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Interim Superintendent Toni Williams says she wants the job full time, and there are mixed reactions from parents

Williams becomes the first publicly known applicant after search firm confirms 25 have applied for the role of MSCS superintendent

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There have been mixed reactions to Interim Memphis Shelby County Schools Superintendent Toni Williams submitting her application for the position permanently Wednesday. The application comes just days after Williams delivered the school system’s State of the District Address.

So far she is the first applicant publicly named, and is one of 25 applicants recognized by the firm, Hazard, Young, Attea, and Associates, conducting the search for the next district leader.

Williams spoke for the first time since news of her application became public, saying she wants to continue the progress she's made at MSCS:

"I desire to continue serving the community every day, working to increase student achievement, and being accountable to our district. In my first four months as Interim Superintendent, I have begun to restore trust within the district and the community. During this period, I have redirected $31 million of federal & state funds directly to school leaders to support the unique needs of each school, proactively retained specialists to consult on risk assessments, procurement, and improving internal controls. 

I have also accomplished a huge step forward by approving the Unity MOU in December, after not having an executed agreement since 2018, collaborated with teacher associations to agree on a new grievance policy, a bereavement leave policy and insurance contributions. 

We have proposed during this time an additional $27 million into teacher compensation if the district’s proposal is accepted, giving MSCS the area's highest-paid teacher starting salary. During this time, our district has obtained a four to nine year transition period for the 3G schools and Lucy Elementary and received over $103 million in resources to reinvest into facilities, including the construction of the district’s first new high school in 10 years.

I want to continue making not only progress but to be transformative so that we can not only ensure students can read but are prepared to leave the district winning in life, becoming citizens that can ultimately invest in our city to improve all of our lives in the future."

Opinions are pouring in, both in support of and against Williams.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Arcenia Bailey, both of her kids go to MSCS schools, and from what she has seen, “Ms. Williams has done an excellent job so far, whatever she says she wants to do, the steps that she takes, the moves she makes, it’s been evident.”

When it comes to MSCS faculty, Hickory Ridge Middle School Behavioral Specialist Tamara Felix said, “Toni Williams came to MSCS at a critical time. After Covid, in the mist of a scandal  and also at the start of the school year. She has done amazing job communicating with staff and parents. The transition seemed seamless but we all know our district is a huge responsibility. I feel confident as a parent and as an employee that Ms Toni will continue to rise to the occasion of educating our youth and listening to the needs of the staff.”

However, others do not share the same feeling, and take issue with the fact Williams was made interim superintendent because she did not want the position in the first place.

“A big point of [selecting Williams for the interim role] was that we were looking for someone who was not interested in serving in the permanent capacity, She fit the bill in that regard,” said MSCS Board Member Michelle McKissack back in August.

This fact is not sitting well with groups like Memphis Lift.

“We want to believe in the process, but it seems like the process is breaking down,” said Sarah Carpenter, Memphis Lift Director.  

The educational advocacy group recently formed a parent task force and submitted a list of requests for the national search to the MSCS School Board at the end of January.  Now they are worried history could be repeating itself since both recent superintendents Joris Ray and Dorsey Hopson were internal hires.

“I’ve watched four superintendent searches, and I know how the game look,” said Carpenter, “We intend to hold the school board accountable.”

The school board said they have interviewed 12 applicants so far, but the firm conducting the search has not confirmed if Williams is part of this group.

Three final candidates are expected to be announced in less than a month. The next superintendent is expected to be selected by May. Right now, parents and other stakeholders are just wanting the best candidate to be selected.

“Regardless of whether you’re here, Mississippi or Texas, whoever is the most qualified, that is who deserves to be in that position,” said Bailey, “Listen to your fellow teachers, listen to the concerns of the parents, and just take all of that into consideration in your everyday job.” 

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