Memphis school board will reset timeline for superintendent search

A logo bears the words “Memphis Shelby County Schools”
The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board will revise its timeline to complete the superintendent search. The process is paused, and the board is unlikely to meet its initial deadlines. (Ariel Cobbert for Chalkbeat)

The search for a new leader for Memphis-Shelby County Schools looks like it won’t be done anytime soon.

The school board, which met Tuesday amid sharp divisions over how to complete the selection of the district’s next superintendent, is scheduled to meet again on Friday to discuss a revised timeline for the search.

Board member Joyce Dorse-Coleman, who is now co-leading the search with Stephanie Love, said the continued pause through the final weeks of the school year would allow the board to focus on its budget, student testing, and graduations, and to address community concerns about the search process.

“I emphasize that we are not stopping the search for superintendent,” Dorse-Coleman said.

The board had once planned to have a successor to former Superintendent Joris Ray chosen by the spring and on the job this summer, before the start of the 2023-24 school year. But it is unlikely to meet those deadlines.

The search got derailed last month, when several board members raised objections about how the process was wrapping up, just as the outside search firm presented its initial slate of finalists. Board Chair Althea Greene decided to halt the process while board members ironed out their differences.

That decision led to a shuffling of the top contenders, but none of the remaining candidates have been publicly interviewed, and no interviews have been scheduled before the board and the public.

The process so far has left three top contenders remaining: Carlton Jenkins of Madison, Wisconsin; Angela Whitelaw, Memphis’ top academic official; and the district’s interim superintendent, Toni Williams. At least two other leading candidates withdrew from consideration and accepted other jobs.

The board was set to meet this week to try to forge agreement on how to restart the process and resolve other key questions, including whether Williams, the district’s former finance chief, meets the minimum qualifications for the superintendent job. 

Those items are likely to be discussed during the retreat Friday, though no agenda has been posted.

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Board member Michelle McKissack said Tuesday that she believed candidate interviews should go ahead, but that she supported the decision to focus on the district’s students at the end of the year.

No other board member spoke about the decision Tuesday, and the board did not hold a vote on pausing the search, even though a search update was listed as an action item on the board agenda. (Board members Amber Huett-Garcia and Kevin Woods did not attend the meeting.) 

It’s the third time since the formation of the merged Memphis-Shelby County district that a superintendent search has been interrupted. The two previous superintendents, Ray and predecessor Dorsey Hopson, were elevated as internal appointments after national searches were quickly called off. The current process is the first time a national search has progressed so far for the combined district.

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

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