How the Final Five for Memphis Schools Superintendent Stack Up


The superintendent search isn't over.

And don't count out the leading non-candidate, Mayor Willie Herenton.

As of today, the Final Five candidates are flesh-and-blood people, not an abstraction. Even a cursory check of their resumes and responses to questions posed by search team consultants shows that all five have strengths and vulnerabilities -- just like Herenton.

For starters, the finalists include three men and two women. Four of them are black and one is white. All of them have doctorates in education. None of them is from Memphis. Three are from districts much smaller than Memphis. Two are from much larger districts. Three are currently applying for other jobs in addition to Memphis.

The winner needs six votes, or two-thirds of the members of the Memphis City Schools Board of Education. The deadline is June 30th.

Race, age, gender, and experience will be factors.

Race because MCS is over 90 percent minority.

Gender because, for what it's worth, in his speech Tuesday Herenton said the job needs a man in the mold of tough guy Joe Clark of Lean On Me fame. Let's assume that even a politically wounded mayor still speaks for at least some Memphians. Plus, two of the last three superintendents -- Carol Johnson and Gerry House -- were women. Both left.

Age and experience, because Herenton, even as a non-candidate, has an excess of both, and that will make it one of the benchmarks for the Final Five. And Memphis wants and needs a quick turnaround, not another four-year plan.

On the other hand, Herenton was 39 when he became superintendent. The school board's first choice at the time was a white man from Michigan.

Here's an overview of the Final Five":

Tiffany Anderson is superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Christiansburg, Va. The district has 9,700 students. Memphis has 113,000 students. Anderson, who is black, received her education and early experience in St. Louis. She has applied for another job in Alexandria, Va. Her husband is a former Memphian. She wrote a book entitled Closing the Achievement Gap: Reaching and Teaching High Poverty Learners. She told consultants she and her husband, a physician, would put their children in MCS if she gets the job here.

Yvonne Brandon is deputy superintendent of Richmond City Schools in Virginia. The district has 24,000 students and is 92 percent black. Brandon, who is black, has held three central office positions. She is not seeking any other jobs. In her interview with consultants, she touted her success meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind, her science background, and her "no-nonsense" approach.

Kriner Cash is chief of accountability for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The district has 353,216 students and is 61 percent Hispanic and 28 percent black. Cash, who is black, has degrees from Princeton and Stanford and the University of Massachusetts. "He's a motivator," said consultant Al Johnson. He has applied for jobs in Cincinnati, Hartford, Springfield, and Waltham, Mass. He said he is interested in leaving his present job because Florida funding is pinched by state revenue shortfalls.

Nicholas Gledich is chief operations officer for the Orange County Schools in Orlando. The district has 176,000 students and is 64-percent minority. "This guy is a problem solver," said consultant Johnson. He is a finalist for another job in Osceola County Florida. Gledich, who is white, is a back-office specialist who touts his expertise in overseeing building and renovation programs.

James Williams is superintendent of schools in Buffalo. The district has 37,000 students. Williams, who is black, formerly was superintendent in Dayton, Ohio, where he told consultants he left "by mutual agreement" after 19 years. He was nominated for the Memphis job by "someone in the district who might be able to have a positive impact," according to his paperwork. He advocates hiring a financial officer from the private sector and merit pay for teachers. According to newspaper reports, he is known for standing up to teachers’ unions. He was in a news story last week along with a city council member who alleged that Williams got his job because he is black. He told consultants he "doesn't believe in the term reform as he feels buzzwords only cause excitement."

The Final Five will be invited to come to Memphis next Monday and Tuesday for interviews with board members and meetings with the community. Against the advice of consultants from Ray and Associates, the board scheduled three interviews for Tuesday, which consultant Gary Ray said was probably one too many. All three interviews will have to be conducted after 4 p.m., board members said, meaning the process could last until late at night. If an interview has to be rescheduled, board members noted that it could conflict with graduation ceremonies or City Council budget hearings. Hastiness already cost the search consultants credibility when they held community meetings during spring break and attracted only four or five people at each site.

Board members and Herenton agree on one thing. The selection of a superintendent is the most important decision the board will make. Herenton has set the bar and presented his "Blueprint For School Reform." Memphians have not heard the last from him on the superintendent search.

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