Historic School Year Opening Has Familiar Look

By Bill Dries

Germantown High School principal Ted Horrell warned a busload of school board members, staff and interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson that they were about to see some confusion on his campus.

Shelby County Schools deputy superintendent David Stephens, left, and interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson tour Millington Middle School with principal Amy Marsh.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

On the opening day of the first school year for the unified school system Monday, Aug. 5, Horrell stopped the group just outside the school’s cafeteria, which was in its third of four lunch periods of the school day.

They would see lots of teenagers standing around looking confused, Horrell said.

“That’s more a function of being in high school for the first day,” he said as he talked of the social dilemma of not knowing where to sit.

A group of girls secure in their place squealed over the presence of several cameras. Meanwhile, a boy appearing a bit frazzled looked past Hopson and the other adults, balancing his lunch tray as he searched for an open or at least inviting occupied table.

It was one sign of several that for many students, the first day of school in the new Shelby County Schools was very much like the end of the 2012-2013 academic year in May when Shelby County had two public systems.

The group of board members, school system leaders and Hopson toured eight schools across Shelby County in seven hours on opening day.

“There was a lot of teaching and learning going on the first day,” Hopson said at the end of the tour. “I think what you see is that the school experience is going to remain unchanged.”

Stopping in a second period class at Frayser High School, Hopson asked a student, “What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?”

“I’m a senior,” she replied.

Some of the schools were almost new buildings like Kate Bond Middle School, which is three years old. Others like Frayser High and Carver High had parts of the building in which the air conditioning wasn’t working.

Frayser had unused classrooms. Kate Bond, meanwhile, had more than 1,100 students in a school built to hold 1,200. The middle school has 20 sections of the sixth grade.

When the bus hit the road at 6:30 a.m., the driver’s radio crackled with traffic between drivers and dispatchers that caught the ear of Hopson and school board members.

Hopson said last week that bus problems and mix-ups are normal on opening day of any school year. But he also said the school system’s switch to three bell times and the new routes that came with that were what kept him awake at night as he contemplated opening day.

“Report your number and go ahead,” a dispatcher said as the school officials drove south from school board headquarters to Carver and saw other buses on cross streets.

“It’s very congested and I’m going to be late,” a driver in traffic on Germantown Parkway reported later.

At each of the eight schools, Hopson’s first question to the principals was what problems they had. All said the bus problems were minor.

Each of the schools also had some degree of late registration underway in a cafeteria or auditorium as well.

The school system will also see some students who had enrolled in two charter schools that were to start Monday under the W.E.B. DuBois Consortium name. The charter school company includes former Memphis City Schools superintendent and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

Hopson said Herenton told him Friday the two charter schools would not be opening because of low enrollment at each. Those students who did enroll in the charter schools will now enroll in the conventional school they are zoned to.

At Idlewild Elementary School in Midtown, Hopson’s daughter started first grade and Hopson met Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. briefly in the school’s narrow hallways.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell was at several of the other schools.

At Idlewild many parents walked their children to school on Linden Avenue off busy Union Avenue, waiting at one of the three entrances to school for the doors to open.

One boy, asked what was new at his school, pointed to his uniform shirt and pulled up his khaki shorts as he held his father’s hand a bit tighter.

Board member Kevin Woods asked a girl at Southwind Elementary if she wanted school uniforms. The girl’s glittery high top sneakers with neon shoelaces were tucked reflexively under her seat.