Millington Leaders Emphasize Unique School System

By Bill Dries

For much of the move to the demerger of public education in Shelby County, the Millington Municipal Schools district has been overshadowed by the five other suburban school systems.

David Roper, superintendent of Millington Municipal Schools, helped the district celebrate its opening.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

All six formed starting in January and three weeks ago opened for classes, but Millington school system leaders, principals, teachers and civic leaders didn’t have their opening celebration until this past weekend, the day after the Millington Central High School Trojans beat the Germantown Red Devils in the first weekend of high school football.

A crowd of 300 gathered in Millington Central’s cafeteria cheered the victory and several affirmations of the school system’s unique nature.

“We are not Bartlett. We are not Germantown. We are not Collierville,” said Mandy Compton, principal of E.A. Harrold Elementary School, one of four schools in the Millington system. “And frankly we don’t want to be.”

Millington school board chairman Greg Ritter, an alumnus of Millington Central High, said the comparison to other schools in more affluent, less blue-collar communities in the legacy suburban Shelby County Schools system was a fact of life when he was a student.

“Millington matters,” he said Saturday. “It was hard not to be compared to everyone else.”

David Roper, the superintendent of the school system of 2,662 students, said Millington is unique as a system.

“Millington has so much going for it because of the kind of support we have,” he said. “It’s got challenges because of a lot of our students come from impoverished backgrounds. They didn’t have some of the advantages that maybe some other students have had. We want to look and address the Millington issues and not worry about comparing ourselves to the other systems.”

The school system’s nutrition program offers free lunches to all students and, in a recent agreement with the Shelby County Health Department, will also offer free dental examinations to all students.

Roper is the only one of the six suburban superintendents who had not worked in the county’s two public schools systems prior to the merger and demerger. He came to the Millington post from being a master clinician at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, where he trained teacher candidates in planning, assessment and curriculum.

Before that, he was a schools superintendent in Elizabethton City Schools in East Tennessee and Roanoke City Schools in Virginia. He was also executive assistant to the superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.

“I think there was some advantage in a way of me coming in from an area outside of Shelby County because having a fresh start here – that meant that I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about who to hire and who not to hire,” Roper said. “I could just bring together a staff based on the people that I think have the skills and the approach that was necessary. … I didn’t have any ax to grind against anybody or any favors to pay back.”

He got to his new job in Millington on Jan. 20 as the only employee of the school system, which had to be built from the ground up. His start date was two weeks after the five other suburban superintendents began under similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, the last opening ceremony of the school year was also a vindication for former Shelby County Schools superintendent James Mitchell and his consulting firm Southern Educational Strategies LLC.

Mitchell, who is a former principal of Millington Central High, and his company worked as consultants for all six of the fledgling suburban systems, delivering feasibility reports to each on how much it would cost to open the school systems, the revenues needed and various options.

“Everything that’s in this study occurred as this study said it would,” Mitchell said to cheers from the crowd at Millington Saturday. “You have created history.”

Southern Educational Strategies’ estimates drew harsh criticism from Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz, in particular, upon their release in January 2012.

The reports have been praised several times during the opening ceremonies for the suburban school systems.

Like the other six systems, including Shelby County Schools, Roper and the Millington school board are watching enrollment numbers closely and looking several years out to see if more space is needed.

“We’re still in good shape at this point,” he said. “As we look toward future years, we may have to look at some possible additions. Only time will tell on that.”

Shelby County Schools kept Lucy Elementary School as part of its system in the demerger, even though the school is within the boundaries of Millington.