Memphis-Shelby County Schools board narrows superintendent search to 3 finalists

The front entrance to a red brick building with a large white roof at night with trees and the moon in the background.
Memphis-Shelby County Schools board members narrowed their search for a new superintendent to three finalists in a unanimous vote during a meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19. (Andrea Morales)

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The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday to narrow its slate of superintendent finalists from five candidates to three, none of whom are from Memphis.

The three finalists advancing to the next round of interviews are:

You can read more about these finalists at the end of this story.

Carlton Jenkins, who recently retired as superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin, and Angela Whitelaw, MSCS’ deputy superintendent of schools and academic support, the two other candidates who interviewed with the board Friday, won’t advance to the next round of interviews.

With Whitelaw off the slate, Memphis is poised to have a school superintendent from outside the city for the first time in more than a decade.

“This is just the beginning,” said board member Joyce Dorse-Coleman, who is leading the search effort along with Stephanie Love. “We’ve started on this, and we’re going to see it all the way through. … We will continue with our community engagement through this process.”

The top three candidates are expected to return to Memphis in the new year for a round of in-depth interviews. Board members are expected to select a permanent superintendent by the spring, and that person would start the job in time for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year and 2024-25 school year.

The three finalists emerged from a group of five leading candidates that search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates announced to the board on Friday. All five answered a series of questions from the board in interviews that were open for the public to watch. Most of the interviews were about 45 minutes long.

Board members evaluated each of the candidates on a rubric, and community members who attended — about 30 throughout the day — also filled out scoresheets. Tomeka Hart Wigginton, a former Memphis school board member who has helped the board throughout its superintendent search process, shared composite scores with board members Tuesday. Love called Hart Wigginton’s contributions “instrumental.”

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The rubric called for evaluating candidates on student achievement (30%), business and finance (20%), governance and board relations (20%), staff relations and leadership (15%), and community relations (15%).

Rankings from board members aligned with the rankings from the community, she said Tuesday.

Brown, Feagins, and Proctor — the finalists the board voted to advance — received the highest marks from Friday’s interviews. None of them has been a superintendent before.

Of nine people who issued public comments before the board vote Tuesday — including two activists who have been critical of the board — most were supportive of the way the board has moved the search forward.

Some members of the community complained that the initial interviews were held during the workday on Friday. Community advocates have pushed for transparency and integrity in the search, and community members and educators want to remain part of the process.

“No superintendent will be successful without us holding them accountable. And so I want us to keep that in mind as we ask them questions,” said board member Amber Huett-Garcia.

“We still have a lot of tough questions for the candidates ahead of us,” she added.

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board is on track with the hiring timeline it set out over the summer, when it relaunched the search for a new superintendent.

Its first attempt unraveled in April amid a board dispute, partly over whether interim Superintendent Toni Williams, the district’s former finance chief, was qualified to take the permanent job. The board agreed to restart the process it began in August 2022, after former Superintendent Joris Ray resigned in a cloud of scandal.

Williams is expected to assist the new leader’s transition, and can stay on as chief financial officer or a consultant after her term as interim superintendent ends, according to her contract.

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

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