MSCS Superintendent responds to calls for his resignation

Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The superintendent of the largest school system in Tennessee responded to calls for him to step down.

Dr. Joris Ray became the leader of the Memphis Shelby County School system in 2019. He led the district through the pandemic, no easy feat for any school superintendent.

Before a special called school board meeting on Tuesday, June 14, Action News 5 asked Superintendent Joris Ray for comment about the recent call for his resignation.

Ray touted the district’s successes under his leadership: smaller class sizes, teacher retention bonuses and a revamped tech program that’s certified 6,000 students in less than three years. He says children are the number one priority.

“We will continue to lead beyond distractions,” he said, a talking point he would use repeatedly during the meeting.

Twenty-four hours earlier, members of Memphis Lift and the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone--groups made up of parents, students and community members--demanded more transparency and accountability from Memphis Shelby County Schools on contracts, hirings and student achievement.

“We are asking the superintendent to step down. We are asking Governor Lee to step in and do an independent forensic audit,” said Memphis Life Executive Director Sarah Carpenter. “We are not taking care of our children, and it’s showing.”

“This district is top heavy from the top down,” said Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, “it’s almost going to get crushed under the weight of its own power. We have more superintendents than any school system in the United States.”

Dr. Ray’s critics pointed to the 2021 TCAP results that show just 14-percent of the district’s 3rd graders are reading at grade level in English Arts, and less than 6-percent of 7th graders are proficient in math.

School Board president Michelle McKissack understands parental concerns, but said she supports Superintendent Ray.

”I think people are just frustrated because we’ve been caught up in a pandemic for 2-plus years,” McKissack said, “and it had an impact on children and their education, not just here, but all across the nation.”

During the special called school board meeting, commissioners approved the district’s new $2 billion budget for the 2022-23 school year.

Dr. Ray thanked his staff for their hard work during budget season and told them the same thing he told Action News 5 about those who doubt his skills or his intentions.

“This is a distraction,” he said. “The people of Memphis know what we’ve done. I love this city. I grew up here. We will continue to fight for children. That’s it. Thank you.”

The board also approved a $14 million grant from the state of Tennessee that will help pay for the district’s summer learning academy.

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