A Memphis school board member who has worked for several local education organizations is now coordinating operations at Teach For America.
Miska Clay Bibbs, who was elected to the Shelby County Schools board in 2014, became the chief of staff at Teach For America in Memphis on Monday. She’ll remain on the board.
The role extends a long career in education for Bibbs, who was previously the executive director for the Memphis office of Teach Plus, which ended its teacher fellowship program in 2016. Before that, Bibbs coordinated volunteer training and community events and partnerships with Memphis City Schools for nearly 10 years.
Bibbs’ new role also introduces potential complications in the board’s dealings with Teach For America, which recruits and trains recent college graduates to teach for at least two years in classrooms that are hard to staff.
The district has a $600,000 contract with Teach For America to supply new teachers — a relationship that has drawn criticism from the local teachers unions. Across the country, Teach For America often faces opposition from teacher unions because of the shortened training and use of conditional licenses as recruits finish certification requirements.
Bibbs said she was drawn to Teach For America because of how the organization has recruited more teachers of color and educators from Memphis compared to when it first came to the city in 2006.
“My goal is to support who is front of kids every day, period, regardless of where they come from,” Bibbs told Chalkbeat. She will be responsible for managing the organization’s leadership teams and creating processes for them to collaborate more.
But Keith Williams, the executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said in a text message that the board’s relationship with Teach For America meant Bibbs should resign.
“This is plain and simple a conflict of interest!” he said. “As a commissioner on the Shelby County Schools board, Bibbs should not profit from public tax dollars designed to promote and serve students in Shelby County!”
Bibbs said she would recuse herself when the board votes on Teach for America’s annual contract. District staff, not the school board, handle the day-to-day decisions of how the school system works with the organization.
She also pointed out that the district’s contract with Teach for America is small compared to the district’s annual budget, which is more than $1 billion, and the budget for local branch of the organization.
“Most of those dollars do not come from public dollars. It’s very small in comparison to what it takes to run a teacher program,” Bibbs said. “And I’m not just talking about TFA but any organization geared toward the work. They’re not even supplying enough teachers to fill the whole gap. It’s a small group of teachers.”
Although most board members do not work in education, Bibbs would not be the first to work for Teach for America. Tomeka Hart, who served on the now-defunct Memphis City Schools board from 2005 to 2013, was a national vice president for the organization in 2012 and sought to increase partnerships with African American colleges, civil rights groups, and communities.
The 28-year-old national nonprofit came to Memphis in 2006 and says about 400 alumni are still working in education locally. Some have gone on to start charter schools, and the group’s first Memphis director, Brad Leon, is a member of Superintendent Joris Ray’s cabinet. The organization now has 225 current trainees across the city, down from 260 three years ago.