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VOL. 129 | NO. 98 | Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Arlington, Lakeland Superintendents Discuss Smaller Systems

By Bill Dries

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The superintendents of the Lakeland Schools and Arlington Community Schools systems admit they haven’t been in the spotlight much in the coming schools demerger.

But Tammy Mason of Arlington and Ted Horrell and Lakeland lead schools systems that have a relationship just as vital as the one between Germantown and Collierville, their larger counterparts in the set of six suburban school systems.

“We depend on Arlington,” Horrell said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” which also featured Mason.

MASON

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

HORRELL

The Lakeland system is one school – Lakeland Elementary School – for now. It has a projected enrollment of 850 students and a $7 million budget.

Some Lakeland students in the elementary years will attend Donelson Elementary in Arlington as well.

“We’ve got an immediate need to address there of where are the middle school students going to go,” Horrell added.

And that means Horrell and his staff are already studying the likely possibility of moving toward a Lakeland middle school once the first school year of the demerger begins in August.

Mason said a new Lakeland middle school has an impact on her system of four schools – two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

“Obviously if Lakeland determines they will build a new middle school … then that will relieve the numbers at Arlington Middle School,” Mason said. “There wouldn’t be a need to build a new middle school. … Arlington High School’s been up to 2,500 students. Right now we are looking at a little over 2,000. At Arlington, we do not feel like we have an immediate need to build or add on at this point.”

The Collierville and Bartlett school systems are exploring future growth at the high school level. The Collierville Schools board has already voted to begin looking at the feasibility of a new comprehensive high school. The Bartlett Schools system includes a ninth grade academy to handle growth at the Bartlett High campus.

Meanwhile, the Arlington school system’s enrollment of 4,900 students for the coming school year includes 700 students who don’t live in Lakeland or Arlington and among them are 70 students who live in Fayette County and will pay out-of-county tuition to attend Arlington schools.

“It has really, I think, opened up parents’ choice,” Mason said.

Like their four counterparts as suburban superintendents, Mason and Horrell began their duties Jan. 7 as the only employees of their school systems.

“There was almost nothing that we could assume would continue to happen without some decision or action or phone call or contract renewal or something,” Horrell said of the experience. “There were no items that would just continue to be.”

Mason said the process began as “just looking at and prioritizing what needed to be done.”

Mason is the former principal of Arlington High School. Horrell is the former principal of Germantown High School. Both schools have been part of the merged Shelby County Schools system and before that the legacy Shelby County Schools, which was all public schools outside Memphis.

They now lead school systems on a much smaller scale.

“It feels a lot less like top-down management,” Horrell said of the differences including teachers having more influence at the school district level. “Even in a system of the size of the old Shelby County system that was just impossible.”

Mason said the needs of the Arlington Schools system mirror the needs to some degree of the larger school systems. But there are distinctions.

“You have the ability to temper those decisions more directly with what the needs of your small school system are versus having to look at what a lot of the needs are for 100-plus schools,” she said.

Mason and Horrell agree with other superintendents and suburban leaders who predict the school systems will have an impact on the growth patterns of their respective towns and cities in the years to come.

“We know that housing patterns are driven in large part by education,” Horrell said.

“I think it’s changing the way they may do business and looking at what business will they allow to come into the city,” Mason said of Arlington city officials.

The decision about commercial growth was a key part of the campaigns for aldermen and mayor in the city’s 2011 elections.

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