Letter from the Superintendent: MSCS Critical Needs Assessment

During my time as superintendent, I will intentionally listen and boldly act. I will also remain laser-focused on the needs of our students and teachers while working collaboratively with our community. I remain extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve our District during this time. Being a product of this District makes this opportunity personal, and I am determined to ensure that we strengthen our District for our students, families, employees, and community.  

Our mission at MSCS is to prepare all students for success in learning, leadership and life. In order to prepare them for ethical leadership we must model it. Accountability and efficient structures are critical to creating trust. We must make the changes necessary to provide the best possible education and services for students. I have outlined some of those changes in the sections that follow. Many of the items discuss operations matters that I addressed immediately to ensure the interest and integrity of the District; however, a comprehensive review of academics is underway.

Our District has been through a lot lately, which is a testament to our resilience. Transitions are never easy, but they are a necessary part of effective organizational change, and I am committed to pivoting toward progress. As we work together to continue our culture and climate reset at Central Office and districtwide, I am committed to guiding the process with integrity and community input. With your help, we will emerge from this reset stronger. 


We will continue with our upward momentum, but I want to caution that progress is rarely a straight line. There will be dips and curves along the way. Even when we momentarily lose our footing, we must never lose our focus. Doing what’s best for children will always be my North Star; this is my vow. 

As long as I have the honor of serving as your superintendent, I am focused on increasing student success, efficiency, collaboration, and trust so that as we continue trending up, together, we’ll ALL be lifted up.


Classroom and Teacher Supports

  • Funding: Over $24 million in additional federal funds have been provided directly to school leaders aligned with their state school improvement plans since September 2022. Common uses include behavioral interventions, class-size reductions, family and engagement support, and technology enhancements. Principals have been given additional flexibility – within policy and guidelines – that will allow them to reallocate funds for immediate school needs.


  • Teacher Placements: When approaching any mammoth job, you must attack the problem one step at a time. I’m choosing to start with support for teachers, who are on the front lines, representing the full work of the district while serving multiple roles in their classrooms. We are bringing dozens of our teacher leaders back to the classroom to help support our hardworking faculty and staff. We are aggressively working on recruiting, inducting, sustaining, and engaging all employees to ensure student and school success.


  • Teacher and Staff Pay: From day one as superintendent, I have been vocal about my commitment to review and improve teacher compensation. I have not wavered from that and plans to move swiftly are underway. For the sake of our teachers, I support the most expedited path to progress. As a District, we continue to make great strides to attract and retain staff. We have done this in multiple ways: this year, we implemented and will continue to review to ensure our salary schedule better compensates teachers for their years of service and graduate degrees. In October, we gave retention bonuses to teachers, teacher-types, and select school-based staff, and we provided a comparable pay increase for other eligible full-time and part-time employees. The District will continue to assess strategies to enhance compensation.


  • Tea with Supt. Toni and Teacher Perks: True support doesn’t come from the top down but rather from hearing all voices. Because of this, I’m scheduling Tea with Superintendent Toni talks to hear directly from those in the classroom. Keep your eyes out for my visit to your school. Additionally, starting in November, we’re launching partnerships with local businesses to show appreciation for teachers. Teacher Perks is one way for the community to come together to show we love our teachers. The first one is at Main Event on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Show your school ID, and you’ll receive half-off all activities so that you can enjoy a fun time with your family.


Business Operations and Facilities

  • Leadership Changes: Chief of Business Operations Genard Phillips has announced he is leaving his role in December. We thank him for his service to the District. Our incoming Chief of Business Operations is Julius Muse. We will have additional assistance during this transitional period to support our operational functions. Former Interim Business Operations Chief, Cerita Butler, and Alliance Managing Director at CBRE, Brock Green, will serve as external consultants. We are filling the role of the Deputy of Human Resources with Jenikka Oglesby, who starts in November.


  • Building Maintenance: Principals have asked the District to address grounds and maintenance concerns on their campuses. On Oct. 18, I sent a letter to school leaders re-establishing the District’s commitment to this area. We also sent letters to vendors reminding them of our policies and expectations of them. Over the next couple of months, all will see noticeable improvements in building and landscape maintenance. We will reduce the backlog and time between service visits, resulting in better-manicured lawns, more frequently trimmed trees, fewer weeds, and improved conditions.


  • Strengthening Internal Controls in Procurement: To ensure internal controls are strengthened, Procurement will transition from reporting to Business Operations to reporting to Finance. The benefits of this transition will include: sourcing savings that can be validated, facilitating a healthy division within the District to help avoid conflicts of interest, improving the enforcement of policies and procedures, and expediting the end-to-end source-to-pay process. To facilitate this transition, I have engaged an independent audit firm to review current procurement processes.


  • School Renovations and Construction: Federal stimulus dollars have allowed us to replace HVAC units and add classroom expansions at several schools. However, the improvements made will not eliminate all $500 million in deferred maintenance across the district. We also have 33 schools that are more than 50 years old. We are currently reviewing Reimagining 901 efforts, including school building plans and academic programming. We look forward to reviewing soon with our Board and funding bodies for support on this 10-year infrastructure improvement plan. Research from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the American Association of Civil Engineers is evidence it is past time for a nationwide investment in school infrastructure. We are dedicated to this issue because we know how important it is for our families, staff, and students to walk into our schools with a boosted sense of pride. In the coming months, we will need your voice to ensure that leaders outside of the District understand this urgent call to action.

Memphis-Shelby County Schools offers educational and employment opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, sex, creed, age, disability, national origin, or genetic information.