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Frank Johnson, Community Activist and Former Educator, Appointed to MSCS Board of Trustees

Frank Johnson, a community activist and former educator, will represent District 7 on the Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board for the next two years, commissioners decided Monday.

The Shelby County Commission selected Johnson to replace longtime council member Miska Clay Bibbs, who left the council in August after being elected to the commission. Clay Bibbs represented the southeast Memphis neighborhoods of District 7, including Parkway Village and Oakhaven since 2014.

Johnson is a South Memphis community activist with the Center for Transforming Communities, a nonprofit that describes itself as “dedicated to the holistic transformation of neighborhoods and communities in and around Memphis.” Prior to that, Johnson spent three years as a teacher at LaRose Elementary School in Memphis, where most of his students experienced high levels of poverty and trauma, according to his application.

Johnson defeated another contender for the MSCS board seat: Jason Sharif, a longtime Memphis youth and community advocate and also a former teacher. Terrell Mitchell, a Memphis teacher who also applied for the nomination, was disqualified before his interview after the commission learned he lived outside of District 7.

In interviews with the county commission on Tuesday, Johnson said he plans to focus on rebuilding the district’s relationship with families, especially parents. Reflecting on his experiences teaching second, third and fourth graders at LaRose, Johnson is committed to doing his part as a school board member to make the schools community centers not only for the students, but also for the parents.

“Our schools aren’t just students — they represent families,” Johnson said. “When we talk about students, we have to talk about families and we have to talk about communities as a whole.”

Johnson also promised to put teachers at the forefront of his decisions as a board member.

“We need to start listening to our teachers and the people in our schools who deal with students every day,” he said.

Johnson will join the board at a pivotal time as he embarks on the district’s first national superintendent search in more than a decade. The board is also undergoing internal transition: Johnson is the third new member in less than two months. Keith Williams and Amber Huett-Garcia joined the board in August after winning elections in Districts 6 and 8.

Given the recent upheaval within the school board and district due to the resignation of COVID and Superintendent Joris Ray, Johnson said his first move as a board member was a listening tour with stops in each District 7 school so he can assess how best to help the children. who suffer from lingering pandemic trauma and other significant community issues like poverty.

“We need to get a read on what’s going on with our students,” Johnson said. “I want to talk to the directors; I want to talk to the teachers to find out exactly what the needs are.

Johnson believes talking to the community will better prepare him to help the district move forward. When asked how he would deal with low literacy rates and MSCS standardized test scores, Johnson said the council should think about the issues children face outside of school that prevent them from learn, such as housing and food insecurity or mental health issues, and partner with community organizations to address these issues.

Johnson said he hopes the next superintendent has a deep understanding of the state’s largest school district and will also listen to the community and be prepared to adapt his leadership and decisions based on what he hears. .

“We can’t have a top-down dictatorship,” Johnson said, adding that the next superintendent should stand firm against what he sees as “attacks” from the state, such as his new private school voucher program.

Johnson also advocated for increased MSCS funding, calling on the city to step in to help the district meet its hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred facility maintenance instead of being forced to delay construction projects or shut down. community schools that often serve as the heart of neighborhoods.

“They need to invest in our school system, and we need to start some sort of petition or rally to get the city to give money to our students,” he said.

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Contact Samantha at [email protected]

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