September 2011 Archives

Supt. Aitken: Huge schools can make it a "whole lot harder" to educate

How strongly does Shelby County Supt. John Aitken feel that, when it comes to effective education, bigger is not better? He sought me out to answer the question I posed about why Houston High stayed excellent while he was principal even while it was among the largest high schools in the state. Aitken had told a small gathering of the Northeast Shelby County Rotary Club that when educational institutions become too large and unwieldy, the "personal touch" he feels is so important can get lost.

Yes, Aitken said, he and his staff were able to manage continued high performance at Houston High despite it going to overcapacity before Southwind High and other zoning changes lowered attendance. But that experience, he said, only deepened his conviction that the educational experience is put at risk if schools and/or districts grow too large. "When it was so large, it was a whole lot harder," Aitken told me last week. "I can assure you." Aitken said "just the little things" become huge issues -- like lunch scheduling -- that could be disruptive.

Aitken said he goes along with the idea that an ideal high school size for public education is 1,700 to 1,800 students, because it still allows efficiencies but without sacrificing effective management and that "personal touch" that Aitken believes is part of what has kept SCS among the best school systems in Tennessee.

One of the interesting -- and challenging -- issues the unified system will face involves school size. Many of Memphis's schools are under-utilized (not to mention in need of modernization), and a merger might make it easier to close more schools. With the school district's zones no longer fixed by city-suburban boundaries, there may be ways to find more ideal mixes of attendance, capacity and even socio-economic  makeups.

Merger team member to debut documentary on Memphis schools integration


University of Memphis law professor Daniel Kiel, one of Memphis City Schools' five appointments to the schools merger transition team, will next week be debuting his documentary film on the 13 children who integrated Memphis schools in 1961. Kiel and the merger transition team will of course be having their first official meeting on Thursday, but Kiel sends along this about a reminder of schools tumult from the past:

As many of you know, I have been working for some time on a project chronicling the story of the first graders who first desegregated the Memphis City Schools in 1961.  The 50th anniversary is next week and with that, the movie will premiere (see below)!!  I hope that you will be able to join us!  This has been a fascinating experience and I'm eager to share it with our community.
What: "The Memphis 13" Premiere (Free and Open to the Public)
Where: Malco Paradiso
When: Tuesday, October 4th at 6:00pm
For more info and trailer:

Here is how the project is described on the website:

First Grade Can Be a Scary Thing, Even Without the Burden of Making History
October 3, 1961 - 13 African American first graders broke the color line in the Memphis City Schools. The Memphis 13 is their story.

The documentary, to be released in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this initial desegregation, features interviews with all 13 pioneering families and other key individuals - students, teachers, leaders - who lived through this historic time.

The trailer can be seen below:

Memphis Supt. Kriner Cash's wife, Lisa, dies of cancer at age 56

Condolences go out to Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash, his immediate family and the broader MCS family. MCS sent the sad news that Cash's wife, Lisa, has died at age 56 after a battle with cancer. Cash has kept this personal family news private even as he has aggressively pushed his reform agenda during very tumultuous times for public schools, with Memphians deciding to force consolidation with the suburban Shelby County Schools by surrendering the charter and the state mandating a demanding new system for evaluating teachers.

Jane Roberts has posted a story here. MCS president Martavius Jones provided this comment:
"The entire MCS family and Memphis community is saddened by the passing of Mrs. Lisa Cash, the wife of Superintendent Kriner Cash of 34 years. During this time of loss, we appreciate the prayers and condolences expressed by the community and ask for your continued understanding of the request for privacy for the Cash family. Dr. Cash will take an indefinite leave of absence. During this time, the day-to-day operations of MCS will be conducted by Dr. Irving Hamer, Deputy Superintendent of Academic, Operations, Technology and Innovation."
Cash has kept his personal life very private, but when he left his job as superintendent of the Martha's Vineyard Schools system, the Vineyard Gazette included this:
He credited his wife, Lisa, for supporting him in the decision to change jobs. "I hesitated because of my devotion to the Island and she said, 'Don't hesitate.' She has been my support and encouragement all through our years," he said.

On what appears to be his actual but inactive Twitter account, Cash identifies himself like this:
"I cherish my wife of 32 years, my three sons, the 105,000 children I serve in Memphis, and the professional relationships I have established."

Shelby County unified school board appointee Billy Orgel (District 7)

Continuing with looks at the seven appointees for the 23-person unified school board that the Shelby County Commission chose in four-plus hours of debate and voting, we hit a district covering some of the most eastern sections of Memphis. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far. The map is here of the districts.

District 7: Billy Orgel
President of Tower Ventures
Organizer/Director of First Capital Bank in Germantown

Considered one of Memphis's must successful and civic-minded entrepreneurs, Orgel also served on the Public Building Authority that oversaw the on-time, on-budget construction of FedExForm and was a commissioner on the Memphis Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission. Like Kevin Woods of District 5, Orgel lives in outermost East Memphis, very near Germantown and close to Temple Israel, where Orgel has served as president. Orgel currently has one child in a private high school and one in a Memphis City Schools middle school (another is in college); his children also received their elementary education from MCS.

Orgel told the Commissioners that after graduating from the University of Texas (he is an alum of Richland Elementary School in Memphis City Schools and the more exclusive Memphis University School), he did not intend to return to Memphis but did so because help was needed with the family business. And he's never left. Orgel described his company, Tower Ventures, as one of the largest independently operating cell-tower companies in the country, but he also is involved in other ventures, including as organizer and director for First Capital Bank in Germantown.

Though Orgel identifies politically as a Republican, all but one of the commission's Republican members gave their support to Todd Payne, the general manager for Christian radio station 640-AM. Payne emphasized his belief that unincorporated Cordova needed representation. The other finalist receiving support was Rev. Ralph White, who lives in another part of Cordova and was a colleague of Orgel's on the Metro charter commission.

But with Sidney Chism and Walter Bailey both sticking with Orgel, White could not get enough votes.

"I keep my head down and do what I'm supposed to do," Orgel said before the vote.

After the vote, Orgel said: "I look forward to serving all the citizens of Shelby County. Thank you and I will not disappoint you."

His rabbi at Temple Israel, Micah Greenstein, says of Orgel: "Billy embodies the best of Jewish values in that he treats everyone the same and he follows the old rabbinical dictum, 'Say little, do more.'He never seeks attention, but finds ways to make things happen. He's honest and ethical, a family man who's devoted to his community."
Continuing with looks at the seven appointees for the 23-person unified school board that the Shelby County Commission chose in four-plus hours of debate and voting, we hit another Memphis district. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far. The map is here of the districts.

District 6: Reginald Porter Jr.
Projects/Process Advisor at FedEx

The Whitehaven resident was another candidate strongly supported by Stand For Children, and he ultimately beat out retired Memphis City Schools principal James Catchings, who has run unsuccessfully for City Council and County Commission. A University of Tennessee graduate, Porter emphasized his experience both as a higher education administrator (at Arkansas State and University of Tennessee Health Science Center) and current role at FedEx. Porter edged out Catchings on the strength of support from all six Republicans (including three from the suburbs) and Memphis Democrat Steve Mulroy.

Porter wrote on his questionnaire that he was the "project lead" on information technology alignment efforts when FedEx absorbed Kinko's in a merger, and also "led efforts" for FedEx in what he called "cross operational company integration of IT systems." In his interview, he appealed to the commissioners to look past the passion every applicant seemed to have in surplus and choose someone "who brings something to the table."

Porter he also cited expertise in community leadership roles "working with communities from all socio-economic backgrounds" and deep commitment to education as "a descendant of three generations of educators." In his final pitch, before being appointed, he talked about his love of Tennessee football and said he'd be the wide receiver capable of making the kind of big plays essential to preventing the process from bogging down.

Porter is the son of Rev. Reginald Porter Sr., the pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church in South Memphis, which during the Memphis City Schools charter surrender debate hosted a rally in favor of forcing consolidation with suburban schools by dissolving the city's school system. That group published an ad that read:

Porter Jr. is also a member of the board of MPACT Memphis, and his Leadership Academy class this spring cited him for their group's top award.

Take that, Nashville! Memphis has many more National Merit semifinalists

Here is that promised update on National Merit semifinalists, with a bit of a revelation that ought to boost civic self-esteem: When it comes to number of high-achieving students, as measured by numbers of National Merit semifinalists, the Memphis metropolitan area kicks metro Nashville's behind (or, as Terry Roland might put it, their "entire rear end").

Based strictly on the releases sent out late last week from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the numbers come out like this: Metro Memphis with 99 semifinalists, Metro Nashville with 84. Another way of looking at it -- metro Memphis has one semifinalist for every 802 high school students (based on U.S. Census numbers) vs. just one for every 973 high school students in metro Nashville. The methodology was pretty straightforward -- add up all students from public and private schools included in what is known as the metropolitan statistical area. The residencies are provided by the press release; it is unclear if it is listing the student's residence or the school. It breaks down like this:
Memphis students: 63 (25 from Memphis City Schools, 38 from non-public schools)
Suburban Shelby County students: 23 (21 from Shelby County Schools, 2 from non-public schools)
Other suburban students: 13 (nine from DeSoto County public schools, three non-public schools in DeSoto and one public from Marion, Ark.)
Nashville students: 48 (16 from Metro Nashville public schools, 32 from non-public)  
Suburban Nashville students: 36 (26 from public schools, 10 from non-public).
It's interesting that students from what will be a merged Shelby County public-school system contributed 46 of the state's 288 semifinalists, or just more than 16 percent (compare that to 16 total semifinalists and 5.5 percent from Nashville-Davidson County's merged system). Also, metro Memphis is hurt because school systems in Tipton and Fayette Counties produced no semifinalists. An observation that is puzzling: Most of the 38 private-school semifinalists from Memphis metro came from just three schools -- Memphis University School, St. Mary's Episcopal School and Christian Brothers High School had 30 of the 39 (two were home schooled). Does anyone know if mainstream private schools with no semifinalists like Evangelical Christian School, Harding Academy, St. George's Episcopal School and the Catholic Diocese schools either do not participate or otherwise report their numbers?

Looking at how systems do in the National Merit scholarship contests is of course just one measure of school quality, but it does give an indication of how the highest-achieving students compare to peers in their respective states. According to the release:
About 1.5 million juniors in some 22,000 high schools entered the 2012 National Merit
Scholarship Program by taking the 2010 Preliminary sat/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (psat/nmsqt®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of Semifinalists, which represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. The number of Semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state's percentage of the national total of graduating seniors

After the jump, a list of ALL the Memphis metro area students, as provided by the releases.

Unified school board appointee Kevin Woods (District 5)

Continuing with looks at the seven appointees for the 23-person unified school board that the Shelby County Commission chose in Monday's four-plus hours of debate and voting, we hit the another suburban district, this one more or less covering the southeast part of Shelby County. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far. The map is here of the districts.

District 5: Kevin Woods
Director of sales/training at New Horizons Computer Learning Centers

Frustrated in how appointments went in the suburban districts, the suburban Republicans joined with all three Memphis Republicans and Memphis Democrat Justin Ford to give self-identified African-American Republican Kevin Woods the nod over longtime state Sen. Jim Kyle. Woods lives in East Memphis very close to the Germantown border, but emphasized in his interview and during the voting that he made an intentional decision to stay inside the Memphis city limits.

Woods, a native of Bolivar who holds bachelor and masters degrees from the University of Memphis,  sends his two girls to St. Mary's Episcopal School. "That shouldn't be held against me because I worked hard and chose to provide a better education for my kids," Woods said.

Woods and Kyle were the only two nominees and he sought to differentiate himself from Kyle by saying he fully intended to run for election in August (Kyle said he would not), and ingratiated himself with suburban Republicans by indicating that if he had lived a mile east in suburban Shelby County, he might not have supported the merger. He also positioned himself as someone who would bridge divides.

"At the end of the day, whatever the law of the land is if we don't work together for the betterment of all our children, we are in trouble. Because companies don't want to relocate to a community where there is infighting," Woods said. "If we are going to continue to fight about issues that should have been resolved 40 years ago, (other communities) are going to continue to get those jobs that should be in Shelby County. So let's work together to get this behind us so our children can have a better future."

Republican commissioners sought to portray Kyle as potentially divisive, with Wyatt Bunker flat out calling Kyle a "partisan hack." Kyle, however, pointed to decades of work winning votes from Republicans and Democrats from all sorts of communities, for initiatives from Republican and Democratic governors alike. It was Bunker's return from seeing a doctor for an excruciating back injury that provided the crucial seventh vote Woods needed; otherwise, it is quite likely the other Democratic commissioners would have eventually gotten Ford to switch from Woods to Kyle.

Woods said he would ask Kyle for "that playbook" and commissioner Heidi Shafer praised what she observed as potential for strong "diplomacy" skills from Woods. Suburban commissioner Chris Thomas, after Ford's vote blocked Kyle and elevated Wodos, blurted out: "Hallelujah! We got one."

Some news more indirectly related to schools merger:

  • Education reporter Jane Roberts breaks down the National Merit semifinalists from the Memphis area with this lede: "White Station High School has more National Merit Scholarship semifinalists than any school in the state." White Station had 22 of Memphis City Schools' 25 semifinalists (NOTE: Fixed from previous version ... Ridgeway, Central and Cordova each had one); Shelby County Schools had 22 in all (Houston High led the way with nine). Private schools with good showings included Memphis University School (15) and St. Mary's Episcopal School (eight). We did not list every winner from every private school but I'll put something further up when we get the list.
  • She also reports on Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash on his required self-evaluation giving himself "excellent" ratings in 18 areas and "good" in six others. Lowered ACT scores across the district were a concern, but Cash pointed to $178 million in college scholarships for MCS students, including $44 million at Whitehaven High School (not to be confused with White Station), as well as graduation rates that MCS says are the envy of most other urban school districts dealing with a huge number of impoverished students.
  • Finally, SCS board member and vice-chairman Mike Wissman won the Arlington mayoral election, despite opponents questioning his desire to stay on the unified school board. Interestingly, the criticism had to do with some in Arlington concerned Wissman might put loyalty to the school system ahead of mayoral duties to Arlington. Of course, many Memphians will view it 180-degrees differently, wondering if Wissman will put loyalty to Arlington ahead of a holistic view of the county's educational system. Of note: With Wissman on the school board and Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald on the 21-member transition team, two of the county's six suburban municipalities are represented, but not Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
BLOGGER NOTE: We left out DeSoto County when discussing the National Merit semifinalists. Chris Van Tuyl reports there were a total of 11 students from DeSoto County public and private schools to earn semifinalists recognition.

Unified school board appointee Vanecia Kimbrow (suburban District 4)

Continuing with looks at the seven appointees for the 23-person unified school board that the Shelby County Commission chose in Monday's four-plus hours of debate and voting, we hit the another suburban district, this one more or less covering the southeast part of Shelby County. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far. The map is here of the districts.

District 4: Vanecia Kimbrow
This was the most contentious district, and Wyatt Bunker's absence probably helped attorney and Collierville resident Vanecia Kimbrow gain the nod over an impressive field of applicants, including Ken Hoover, the active Shelby County Schools parent and Germantown resident who last year nearly pulled of what would have been a stunning defeat of long-reigning SCS chairman David Pickler.

Kimbrow, a graduate of the University of Memphis's law school, was encouraged by Stand For Children to put herself forward at the last minute. She said she has been active in the schools her children attend -- currently Houston High School and Sycamore Elementary School -- and Stand cited her past involvement in child-advocacy issues as a strength. Kimbrow wrote:
"Being adopted and raised by my grandmother who was a domestic worker with a third-grade education, I am a living witness that there is nothing more important to a child than a quality education and the presence of those in their lives that will mentor, support, and encourage them to achieve and excel. I am a passionate advocate for children and each child's right to receive a quality education and will always base my opinions on what is in the best interest of all the children."

Kimbrow indicated she has worked in difficult negotiating environments and helped with complicated mergers. In terms of voting, Hoover got reliable support from four of the five Republicans present, but Kimbrow got five votes in the first round and made it to seven in the third round after Mike Carpenter switched from Collierville's Todd Martin (an executive at Syngenta) to Kimbrow and Memphis commissioners Justin Ford and Henri Brooks moved from former MCS administrator Sonya Smith to Kimbrow.

Hoover's primary focus was on giving the board a proponent of somehow chopping the 150,000-student district into smaller pieces, though he had promised, if appointed, to resign from all activities in support of municipal school districts. Brooks did not mention Hoover specifically when she warned of putting a  "Trojan horse" on the board, but Hoover, despite campaigning last year in part on building trust and cooperation with Memphis, could only get two Memphis commissioners to support him. Carpenter had supported him in the race against Pickler but could not be moved on Monday.

Kimbrow wrote on her questionnaire that she is opposed to municipal school districts at this point because "it seemingly undermines the spirit and intent of the court order before any good faith attempt to first comply has been made." That earned her the ire of the suburban commissioners and predictions that she will be defeated in the August 2012 elections.

Supt. Aitken at NE Shelby Rotary: 'Looking forward' to challenge ahead

Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken covered a range of topics in his talk today with about 25 members of the Northeast Shelby County Rotary Club, including but not exclusively consolidation. He spent most of his prepared remarks explaining the new teacher evaluation process mandated by the state legislature and the additional burdens it puts on teachers and administrators.

Where veteran teaches in the past might expect one classroom evaluation every five years, now they receive four per year; for non-tenured teachers, it is six classroom evaluations and it now takes five years to qualify for tenure. Jane Roberts has well explained this to our readers, and it's also worth noting that a teacher's final evaluation is also now based on how much academic growth students are displaying (as opposed to straight test scores, each student's growth is essentially graded on a curve that takes into account each student's past record and other factors).

"In the end result, it's a good thing," Aitken said. "It's going to take a while to get there. If the focus is on improving learning, that's where it needs to go."
As for consolidation, Aitken more than anything provided a primer on the process and the 23-member unified school board and 21-member transition commission. He said he was at a conference with other Tennessee superintendents earlier this week and the educational community in the state -- and the country -- is closely watching the process of merging of two of the state's largest districts in Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. Aitken said:
"I got a lot of sympathies and condolences from some of my compadres across the state when they sat there and look at you and say, 'You're going to have how many members on the school board? And you're going to have how many on the transition planning committee? And where are you meeting?' It is a big topic but one we're looking forward to. It's going to be challenging."

Aitken also told the group what we reported in today's story about upcoming meetings of the various entities involved in merger -- an orientation is scheduled next week and on Oct. 3 there will be a swearing-in ceremony of the seven newest members of the 23-member school board.

Somoene did ask Aitken, if he had a magic paint brush, what would he want the end result to look like, post-merger. Aitken said he agrees with those who say one 150,000-student system is too big and would prefer something broken into smaller components. His response:

"One hundred fifty thousand students is big. It's going to be hard to manage. The magical paint brush I would want is breaking up into some number fo smaller subdistricts, whatever that may be. There's a lot of different talk  and again that's something for the transition committee to look at but you hear chancellor model thrown about. You hear the King model. I think the researc  is going to prove to you that in your large districts you've got to break it down.

I'm biased. This is my 29th year in Shelby County and I felt like one of my strengths as a principal was I knew those kids. I feel like one of my strengths as a superintendent is I know the principals, I know the administration, I know many of the teachers. You obviously are going to lose part of that personal touch when you get bigger. It's inevitable. If you keep it condensed you can give that attention you otherwise wouldn't get."

One interesting question for Aitken (I'll ask next time I see him) then is this -- if bigger is not better, then why does SCS have such large suburban high schools? Aitken was principal at Houston High School, which has a great reputation, but it is also at one time was one of the three largest high schools in the state (it's still large but enrollment changes have knocked Houston lower .... Arlington High School is among the largest, for instance). SCS actually has several largest high schools in Tennessee. 

Unified school board appointee Raphael McInnis (suburban District 3)

Continuing with looks at the appointees the Shelby County Commission chose in Monday's four-plus hours of debate and voting, we hit the one of the two suburban districts (of the seven total seats). The map is here of the districts. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far.

District 3: Raphael McInnis
Regulatory Affairs specialist at Medtronic
McInnis, a 2010 Leadership Academy graduate, said his wife is finishing graduate school at the University of Memphis to become a teacher. They have a 3-year-old who he said will be going into a pre-school program at Bon Lin Elementary School with plans to send him to public schools.

McInnis, at Tennessee graduate who attended public schools in Jackson, Miss., and Clinton, Miss., emphasized looking at best practices from both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools and wrote on his questionnaire: "I want to make sure that all students across the district get the best education possible in order to have the best chance at success in life. I have a core belief that all students can learn if given the opportunity and proper resources."

McInnis said he lives in the 38002 zip code that is primarily Arlington but that his actual residence is inside the Bartlett city limits. His primary competition was Millington accountant Gregory Ritter, who made a compelling case and pointed out he had worked in the past coaching middle school football players in Northaven who face similar challenges seen in some of Memphis's impoverished neighborhoods.

However, Memphis Republican Mike Carpenter joined the Memphis Democrats in supporting McInnis over Ritter. Commissioner Steve Mulroy indicated he did not fully trust Ritter to embrace the unified schol district, although Ritter told the man who nominated him, Terry Roland, that it was unrealistic to believe Millington would be able to afford a municipal school district and thus opt out of the unified district.

"We are going to be part of the unified system so I want to do my part to make it the best for the county for all children," Ritter said.

However, McInnis did try to sway votes by emphasizing his belief that "each member of the board must be 100 percent" behind a unified system. McInnis also had strong support from Stand For Children, which managed to get four active members of the group appointed.

After McInnis gave his short victory and thank you speech, Roland tried to have the last word.

"As a commissioner of District 3, he does not represent me," Roland said.
"He does now," shot back Carpenter.
"Wait 'til election time," Roland said.
Following up on the post yesterday that broke down the composition of the transition team and the finalists for the County Commission's seven appointments to the 23-person unified school board, we can now gander at the 44 people who are charged with guiding merger of Shelby County's schools.

  • Gender: There are 29 men and 15 women.
  • Race: There are 26 white members and 18 black members.
  • Geography: 24 Memphis to 20 suburban, though three Memphis residents straddle suburban borders and two suburban residents are in unincorporated areas outside of municipalities.
  • Public school parents: Just one on the transition team but 10 of the 23 board members (NOTE: an earlier version overlooked Louis Padgett, a Shelby County Schools principal who lives in Memphis and has children in SCS).
We'll aim for a post breaking down the professional backgrounds of all 44 later this week.

Taking a closer look at unified Shelby County school board selections

It took about five hours Monday for the Shelby County Commission to make appointments to the seven new school board seats it created as part of the schools merger settlement. The deadline story for print is here. The map is here of the districts. See this link for the compilation of appointee profiles we've created thus far.

The seven picks (map is here):
District 1: Christopher Caldwell, Morgan Keegan vice president. District 2: Teresa Jones, prosecutor for City of Memphis. District 3: Raphael McInnis, Medtronic regulatory affairs specialist. District 4: Vanecia Kimbrow, attorney. District 5: Kevin Woods, New Horizons information technology. District 6: Reginald Porter Jr., FedEx process advisor. District 7: Billy Orgel, Tower Ventures CEO

As anticipated here before the vote, the commission split for five men and two women. There were five black appointees and two white appointees (NOTE: Fixed from earlier version with incorrect numbers); four Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent. There is a successful CEO, a FedEx projects manager, Medtronic regulatory affairs specialist, independent attorney, city prosecutor, financial advisor and information technology specialist. In all, four have children in public schools and another has children in private schools.

In terms of geography -- two in Midtown, two in East Memphis very near the Germantown border and one each in Bartlett, Collierville and Whitehaven.  

Throughout the next two days, I will be going through the winners of each district and including details about them and how the votes played out getting them the appointments.

On Oct. 1, the seven appointed by the commission will officially become part of a 23-member unified board which also includes the current nine Memphis City Schools board members and current seven Shelby County Schools board members. That board will have ultimate authority and responsibility for adopting transition plans that the state has charged a 21-person transition commission with creating. The board also will oversee the continued administration and operation of MCS and the suburban SCS.

District 1: Chris Caldwell
Morgan Keegan vice president and financial advisor
Many commissioners agreed that this district, which essentially covers the central city (Mississipi River east to Mendenhall, North Parkway/Summer south to South Parkway) was an embarrassment of riches. Staunch support for several candidates -- investment bank CEO Duncan Williams, pastor Noel Hutchinson, Urban Child Institute director Katy Spurlock, pastor and county commission baliff Sammie Jones -- brought a deadlock after nine rounds of voting and caused the Commission to push District 1 back to the end of the agenda.

It is no exaggeration to say Caldwell has been one of the most involved public school parents in the region. He's served on various parent organizing groups, and even has been active in intentionally recruiting those Midtown parents who traditionally choose not to send their children to Memphis City Schools. Caldwell, a Memphis native who identifies politically as an Independent, actually did not make the original list of four finalists but got back in the running when he was nominated by Memphis Republican commissioner Heidi Shafer.

But during the first nine rounds of voting, Caldwell was essentially an also-ran, and the votes were lining up for Spurlock (she got to six votes at one point, just one shy of the seven needed) and Hutchinson. However, Republican commissioner Wyatt Bunker, himself a former Shelby County Schools board member, missed that round of voting while seeing a doctor for excruciating back pain. His return proved pivotal for Caldwell, with the six Republicans eventually uniting behind him and Mulroy breaking from the six black Democrats who were supporting Hutchinson.

Caldwell admitted his public speaking style isn't graceful, but promised: "Y'all don't know how determined I am to make this work."

District 2: Teresa Jones
Chief prosecutor for the City of Memphis
Longtime commissioner Walter Bailey gave his highest recommendation to Jones, pointing out that she has the trust of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and is well respected in the legal community for her work.

On her questionnaire, Jones listed as her skill sets "patience, fairness, reasonable, listening and mediation skills" and said she was ready to get to the hard work of merging schools. She grew up in Marshall County (Miss.) and attended public schools there (Byhalia High School), and is a graduate of Lane College and University of Memphis's law school. According to the Memphis website, "From 1988-2003 she was an assistant public defender and criminal court supervisor with the Shelby County Public Defender Office where she represented indigent defendants exclusively in the area of criminal law."

Jones won in the third round of voting, with finalists Sherman Greer (Southwest Tennessee Community College administrator and former longtime congressional aide) and Tyree Daniels (investment banker) gaining support of Republicans who sensed Jones was somewhat of a city establishment choice but they were unable to sustain support from enough Democrats.

Men dominate picks for schools merger teams

We'll have at least two reporters at the County Commission today for their regular meeting, in which the commissioners are expected to vote to fill the seven new school board seats created under terms of the schools merger settlement. After the jump, see a one-sentence description of the finalists.

And ponder this (comment on it, I mean) -- why are those picking the board and those who picked the 21-member transition team showing such a strong lean toward men and away from women? After all, the vast majority of professionals inside both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools are women, as is the case in most schools and school districts. I'm not suggesting there should be a quote; I'm just asking -- what's with all the men?

In all 15 of the transition team members are men to only six women -- a split of 71 percent ment to 29 percent women. Of the 25 finalists chosen for the seven new school board seats, 19 are men and six are women -- an even greater disparity of 76 percent men and 24 percent women.

If the board picks go at the similar rate, it would be five men and two women. Those seven are added to the current nine MCS board members and current seven SCS board members to create a 23-person unified board. Right now, SCS has six men and one woman (Diane George of Collierville) while the MCS board actually has a female advantage -- six women to three men. So -- a possible unified board of 14 men and nine women.

Add that all up, and you would have, among the 44 people most involved in merging schools, a grand total of 15 women compared to 29 men -- about 66 percent men to 34 percent women.

This is not to say that would be good, bad or indifferent. But it certainly would mean mostly men making plans for systems where the majority of professionals are women.

Finalists for the board are after the jump below.

After state Senate speaker Ron Ramsey and the Shelby County Schools board made their picks to the 21-member schools merger transition team late last week, the board was transformed into one that the Republican-dominated state legislature envisioned with the passage of the Norris-Todd state low -- comprised of majority suburban interests preventing Memphis control. State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has made a consistent point that the law actually was taken directly from other existing state law meant to guide consolidation of school systems. But the consequence of that was that 13 of the 18 appointments came from elected officials with political bases from the suburbs -- Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell (five), suburban Shelby County Schools chairman David Pickler (five) and one each for the state's top three elected officials (Ramsey, Gov. Bill Haslam, state House speaker Beth Harwell).

The worry from Memphis was that the tilt could give Memphis fewer than 30 percent of appointments. It didn't turn out that way -- 10 appointments were suburban residents to eight from Memphis. True, one of those eight Memphians appointments is a Shelby County Schools principal, but one of the suburban residents is a University of Memphis professor that Memphis City Schools gave one of its five appointments. They cancel out.

In terms of final breakdown, including the nonvoting members (Luttrell, SCS board chairman David Pickler and MCS president Martavius Jones), it goes like this:
  • 11 suburban residents to 10 Memphis residents
  • 15 men to six women
  • 14 white members to seven black members
  • Just one parent of current MCS or SCS students, though several have grandchildren in the systems or raised children who attended MCS or SCS schools ((NOTE: an earlier version overlooked Louis Padgett, a Shelby County Schools principal who lives in Memphis and has children in SCS).
As a reminder, the transition team is charged with developing a plan for how to merge MCS administration and operations into the county. Those plans must be approved by the state Department of Education and then ultimately approved by the 23-member unified school board that is being created for transition only.

After the jump, see a one-sentence description of each transition team appointee, with the caveat that Luttrell's appointees still must be confirmed at today's Shelby County Commission meeting.
There was a decent amount of talk at yesterday's marathon County Commission school board interview session over the concept of a "Chancellor" model and a few applicants were even well-versed on the history of the so-called "Morris Plan," after former Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris, to split Shelby County into several smaller school districts. One of the key leaders of Morris's "Task Force for Educational Excellence," in 1990-91 was Jim Rout, then a county commissioner and later a two-term county mayor.

Rout is one of 10 finalists for appointment by the Shelby County Schools board to the transition team that is charged with creating a plan to merge Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. So I went looking in our archives for more details on the plan.

After the jump, find a straight copy-and-paste of some articles on that plan.

SCS transition finalists closely tied to system

This story on the list of 10 finalists for Shelby County Schools five picks on the schools merger transition team should post to the main website shortly, but for those who just cannot wait, see below for the details.

The list of 10 finalists the Shelby County Schools board will consider today for five spots on the schools merger transition team is heavy on people closely associated with the suburban school system, as well as a suburban mayor exploring ways to opt out of the unified system and a former county mayor who once helped create a schools plan that envisioned splitting the county's schools into several smaller districts.

The pool includes eight men and two women for consideration by the board, which is itself comprised of six men and one woman. The five selected will join the so far 12 other picks made by Memphis City Schools (five), Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell (five), Gov. Bill Haslam (one) and state House speaker Beth Harwell (one).

The Commercial Appeal obtained a list of finalists and they are:
  • Tommy Hart, real-estate investor and a former Shelby County Commissioner;
  • Richard Holden, SCS's recently retired chief of operations;
  • Ricky Jeans, an insurance agent with an office in Memphis and SCS parent whose testimony helped lift SCS's desegregation court order;
  • Keith McDonald, the Bartlett mayor who in 2009 turned down an appointment to be part of the Memphis/Shelby County Metropolitan Charter Commission and is looking at establishing municipal schools;
  • Jeff Norris, an administrator at Rhodes College;
  • Chris Price, a car salesman who was a strident opponent of the MCS charter surrender and whose wife transitioned from SCS board member to employee last year;
  • Jim Rout, a former Shelby County mayor who as county commissioner led a committee that created a plan that envisioned splitting all of the county's schools into smaller multiple districts;
  • Katie Stanton, former SCS administrator and former president of the non-union Shelby County Education Association which represents SCS employees;
  • Kay Williams, a former SCS principal and former SCEA president;
  • and, Lang Wiseman, former chair of the county's Republicans, former Bolton High School basketball star and brother of Arlington mayor Russell Wiseman.
The Norris-Todd state law guiding the transfer of Memphis City Schools administration and operations to the county authorizes SCS chairman David Pickler to make the choices, but he has established a process involving his six other board members that culminates with a noon meeting today to discuss and vote on the five picks.

One board member, Diane George of Collierville, has objected to Pickler's handling of the process, saying she believes it has not been transparent and may have violated the state's "Sunshine Law" outlining rules for open meetings.

Pickler said Thursday morning he will provide copies of all emails between board members. That will include, Pickler said, the correspondence he asked for from board members ranking a larger pool of 19 of their recommendations.

"The state gave me the right to pick these on my own if I wanted, but I wanted to make this as open and inclusive as possible," Pickler said.

Pickler said board members will discuss the candidates and he will ask for each to submit a list of their top five picks, which will then be scored (five points for a No. 1 pick, one point for a No. 5 pick). Pickler said board members may still nominate people not in the final 10.

Once those picks are made, only one transition team choice will remain, that of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. Luttrell's picks are subject to approval by the County Commission, and it plans to consider them at a meeting Monday.

Luttrell, Pickler and MCS president Martavius Jones will be non-voting members on the 21-member team, which is charged with creating a plan for consolidating MCS with SCS in time for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

According to terms of a federal court settlement, that plan must be approved by the state department of education before going to a 23-member unified countywide school board for approval.

Breaking down merger transition team (so far)

With news that Gov. Bill Haslam and House speaker Beth Harwell have each made their single appointments to the schools merger transition commission, 12 of the 18 appointees are now known (with the caveat that the Shelby County Commission must sign off on the five picks Mayor Mark Luttrell made yesterday).

The Memphis City Schools made its five picks the day after the settlement agreement was reached; the suburban Shelby County Schools plans to make its five picks next week. State Senate speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey also gets one pick. The 12 so far, all from Shelby County, break down like this:
  • Eight are Memphis residents, four from the suburbs (though Ramsey and SCS figure to appoint most if not all suburbanites). Add the non-voting members Martavius Jones (MCS board president), David Pickler (SCS board chairman) and Luttrell, and the breakdown right now is 10 Memphians, five suburbanites.
  • Seven are men, five are women.
  • Seven are white, five are black.
  • Nine are or have been closely involved in education in some capacity, including a Shelby County Schools principal, a former SCS  superintendent and board member, another former schools superintendent elsewhere, a university president, a law professor, a  community college educator and administrator, a former veteran MCS board member, a community activist for improving education and a founder and president of a faith-based high-poverty private school in Frayser.
After the jump, find the full list with capsule descriptions, taken either from stories we wrote or with information provided by the releases accompanying their appointments:
  • About

As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

  • Zack McMillin on Twitter