Profiles of the 7 appointees to the Shelby County unified school board

This post contains small profiles of the Shelby County Commission's seven appointees to the 23-member unified school board.

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.

The seven appointed seats are subject to election in August 2012, but the MCS and SCS board members will not face election -- they fall off the board after merger becomes complete with the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, under terms of a settlement reached in federal court between all the parties who have been involved in the schools consolidation legal fight.

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

After the jump, find the small profiles.
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.

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 school 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.

District 4: Vanecia Kimbrow
Attorney
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.

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 Woods, blurted out: "Hallelujah! We got one."

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:
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL HAS NEVER WORKED AND WILL NEVER WORK.
WE STAND TOGETHER, ABSOLUTELY CALLING FOR FAIRNESS, JUSTICE, AND EQUITY FOR CITY AND COUNTY STUDENTS.
WE EXPECT FULL TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY, ENSURING THAT THE MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN IN OUR SCHOOLS NOT BE DISENFRANCHISED.
WE SUPPORT A UNIFIED SCHOOL SYSTEM.

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.

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."

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