Update

Meet the candidates for the MSCS board election

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 26, 2022 1:54 PM CT | Published: July 26, 2022 1:06 PM CT
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<strong>Amber Huett-Garcia</strong>

Amber Huett-Garcia

As manager of the K-12 education budget for the state of Illinois under former Gov. Patt Quinn, Amber Huett-Garcia found herself making decisions without really understanding their impact.

Not long after, that all changed.

Huett-Garcia signed on with Teach for America and moved to Memphis to teach third grade at Ross Elementary. She stayed with the organization for years after, eventually becoming director of corporate and foundation fundraising.


Huett-Garcia claims school board seat at filing deadline


She’s also worked in roles at the Tennessee Department of Education and the Shelby County Office of Education as well as First 8 Memphis and the Higher Learning Project.

All of that may make it seem like education is her blood, but that really isn’t the case.

Huett-Garcia was the first in her family to graduate from college.

Her father finished high school, but her mother didn’t. Her grandfather never even learned to read.

Still, making sure their children received a good education was always something important to her parents.

She recalls her dad once saying he constantly had to work jobs that he hated because he had no other option. He wanted better for his family and knew that education was the key to something more, she said.

“When you have an education, you have skills and power. You can take that with you. You just have more freedom,” she recalls him telling her.

Now, as the only candidate running for the District 8 seat in the Aug. 4 elections, Huett-Garica is set to replace long-time board member Billy Orgel on the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board of Education.

Orgel has served on the board since 2011 and its longest serving member.

He announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection, leaving her unopposed for the seat.

Other candidates weren’t as lucky as her in escaping competition.

Three other seats on the board are up next month, including the District 1 seat of board chair Michelle McKissack.

The other two seats up for grabs are District 6, held by Charles Everett, and District 9, held by Joyce Dorse-Coleman.

The election is coming at a critical time for the district as recent TCAP scores showed that while students made improvements over last year, proficiency levels for students are still low in core areas like ELA and math.


MSCS applauds ‘unprecedented gains’ despite low scores


Also, MSCS Superintendent Joris Ray is on paid leave pending an investigation by a board-appointed special counsel into allegations of sexual impropriety levied against him by his wife, Tiffany.

The allegations were first reported by The Daily Memphian July 7, and the board voted to conduct a full investigation into Ray’s alleged actions at a special called meeting July 13.


MSCS Board announces investigation, puts Superintendent Ray on leave


The measure passed 7-2 and was split among candidates running for reelection.

Both McKissack and Everett voted yes while Dorse-Coleman voted no.

District 1

McKissack is up against two others trying to unseat her: Chris Caldwell, her District 1 predecessor whom she beat in 2018, and Rachel Spriggs, a former educator and current independent consultant for MSCS.

McKissack said it feels a little like déjà vu running against Caldwell for the second time in a row, but that ultimately, she’s more focused on the children she’s representing than who her competitors are.

“I’m a Memphian and this is what I want,” she said. “I want a great school system for every family. That’s why I ran back in 2018 and that’s why I am running in 2022 is to continue being that voice and that advocate for children.”

Spriggs plans to focus on three key areas if she gets the seat: accountability and transparency, college and career readiness and talent retention and staff development.

Part of her first focus area includes giving individual schools in the district greater autonomy.

Spriggs said she isn’t a fan of a one-size fits all approach for all of the district’s schools.

“Their supports should be different and their evaluations should look different,” she said.

And as far as talent retention, Spriggs, who worked for MSCS for several years before her role as an independent consultant, said she has seen staff leave just as quickly as they have come in.

She believes that greater teacher support is the way to change that.

“When people feel supported, you have a greater ability to return the talent,” Spriggs said.

Caldwell was originally appointed to the 23-member combined board of legacy Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools when they merged in 2011.

After being encouraged by members of the community, he decided to run again.

“Unfortunately, I started seeing things that made me think that the board and the direction it was taking was really undoing a lot of the things that we had accomplished,” he said.

He is advocating for more accountability for the board and the superintendent as well as greater financial transparency and greater collaboration with the community.

District 6

This will be Everett’s first election since being appointed by the Shelby County Commission following former board member Shante Avant’s resignation in February.


Shante Avant wins Democratic primary race for County Commission District 5


Everett, who has been the representative for District 6 since March, is facing five other people for the seat. His competition includes Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, and Tiffany Perry, the former public information officer for Memphis-Shelby County Schools.

<strong>Keith Williams</strong>

Keith Williams

Other challengers include Timothy Green Jr., Kenny Lee and David Page.

Several of the candidates Everett is now running against were also contenders for the appointment to the seat in March.

Everett said that hasn’t changed much about his strategy but did help him learn more about the other candidates.

“Having known those candidates while they were going through the appointment process does give me a little more insight on the way that they feel,” he said. “We’re all passionate about children, we’re passionate about the school district. We’ve been in this district for quite some time and we all feel that being put in the position that we can make a difference.”

Perry’s run for the seat signals her return to the district after serving as the chief of staff at Rust College for the past couple of years.

Before taking the job there, Perry served as the district’s public information officer under former chief of communications, Natalia Powers.


MSCS board member Shante Avant resigns


She will still be working at Rust College should she win the seat, she said.

Perry wants to focus on:

  • Early literacy and advocating for universal Pre-K in Tennessee
  • Addressing deferred maintenance in district schools
  • Better supports for MSCS teachers

In addition to her main stances, she also wants to focus on board accountability and the district’s budget and using it to fund things like better mental health supports for students.

“That’s the board’s responsibility. Budget, fiscal responsibility, holding our district leaders accountable and making swift changes when they do not adhere to the needs of our community,” she said.

Along with Everett and Perry, Green was also a contender in March for the appointment to the District 6 seat.

Green, who formerly taught at Grizzlies Prep and served as the dean of students at Freedom Prep, both charter schools in Memphis, wants to focus on three things:

  • Strengthening community and school partnerships in the district
  • Advocating for more mental health resources for students, families and educators
  • Staff retention

“I’m all about looking forward to creating new pathways for education to exist in our city,” he said.

“I’m someone who’s also very passionate about finding other pathways for our students to learn and succeed even when we look at college but also looking at the CCTE programs that we have in our city.”

Neither Williams, Page nor Lee returned a request for comment.

District 9

Dorse-Coleman was first elected in 2018 along with McKissack.

She is up for a head-to-head matchup with the only other contender for the District 9 seat, Rebecca Jane Edwards.

Dorse-Coleman was one of two board members that voted no to opening a full investigation into Superintendent Joris Ray.

When asked at a recent candidate forum what steps she’d take in the future before casting a vote about leadership, she’d said that she’d continue to do what she always has done: seek guidance.


Opinion: Superintendent Ray deserves a fair process, not a rush to judgment


“I pray before I do anything,” she said.

Dorse-Coleman did not return a request for comment.

Edwards is the founder and executive director of Cultural Art For Everyone (CAFE), the Memphis-based performing arts group.

Edwards told Chalkbeat in a candidate survey that she wants to focus on three things:

  • Recruitment and competitive compensation for exemplary educators
  • Funding & safety for schools
  • Literacy initiatives that prepare students for the global stage

“I want my legacy to be on the team that changes the school system,” she said after a candidate forum July 21.

Visit here for more information on the Aug. 4 elections.

Topics

MSCS board August 2022 election Memphis-Shelby County Schools
Aarron Fleming

Aarron Fleming

Aarron Fleming is an education reporter with The Daily Memphian. He earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Memphis.


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