams. A 14-person committee of government officials and nonprofit sector leaders is set to convene later this fall to develop the new facilities plan.

Young will take office on Jan. 1. The success of his plans would depend on support from the Memphis City Council, whose makeup will be settled after runoff elections in November. And the MSCS school board will need to carry the torch for the district’s infrastructure plans through the expected leadership transition this spring, when Williams’ tenure ends and a permanent superintendent takes over.

Young’s proposals distinguished him from several other frontrunners in the race, which he won with 28% of the vote Thursday, according to unofficial results from the Shelby County Election Commission. (There are no runoffs in Memphis mayoral elections.) 

Others who got more than 20% of the vote include Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner (23%), former Memphis Mayor and school Superintendent Willie Herenton (22%), and attorney and former Shelby County Commission Chair Van Turner (21%).

Among them, only Turner proposed that the city fund MSCS through annual appropriations, the same way the county currently does.

Candidate Michelle McKissack, a current MSCS board member, received less than 2% of the vote.

Chalkbeat posed questions to all the candidates about their positions on education, and published the responses it received in a mayoral voter guide. Here are the responses Young submitted on Sept. 1:

In 150 words or less, describe your campaign platform and positions concerning Memphis’ youth and education.

I am committed to providing a strong foundation for our youth through quality education and investing in youth development. This means equitable access to resources, teacher support, and innovative learning environments that empower every student to succeed. I believe in engaging directly with educators, parents, and community members to collaborate on and champion effective policies that address the unique challenges our students and young people face.

Who and what will inform your mayoral administration about education and youth-related issues? How will you ensure and measure progress toward your administration’s goals?

My mayoral administration will draw insights from a diverse range of stakeholders including educators, students, parents, and community advocates. Through open dialogue and collaboration, we will craft informed policies to continue to do better by our young people. Progress will be measured through data-driven indicators such as improved graduation rates, literacy and test scores, and increased community engagement. Transparency and accountability will guide us toward achieving our educational goals.

Students and families in Memphis deal with barriers to learning caused by poverty, gun violence, policing and related ripple effects. How would your administration help alleviate these barriers?

Many Memphis students and families confront barriers like poverty, gun violence, and over-policing that hinder learning. By offering comprehensive support services such as mental health programs, after-school initiatives, and community-centered efforts, we will create safer environments where learning can thrive. Collaborating with local organizations and promoting restorative justice practices will contribute to holistic development and improved educational outcomes for our youth.

What should the funding relationship be between the City of Memphis and Memphis-Shelby County Schools? Do you support new revenue sources for education funding? If you support reallocating existing funds, how would you suggest doing it?

I believe that the city can support MSCS through capital investments, and also through improving and upgrading facilities’ infrastructure. The city can also support through after school enrichment and extracurricular programs. We need new revenue sources for our schools, and I want to bring my track record of creating coalitions to City Hall to do just that.

The City of Memphis contributes funds to universal preschool through a public-private partnership overseen by First 8 Memphis. How would this programming continue or change under your administration?

We would continue to support early childhood efforts and seek to grow the number of spaces available for young people in our community. Our efforts would be informed by MSCS and our partners.

The City of Memphis is inextricably linked to Memphis-Shelby County Schools. What do you think should change or stay the same about the way the city and MSCS work together? How would you describe the ideal relationship between the MSCS superintendent and the mayor?

I think that MSCS should have a strong collaborative working relationship on the types of programming that is taught to children in our community. The city should support investment in facilities, infrastructure, and extracurricular activities. The relationship between the mayor and the superintendent should be a strong partnership where they advocate for Memphis children together at every level.

Describe a high quality school. (For example: How many people work there? What are students taught? What programs or extracurriculars are offered? What support services are available? What does the facility look like?) How many Memphis-Shelby County Schools schools meet your definition of a high quality school?

A high quality school is one where there are various approaches to educating children where they are. We must meet the individual needs of children while not holding them back. This work must take place in and out of the classroom, and schools can and should offer holistic services to help support the whole child and their unique needs. Crosstown High, East High School, White Station are a few schools that come to mind.

This is Memphis, after all. So: Where did you go to high school? Is there a teacher who made an impact on the way you would lead? Who is it and what did you learn from them?

I went to East High School — Ms. Foster was my geometry teacher there and she made the subject matter fun and interesting to me. She pushed me further than I thought I could go. As far as leadership, she showed me we can always be better, we can always do more. I learned from her that intellectual curiosity can make work seem like fun, and I try to bring that spirit to everyone on the team with me.

Laura Testino covers Memphis-Shelby County Schools for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Reach Laura at LTestino@chalkbeat.org.

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