The Future of Our Schools: Dr. Kriner Cash’s Legacy
By D. Jackson Maxwell
As we open a new chapter in the history of Memphis City and Shelby County Schools, the only thing we know for certain is that Dr. Kriner Cash’s administrative position has not been renewed. Thus, we appear poised to install a new superintendent at least as far as Memphis City Schools (MCS) are concerned.
Whoever takes over the unified system will have to build upon the four or so years of reform, change and administrative directives installed by Dr. Cash. Based on these facts, now is a good time to take a look at Dr. Cash’s Legacy.
Under Superintendent Cash, MCS received an unprecedented influx of funding through grants designed to assist a failing school district. The Gates Foundation Grant and President Obama’s Race to the Top award combined to provide MCS with an influx of nearly $160 million. With this money, new initiatives were enacted that evaluate teachers, emphasize the pre-training process for principals, expand pre-kindergarten programs, and offer a plethora of new services for students and their families. While impressive, once these monetary sources run out the new superintendent will be tasked with layoffs or finding funding to support the additional bureaucracy created with these grant monies. As noted in the Memphis Flyer (6/28/12), Dr. Cash has been criticized for “his often flamboyant and arguably over-bureaucratic four-year reign.” Thus, a less ostentatious, fiscally conservative approach will be required of the new superintendent.
There have been successes. Dr. Cash’s administration has overseen the overhaul of MCS technical services where virtually everything from ordering supplies, viewing school policy, accessing student grades, and professional development is now conveniently located online. As Tennessee lawmakers were working to dismantle teachers’ collective bargaining rights via passage of the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (2011), Dr. Cash remained adamant about his willingness to work with teacher organizations. Under Dr. Cash’s tutelage, MCS earned many national awards and accolades, and moved MCS onto a national stage. Additionally, MCS educators deserve accolades for posting gains in every subject area for the 2011-2012 school year as per the Tennessee Department of Education (The Commercial Appeal, 7/26/12).
Unfortunately, it seems that every success was tainted by some form of scandal, perceived self-aggrandizement or alleged misdeed. For example, Deputy Superintendent Irving Hamer’s inappropriate, sexually charged remarks concerning a co-worker were unprecedented and ultimately the reason why he was forced to resign. Dr. Cash’s lucrative salary and benefit package whereby he receives a base salary of $276,000 per year (The Commercial Appeal, 5/25/12) plus perks such as an MCS vehicle, body guards/drivers, and other accoutrements have put him at odds with faculty, staff and the community at large especially during the current recession.
Further, while Booker T. Washington High School was honored by winning an appearance from President Obama, the local media later revealed that some of the claims of academic gains that precipitated the visit had been manipulated. The final blow to Dr. Cash was the public rebuke he received as evidenced by the findings of the unification board-commissioned opinion poll. The survey results can only be described as abysmal with fully 78 percent of respondents giving him an approval rating of C, D or F.
As things now stand, Superintendent Cash is a lame duck. The cognitive dissonance between the state of MCS as described by its administrators and the reality of the situation is mind boggling. In July 2012, it was announced that teachers will receive a cost of living increase while MCS administrators continue to report the system is underfunded, looking for staff cuts, and other cost saving measures. Teacher morale is at a depressing low level in Memphis. These along with the reasons stated above are why I as a citizen of Memphis think Superintendent Cash has lost the faith of his stakeholders and it is time for him to move on. I wish Dr. Cash the best in his next endeavor.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is an educator and a freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.