Superintendent of Tennessee’s largest school district reflects SCS highs and lows through the pandemic

Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 at 8:11 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Jan. 19 the Tennessee legislature will hold a special session on schools. The governor called the session to “address urgent issues facing Tennessee students and schools in the 2021-22 school year.”

In light of that, it seemed only appropriate that we would sit down with Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray to talk about how the largest school district in the state has and will operate throughout the pandemic.

As you can imagine, there have been innumerable challenges for the district that serves 95,000 students, employs about 14,000 employees and manages more than 160 schools.

But one thing that hasn’t changed since SCS went completely virtual -- Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray’s weekly school visits. Since many teachers still teach from their classes, Dr. Ray regularly shows up to talk with them and school administrators and dips into virtual classes to greet the students, as well.

And though some may question the efficacy of virtual learning, Dr. Ray does not.

As Dr. Ray believes, “Virtual school isn’t broken -- it’s not perfect -- but it isn’t broken.”

As a matter of fact, Dr. Ray believes that in some respects, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing to his district as well as a curse due to the number of lives lost.

“The blessing in all of this -- because as a leader you have to think of the brighter day ahead -- we were able to secure a device for all of the children in our school district,” he explained.

And that’s something Dr. Ray tried to get for students before the pandemic, but there was no funding.

Shelby County Schools were first to close when the pandemic hit in March of 2020 and one of the few to remain completely virtual. For him, “It’s about doing what’s best for the students of Shelby county and I’ve said safety is number one priority. Also, the science talks about black and brown students and how them contracting the disease is more likely than students of other races,” he added.

As for when Shelby County Schools might reopen classrooms to students, Dr. Ray said he’ll continue to follow the science and hopes the Tennessee legislature will deliver the resources and funding needed to re-open safely.

Dr. Ray believes, “If we don’t get it right and we don’t get the resources, our students are going to continue to fall behind.”

Dr. Ray also thanks local community partners like the YWCA of Memphis, the University of Memphis and WMC Action News 5 who, as he put it, “Stepped up to wrap their arms around the children of Shelby County Schools” by helping feed, clothe, house and nurture students throughout the pandemic.

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