When President Barack Obama gives the commencement address for Booker T. Washington High School on Monday, a University of Memphis alumna and doctoral student will be
front and center. The school’s principal, Alisha Kiner, earned a master’s degree in
leadership and policy studies from the U of M’s College of Education in 1998. She
currently is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership under the supervision
of Dr. Larry McNeal.
Vice President Joe Biden called Kiner with the news Tuesday, and word quickly spread
among students, alumni and the community – BTW had won the White House’s 2011 Race
to the Top Commencement Challenge. Students were asked to submit an essay and optional
video detailing why the president should select their school to deliver a graduation
speech. Three schools were chosen as finalists from hundreds of entries.
Kiner said when she meets the president, the first thing she will do is thank him
for “validating the work my kids have done.”
In their entry, BTW students focused on the good things going on in their neighborhood
and in the school itself. Located in a hardscrabble area where the Cleaborn Homes
public housing project once stood, the school has a proud tradition of educating African-American
students. BTW’s graduation rate has risen from 55 percent in 2007 to 81.6 percent
in 2010. Last year, the school surpassed statewide benchmarks in Algebra I by 27 percentage
“Alisha Kiner’s strongest quality is her ability to bring out the best in those she
has stewardship over,” says McNeal, who is chair of the U of M’s Department of Leadership.
“Her journey to improve the educational conditions of students encompassed many years
of preparation. We are proud to share in her development as one of the best school
principals in Tennessee. We are inspired by her ability to make education a success
story for all students.”