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VOL. 129 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Start of School Features Historic Change

By Bill Dries

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A child ready for his first day of school Monday, Aug. 4, in the new Bartlett City Schools system mistakenly got on a bus bound for Shelby County Schools that ran close to the route he was supposed to take.

It was one of several issues with bus trips that are common to all seven public school systems in Shelby County that started Monday. The changes include new boundaries for students, parents and bus drivers in what can be close quarters in some cases.

The Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, an optional school at the former Fairview Middle, is among the new elements in the academic year that began Monday, Aug. 4, with seven public school systems in Shelby County, including six suburban systems.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“We’re working it out. Some of the stops are so close to each other,” Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson said of the bus stops at the borders of the different school systems. “We specifically marked the buses.”

Bartlett City Schools superintendent David Stephens said the bus problems get prompt action but are inevitable even in a normal school year. It’s been a while since there has been anything approaching a normal school year at what Hopson referred to Monday as the “grown people’s” level.

Monday marked the beginning of the second consecutive school year of historic change for public education in Shelby County. A year ago, it was the start of the first and only year of the merger in which there was one public school system for the whole county.

“If the late buses are our biggest issue, then we are having a pretty good day,” Stephens said at the end of the school day Monday. “You always want to pitch a perfect game on the first day. That usually doesn’t happen, but we are going to keep working toward that.”

A year ago, Stephens was deputy superintendent to Hopson and the two were on a bus with school board members who made a larger circuit of schools on opening day.

“I made all 11 Bartlett schools in one day, and I did it before 1:30,” Stephens said of his experience Monday. “It’s manageable. When there’s a late bus or a bus that hasn’t shown up, one of my principals – he calls me. I send my guy and we run over to the bus lot and say, ‘What’s happening,’ and they dispatch a bus.”

Hopson visited four schools on the opening day for a Shelby County Schools system that is also smaller. With the demerger into six suburban systems, Shelby County Schools now takes in the city of Memphis and the unincorporated County.

“The operational issues that are associated with the merger are not like this year. That’s refreshing,” Hopson said during a visit to Riverview School. The southwest Memphis school is restructured from a middle school to kindergarten through grade 8 as it takes in students from Riverview Elementary School, which closed in May.

“It’s about the first year in three years we are not talking about mergers and politics and grown people’s issues,” he added. “But we still have a lot of work to do where student achievement is concerned. Last year, the focus was, ‘Let’s make sure the school-based experience doesn’t change for kids.’ But this year – how are we going to dramatically improve student achievement so that our kids can flourish?”

Rosalind Martin, the principal of Riverview, began by having her staff and teachers dress Monday – and every Monday to come this school year – in camouflage and military fatigues of some kind. She called it a “boot camp for literacy.”

“We hit literacy hard. We are all in camouflage and boot camp,” she said. “Our children understand that the military style really means something about authoritative figures.”

While some students were registering for class on the first day in the school’s auditorium, more were already in reading interventions with teachers.

“We hit the ground running,” she said as she herself wore fatigues. “It’s a sign of power and order. Our kids came right in and lined up and followed orders.”

On the first day of the Bartlett City Schools system, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald and other civic leaders dropped by to present commemorative “First Day of School” bells to each of the principals to mark the historic change.

Stephens, meanwhile, said the change probably didn’t register for most of the schoolchildren.

“It doesn’t. It’s the same classrooms, the same teachers, the same principals,” he said. “From the kids’ perspective, they’ve kind of been insulated from all this. … They are back in school.”

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