Longtime school board member Billy Orgel won’t run again

Longtime school board member Billy Orgel will not be seeking re-election this year, clearing the way for a Tennessee Department of Education official to fill the seat in August.

Orgel, an influential Tower Ventures developer who is part of the team developing 100 N. Main, has been a member of the school board since 2011, when he was appointed to the merged board for the city and county systems and was chosen to be the president. body of 23 people, leading through one of the most tumultuous times for education in Memphis. Through the resulting merger and split, he remained on the board, re-elected several times to represent East Memphis.

Orgel withdrew a petition to run again at his District 8 headquarters in February, but said at the filing deadline on Thursday that he had decided not to seek another term to add to his decades-long term.

Amber Huett-Garcia, a State Department official who worked in education in Memphis, is set to take the seat. Coming late in the race, she took out a petition on Tuesday and sent it back for approval on Wednesday.

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The two were the only candidates for the seat late Wednesday.

Others could have withdrawn the petition and sent it back for approval by noon Thursday, the filing deadline. Linda Phillips, administrator of elections with the Shelby County Elections Commission, said Thursday afternoon that she could not clarify whether other candidates had withdrawn the petition for the District 8 race, but expected that that the list of petitions be finalized on Thursday evening.

“I’m honored to be on the ballot and looking forward to representing District 8,” Huett-Garcia said Thursday. She said she plans to build relationships until Election Day, “even though I’m the only name on the ballot.”

The District 8 headquarters has always represented the families of East Memphis. The new map approved by the county commission last fall also moved the unincorporated areas of northeastern Shelby County to the District 8 seat. This area was previously part of District 5.

Originally from central Illinois, Huett-Garcia has lived in Memphis for about ten years. She is currently the senior director of comprehensive student and family support planning at the Tennessee Department of Education, according to her website. The role “adds strategic insights across the whole child priority, including mental health, family resource centers, citizenship and civics, and other non-academic supports for students” .

After a failed campaign in 2018 for the District 86 seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives, Huett-Garcia became a board member of First 8 Memphis, the early childhood education group that works with local government on preschool initiatives.

She came to Memphis in 2011 as a teacher with Teach for America and worked with the organization for several years, according to her biography and LinkedIn profile. Huett-Garcia was a 2019 Public Policy Fellow with Leadership for Education Equity, where she worked in the office of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris with Cedrick Gray, County Director of Education.

When she didn’t win the state seat, she thought about other political positions, she told the equity group: “I started to really think: could I see on the school board, could I see myself running for a county commission, or just organizing at the community level…”

Board members Michelle R. McKissack and Billy Orgel at the Shelby County School Board's first in-person business meeting since the pandemic in Memphis, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

On Wednesday afternoon, another bandmate, Rachael Spriggs, is also running for a seat on the District 1 school board. Spriggs’ scholarship is with the district in its zone of continuous improvement, according to the MSCS website.

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Chris Caldwell, a former school board member who lost in 2018 to current board president Michelle McKissack, had filed a petition for the District 1 seat, but it was not approved by the end of Wednesday.

Incumbent Joyce Dorse Coleman is in a contested race for District 9, and the District 6 seat, recently filled by county nomination by Charles Everett, will also be a contested race in August.

Laura Testino covers education and childhood issues for the trade appeal. Contact her at laura.testino@commercialappeal.com or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino


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