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VOL. 129 | NO. 5 | Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Suburban Superintendents Start Work

By Bill Dries

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Each of their contracts now approved, the superintendents and directors of Shelby County six suburban school systems sat down Tuesday, Jan. 7, around the same table for the first time to talk about how to build their school districts.

Four of the six school boards voted Monday to approve contracts with their superintendents. Among them is Jason Manuel, superintendent of Germantown Schools, which will include Houston High.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The leaders met the day after the Arlington, Millington, Germantown and Lakeland school boards approved contracts for their superintendents.

The Bartlett and Collierville school boards approved their superintendent contracts last month.

Monday was the first day on the job for Bartlett superintendent David Stephens and Collierville superintendent John Aitken, with teachers in both districts back in school for in-service training. Stephens and Aitken each dropped by the schools that are to be part of their school systems to talk with principals and teachers about the coming change.

For the rest of this school year, the suburban schools remain part of Shelby County Schools. But Aitken and Stephens each say SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson opened the schools to them as part of the transition.

It’s a transition they say will require not only cooperation with Shelby County Schools, but also among the suburban school systems.

The only item of business for the Germantown Schools board Monday evening was approving the contract of superintendent Jason Manuel, whose first full day on the job was Tuesday. Before schools recessed for the Christmas break, Manuel had been principal of Houston Middle School.

Manuel told some parents in the audience Monday that he will be organizing tours of the five schools in his school system hopefully later this month.

“We want to have parents come tour the schools so they can see the exceptional programs that are going on in our Germantown schools,” he said.

The tours are aimed specifically at parents of the three Germantown schools that will remain part of Shelby County Schools after the suburban school systems open for classes.

Students who live in Germantown and attend Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools can continue to attend the schools or can transfer to schools in the Germantown Schools system under open enrollment agreements.

Germantown Schools board chairman Lisa Parker negotiated the $160,000-a-year contract with Manuel over about a week and a half, she said.

She and other board members scheduled a Wednesday, Jan. 8, work session with Manuel to get started on the formation of the school system.

“We’ll have a big pot of coffee,” she said after several board members set an agenda for the work session, which includes discussing basic items such as hiring teachers and setting attendance zones and the structure of the school system’s central office.

All six superintendents are awaiting updated feasibility studies from Southern Educational Strategies LLC, the consulting firm cofounded by former Shelby County Schools superintendent James Mitchell and former Tipton County Schools superintendent Tim Fite. All six suburbs hired Southern Educational Strategies in 2011, at the outset of their bid to start separate school systems.

Aitken said the update is “because of the change in the agreements” late last year between suburban leaders, Shelby County Schools leaders and the Shelby County Commission over school buildings and the boundaries between the new school districts and Shelby County Schools.

“With the agreements that each town forged with Shelby County Board of Education and the commission, it was with the kids just inside the municipal boundaries,” he said. “Some figures changed on that.”

Stephens hoped to have the updated study later this month.

The figures will affect how much it will take to run a school system that has so many students. The enrollment numbers changed because at the outset suburban leaders wanted the new school systems to continue to educate children who had attended those same schools as part of Shelby County Schools, including children who live outside the borders of those suburbs.

Shelby County Schools leaders insisted on keeping the children and school buildings in unincorporated Shelby County. Attorneys on all sides agreed that trying to include those children in suburban school districts would have raised legal questions about a lack of elected representation on those school boards by those students’ parents.

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