VOL. 131 | NO. 245 | Friday, December 9, 2016
The Tipping Point
Bibbs Empowers Teachers for Student Success
BY LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
Miska Clay Bibbs never planned to pursue a career in education. But no matter where life takes her, she always ends up coming back to it.
“I never thought education would be the love of my life, but it is,” she confesses. “I’ve seen Memphis grow a lot over the last 20 years.”
Bibbs serves as vice chair of the Shelby County Board of Education and, until recently, as executive director of Teach Plus, a national nonprofit that empowers teachers to create change in education policy and practice. The organization recently concluded a seven-year run of teaching fellowships with Memphis schools.
Miska Clad Bibbs (Ziggy Mack)
“Memphis has made significant strides, but unfortunately the word has not gotten out,” she says. “We are closing the achievement gap faster than almost any other school district in the state.”
“That takes hard work,” she continues. “Who’s doing it? Teachers and families. And that’s great news.”
Bibbs grew up in Memphis and attended White Station High School. After graduating from Hampton University, she returned home to work as a special assistant to U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. It was there she discovered her passion for education. She visited every school attended by kids who lived in Ford’s district, including private, public and independent schools.
“During that time, I saw such inequity in education,” she recalls. “And so much of it was determined by where you lived and what you could afford.”
Bibbs later spent nine years as district coordinator of community and volunteer relations with Memphis City Schools, followed by two years as director of community engagement for Green Dot Public Schools. During that time, she learned a lot about how to run a school.
“That’s when I started thinking about talent,” she recalls. “Not just teachers but parents. It’s so important to meet your community partners right where they are.”
Bibbs isn’t just a school administrator; she’s also a parent. She has watched her son have great experiences at a variety of schools, from Downtown Elementary to Middle College High. Through it all, she says she has learned one lesson above all others.
“If the teacher isn’t great, it doesn’t matter what school your child is in,” she says.
That insight led Bibbs to Teach Plus, whose mission is empowering teachers. Over the seven years the organization was in Memphis, they had more than 125 teachers go through their programs. Looking forward, Bibbs is excited to continue her work as vice chair of the Shelby County Board of Education. She plans to push additional community and family engagement.
“Memphis is at a tipping point,” she says. “We’re either going to solidify the progress we’ve made in education and push hard for additional gains – or we’re going to sit back and let things advance at a snail’s pace.”
Miska Clay Bibbs is a graduate of New Memphis’ Fellows Program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.