5 Questions for Dr. Tarcia Gilliam-Parrish, Kingsbury Middle School, and Officer Cassandra Leake, Memphis Police Department

By: Savanna Buckner

Last Upated: May 19, 2021


Students and staff at Kingsbury Middle School in Memphis have stepped outside their school doors to spread positivity.


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Savanna Buckner: We read a great story about how your school partnered with the Memphis Police Department to paint a mural over gang graffiti. Dr. Tarcia Gilliam-Parrish, what are other ways Kingsbury Middle School is involved in the community?

Dr. Tarcia Gilliam-Parrish, Principal at Kingsbury Middle School: Here at Kingsbury we find it valuable to have strong partnerships with parents and sponsors. These partnerships not only give us an opportunity to do community service, but also give business owners an opportunity to come inside school and see what’s really going on. We’re writing a different narrative. We want to write a positive narrative that shows that with effective teachers, students can learn. But also we’re building these effective relationships so once [students] graduate from high school, they can then go back to those partnerships and maybe receive internships, or future employment opportunities.

Savanna: What do you think makes Kingsbury Middle School unique?  

Tarcia: When we’re working with students that have a lot of trials in life before they get to school, we try to make our school a positive environment where they can be themselves but also understand that structure is necessary. We give students permission to be creative but also be kind. It’s very important for us to have teachers who are caring and concerned about our students, who are going to push them to learn as much as possible but also help them along the way. We’re building a climate and culture that’s conducive to learning, where every student has an opportunity to learn, and teachers have an opportunity to grow. We’re trying to make Kingsbury Middle School a great place to learn and work.

Savanna: Officer Leake, do you have anything to add from your perspective as a public servant?   

Officer Cassandra Leake, Memphis Police Department: One thing I do want to say is that I appreciate principals like Dr. Parrish who understand the importance of teaching students life skills and not just focusing solely on academics. All of those are important, especially when it is a high-crime, high-gang, high-drug area, where these kids go home to areas or even family members that are potentially in gangs. She understands the importance of teaching our kids how to resist getting involved in gangs and how to walk away from violence. State mandated scores aren’t going to matter if they don’t know how to have these life skills. I love the fact that she understands that those are important things too.

Savanna: Dr. Tarcia Gilliam-Parrish, what is your process for hiring staff?    

Tarcia: When I started four years ago my ultimate goal was to “get the bus going in the right direction.” Once we got the bus going in the right direction, hiring the right people became easier because during the interview process they understood the vision. They understood that they were coming to a school with a leader that has integrity, and I want all the teachers to have integrity as well. They also knew that they were coming to a school where they would receive support, but they would also have to give support.

I’m not the only leader in the building. We have teacher leaders, we have advisors, we have a whole support staff that comes together and make school happen every day.

Also, we had to avoid all of the negative. There are so many people that say, “Don’t do this. Don’t try this. That will never work.” You have to avoid those naysayers and believe that your students can do well. You have to believe that your parents are doing well, and that your teachers will do well. And then you’ll become an effective community builder and a leader within the community.

Savanna: How do you celebrate National School Choice Week?

Tarcia: School Choice Week allows us to showcase our staff and our school. We have fun with School Choice Week. Not only do we wear the yellow scarves, but we promote it on our social media. We have family functions: We have a game night where students brought their parents to play games with their teachers, so we played a variety of board games. We had a showcase and parents got a chance to see the school and see the teachers in a different light. We also had an open house event where we gave parents that would normally choose other schools an opportunity to see our growing program. This upcoming year we’ll be adding a band. This school year we added track and orchestra. Every year we’re trying add different programs that keep students excited about coming to school and wanting to choose our school. We use School Choice Week to showcase our diversity as our superpower, and we want to engage the community so they continue to want to come to Kingsbury Middle School.


Savanna Buckner is press secretary at National School Choice Week and can be contacted at [email protected]



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