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.


I'm not trying to be picky here, but there are only two whites, Orgel and Caldwell. The rest are black. Also, once again, as on the current MCS and SCS boards, Cordova has ZERO representation.

That's not being picky, Todd. It's being correct. I've fixed the discrepancy, and thanks for bringing up the Cordova variable.

With only seven seats, residents of huge neighborhoods are of course not specifically represented by one of their neighbors -- Frayser, Raleigh, Hickory Hill, Millington, Arlington, even Germantown. That said, the presence of MCS and SCS board members on the 23-member unified board does provide some representation to various areas, though, again, even with 23 members there are going to be gaps.

I'm hopeful all those people who came out and cared enough to try and get on the board will somehow channel that energy into showing up to meetings, helping, watching, etc., the members who are now charged with representation.

“Taking a closer look at unified Shelby County school board selections - Eye
on Schools Merger” ended up being a very wonderful blog post, .

Continue publishing and I will continue reading! Thanks -Kassie

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at www.MemphisNewsBlog.com, 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 zmcmillin@commercialappeal.com or 529-2564.

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