MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis-Shelby County Schools interim superintendent Toni Williams gave her state of the district address Tuesday, focusing on student test scores, the state’s new third-grade retention law, teacher salaries, and investing in education.

It was a school district progress report and ceremony filled with music and messages about significant gains in student performance, but also a call for action to help more children in Memphis-Shelby County Schools.

“I am proud to say we have made significant progress over the past year. We have continued to focus on student achievement with a particular emphasis on literacy,” said Rev. Althea Greene, Chairwoman of the Memphis-Shelby County School Board.

School board members, educators, parents, and elected leaders gathered for Interim Superintendent Toni Williams’ State of the District Address.

“I have asked myself and my team how do we move forward. How do we move forward post-pandemic? What’s working and what’s also not working,” said Williams.

When it comes to the T-CAP test, Williams says students are doing better since returning to the classroom following the pandemic.

“For the first time since the 2015 school year, Memphis-Shelby County Schools is a level five school district, the highest distinction available based on composite scores,” Williams said.

But what could have a direct impact on many MSCS students is Tennessee’s new third-grade retention law. If students are performing below proficiency in English, they cannot advance to fourth grade.

Williams says the district is investing in literacy.

“We’ve invested more than 30 million dollars and 750 specialized education assistants grades K through 2,” Williams said.

The superintendent said the district must also invest in new schools, upgrade older ones, and make sure teachers are adequately paid to achieve student success.

“With the blessing of the board, we’ll invest an additional 27 million dollars in teacher salaries, and that’s big,” Williams said.

The superintendent also says they’re looking at starting salaries for teachers beginning at around $50,000 a year.