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'Time is up': Parents and teacher's union demand MSCS superintendent step down, citing failing grades

"Uneducated people cannot escape poverty. They don’t know how," said MSCS parent Jason Perry. "We are killing our people before they get to the third grade.”

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Parents and a teacher’s union are calling for Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray to step down, citing failing test scores as the final straw.  

Failing scores, top-heavy management and no teacher support have parents, a teacher's union and the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone not asking but demanding that Dr. Ray step down.   

“We are asking the superintendent to step down," said Memphis Lift organizer Sarah Carpenter. "We are asking the governor to step in and do a forensic independent audit on contracts in the school system.” 

Parents said in a press conference Monday Dr. Ray is unfit to lead the largest school district in the state, Memphis-Shelby County Schools.  

Parent Marcus Randolph has three children currently in MSCS and two who have graduated.  

“Teachers are not being paid correctly, they’re not letting them teach," said Randolph. "If they let these people teach, our children who pass.” 

Carpenter said they’re frustrated with the superintendent's progress. 

“Nobody’s listening to us, the people we voted for are not listening to us," Memphis Lift's lead organizer said. "It’s too many distractions for us to hone in on children. We’re not taking care of our children and it has shown. 89% of our children are not on grade level.” 

The state’s department of education rated MSCS with only an 11% success rate on its 2020-2021 academic achievement success rate.  

In a statement released Monday, the district said in part, “Memphis-Shelby County Schools welcomes parental involvement, which is why we have a standing meeting with Sarah Carpenter and the members of the Memphis Lift, why we host our districtwide parent ambassadors program..” 

Meanwhile, Memphis Lift said Memphis public school students deserve better, stressing most kids are in low-rated schools.  

“We only have 4 schools that are a level 5, 4 schools that are a level 4, 10 schools that are a level 3, and 16 schools that are a level 2. All the rest of these schools," said Memphis Lift member Renee Smith. "It’s over 200 schools in our city all the rest of them are a level 1. He’s (Ray's) getting 4's on his evaluation, he’s been there 3 years, 2 or 3, our children deserve better.” 

RELATED: Tennessee House passes bill which could force MSCS to give up control over three Germantown schools

Parents said they believe a national search for someone to fill Dr. Ray’s current position would have likened the chances of someone they view as being more highly qualified getting the role. 

“This district is top-heavy from the top down," said teacher union president Keith Williams. "It’s almost going to get crushed under the weight of its own power.” 

Williams said teachers are not free to teach.

“You cannot expect children to pass a test to what they haven’t been exposed," said Memphis-Shelby County Education Association executive director. "They’re getting curriculum from everywhere except from books. So what they are teaching is not what they’re testing.” 

The district shared that it is taking steps to address known issues and review performance data.

“...We, like school districts nationwide, undergo scheduled audits from our regulatory agencies and have dug into the data from all available sources to develop initiatives that address the mental health and academic challenges brought by the pandemic,” the district said. 

RELATED: Teachers at two MSCS high schools forced to reapply

MSCS parent Jason Perry said, “89% of our children failing, 73% of our people living under the poverty line in Memphis. This is not a coincidence uneducated people cannot escape poverty, they don’t know how. We are killing our children before they get to the 3rd grade.”

Board Chair of the Shelby County Board of Education Michelle McKissack issued a statement Monday.

"Our MSCS educators are doing heroic work helping our students recover from the pandemic. The momentum continues to build with the transition of four Memphis schools from the state-run Achievement District back to Memphis-Shelby County Schools for the upcoming academic school year. With much excitement, this homecoming shows that our teachers and principals truly support local control.”

This summer, a record number of students are enrolled in district programs through our enrichment workshops, credit recovery courses, athletic camps, and Summer Learning Academy. Through these expanded summer offerings, we are Reimagining 901, and we welcome our parents and community partners as we work to help our students and region move forward.

Another frustration for parents is the district referring back to the pandemic when it comes to failing scores.

Monday, parents said low scores were a problem long before the start of the pandemic and now after.  

Memphis Lift is also asking for wage increases for teachers and has requested a meeting with Governor Bill Lee.

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