VOL. 129 | NO. 78 | Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Aitken Talks Next Steps for Collierville Schools
By Bill Dries
Budgets for the six municipal school systems and Shelby County Schools are starting to come together.
Shelby County Schools board members could vote in a special meeting Tuesday, April 22, on their budget proposal to the Shelby County Commission.
Meanwhile, teacher contracts are the next stop on the calendar to the August opening of seven public school districts in Shelby County.
Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken hopes to do that for his school system by May 1, as teachers and students prepare for the end of the school year.
Teachers and administrators in the eight schools that become Collierville’s school system in August have filled out forms giving Aitken a preliminary indication of whether they want to go with the new school system or stay with Shelby County Schools and be assigned to other schools with the demerger.
Aitken said 99 percent of the Collierville teachers have indicated they want to remain in the schools with the new school system.
“It’s been an interesting few years, hasn’t it?” Aitken said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines” of the journey to the schools merger and then demerger.
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
When the changes began in late 2010, Aitken was superintendent of Shelby County Schools, which at the time included county schools outside Memphis and had more than 40,000 students. Since January, he has built from the ground up a system of eight schools in Collierville that will probably have 7,500 students.
Between those two experiences, he was head of the merging Shelby County Schools system as it took shape until just before classes started last August.
“What I’ve learned in a short time here is that when you are a superintendent of a large school district, as I was, you’ve got people who can do some of the little things who can bring them to you for approval and review,” Aitken said. “And now many of those decisions are done by a smaller group including me.”
He and the five other suburban schools superintendents meet weekly to talk about shared services for transportation and food, as well as payroll and students records.
They also talk about broader issues on the horizon beyond the start of the new academic year, such as paying teachers based on performance and how to judge that performance.
“I struggle with that. … I’m a big proponent of furthering your education,” he said. “There is research that shows that a master’s in education with administration and supervision does not necessarily make you a more effective math teacher. … Another side is any education is good education and can make you a better leader.”
Aitken said the education strategy of early intervention with students who fall behind – instead of waiting until the middle or end of the school year, when decisions are made about retention or promotion – won’t change.
“We were at the forefront of that. … Response through intervention is state-driven,” he added. “I think that’s the basis of what we do educationally everywhere now.”
But there are still discussions to come among the suburban school boards about the Tennessee Legislature’s approval of a bill last week that delays for a year new testing linked to Common Core state standards while continuing with the standards.
“I think you have to just weigh the fact and the fiction on Common Core. I get more pushback and will probably receive more on the testing piece of that and the frequency of testing and the volume of testing and all the impact that it has more so than standards,” Aitken said before the Legislature sent the amended bill to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam last week. “Common Core and the standards I have no issue with. We put a lot of money into the training. Our teachers, our administrators have been trained. It’s all of the high-stakes testing that accompanies that and the things that are happening along with it that I think the Legislature is struggling with.”