Kriner Cash carried the banner of specific and meaningful education reform far during his tenure.
At times, his leadership style got in the way. It is not a new phenomenon in education or other endeavors where we have brought in highly qualified individuals from other places to hold key public positions.
They sometimes come here believing methods that work in larger cities will fill in the hole here. It is just as understandable that if they really know what they are doing, they will be disabused of this notion after running head first a few times into the realities of a unique city with unique challenges.
We think, despite the controversy and the turn in public opinion against him in the last year or so, that Cash was one of those rare individuals who got it.
The challenges here are great and if your goal is anything short of meeting those challenges – if you are just looking at the plaudits to come from overcoming the challenges – you will not succeed in Memphis.
Cash understood that succeeding in Memphis means being bold enough to declare there are elements that are part of the city’s current identity that must be changed. Public education may be the most important of those elements that must change. Soon we will all begin hearing new names of those who hope to be the first superintendent of the merged school system.
We hope there will be at least one familiar name among those applying for the job – Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken.
But Aitken should not get the job nor do we believe he wants the job just because he is the last superintendent of two standing. Aitken has worked with administrators of both school systems on the detailed merger transition.
Given the overwhelming passive attitude the transitional school board has taken to date on the formation of that consolidated school system, it is essential that the first merger superintendent remains aggressive on the detail work. Aitken has advantages that some school board members have already recognized. There is no learning curve on this one-of-a-kind merger if he is selected. Once the consolidation planning commission began looking at the status of reform efforts in both school systems, Aitken’s presentation made it apparent that he too is active in and understands the reforms that are receiving national attention.
The public, including parents, must know that the genuine strides taken in the last five years on the education reform front in Memphis will continue to move forward. The pattern in Memphis has been that attempts at reform end when the superintendent pushing them leaves. We must see this through and we believe the career educator who began with Shelby County Schools in 1983 is an obvious choice to further the hard work of Cash during a stay in Memphis that changed his life and changed education in Memphis.