By Samantha West
MEMPHIS, TN — A woman wearing a red dress smiles for the camera in front of a grey backdrop
Michelle McKissack has represented District 1 on the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board since 2018, and has served as chair since 2021. Courtesy of Michelle McKissack
Michelle McKissack, the recently reelected chairwoman of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools board, announced Monday she is mulling a run to become the city’s next mayor.
McKissack, who has represented District 1 since 2018 and was elected chair of the board in 2021, will on Tuesday announce an exploratory committee for a campaign to succeed Mayor Jim Strickland, whose term expires at the end of 2023.
“As a lifelong Memphian, mother of four children, and a staunch supporter of our public school system, I believe we’re at a critical, decision-making point in this city,” McKissack said in a statement on Monday. “Memphis families are doing all that we can to turn things around in our own neighborhoods and protect our children, but it’s now time for a big vision from leadership that puts families first.”
McKissack would be joining what is already shaping up to be a packed race for Memphis mayor next year. Strickland is term-limited and can’t run for reelection.
If McKissack moves forward with a campaign, she would become the third school board member to pursue higher office this year — at a time when MSCS has publicly clashed with city and county government over school funding and each entity’s roles in solving other regional issues such as rising gun violence.
Miska Clay Bibbs and Shante Avant, two longtime MSCS board members, recently left the school board after winning election to the Shelby County Commission. Both Bibbs and Avant touted their experience on the MSCS board during their campaigns for the commission, the district’s second-largest funding source behind the state.
Over the last two years, the commission has granted the district less than half of its $55 million requests for capital improvement funds to fix up or rebuild aging school buildings. Commissioners have urged the district to turn instead to taxpayers or the city government for more funding.
The setbacks have forced the district to halt several flagship construction projects in its Reimagining 901 school improvement and facility plan — including a new high school in Frayser.
MSCS officials also hit back at Strickland this month for comments linking rising truancy and declining enrollment in MSCS to juvenile crime.
“It’s not just the one problem of getting guns off the streets or tackling truancy — it’s all of it,” McKissack told Chalkbeat on Sept. 7. “We’re operating too much in silos. We should not be making national news time after time.”
After a series of shootings the next day left four people dead and three others wounded, McKissack called for a comprehensive approach to crime and violence in Memphis, suggesting local elected officials should convene an emergency summit to explore solutions collaboratively.
McKissack, a native Memphian and former journalist, reiterated that call on Monday.
“Mothers all over Memphis have said that enough is enough. We’ve lost too much sleep and have shed too many tears in recent weeks,” McKissack wrote. “I’m ready for us to have the conversation that this city has avoided having for 200 years. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a woman — a mother — to take the reins.”
With Avant and Bibbs on the County Commission and MSCS’ current board chair considering a mayoral run, Vice Chair Althea Greene said Monday she feels more optimistic about the future of Tennessee’s largest school district.
“Our goals would be attainable, and I would see hope for the district,” said Greene, who also ran for County Commission this spring, but was defeated in the primaries. “I would really feel like we have support here in Memphis-Shelby County Schools.”