VOL. 133 | NO. 158 | Friday, August 10, 2018
Aitken: Look Beyond Price Of New Collierville High School
By Bill Dries
Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken toured the suburb's new high school last week. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
The day after the ribbon cutting, the toughest critics of the new Collierville High School got to look around – the high school’s seniors begin classes Monday, Aug. 13.
And the tour got rave reviews.
“It has a lot of things that make it a welcome and inviting facility for high school kids,” Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken told a Collierville Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd Wednesday, Aug. 8. “When you get acclamations from a senior in high school, you are doing good.”
The biggest raves from students have been about the cafeteria that holds 1,000 and was to have its first test this week with a freshman orientation lunch.
Aitken expects approximately 720 ninth-graders.
“We don’t know. We’re scared,” he joked. “The times are a changing in the little old ‘Ville, aren’t they.”
The chamber luncheon at Ridgeway Country Club is where Aitken first talked of the new high school a year ago in terms of the shift it represents in public education toward dual credit courses and certification for workplace skills after high school.
It’s a shift to comprehensive high schools – more students and more subjects areas, labs and activities from traditional sports to robotics teams.
“Times are changing. Learning styles are changing. Teaching styles are changing. Kids are changing. How do kids learn today?” he said. “A mixture of that traditional, but everything depending on our infrastructure, our bandwidth, a lot of technological things.”
Aitken urged the 250 people to look past the $95 million cost of the state-of-the-art high school.
“I hope when you see it, you put the price out of the conversation and you look at the function and the beauty and the elegance and the things that are offered and the partnerships and the great things it’s going to do for kids,” he said. “Kids are going to come out of here in this school, because of what we can offer, with more opportunity then they have ever had before.”
It’s the same argument Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson has been making over the last four years of school closings and consolidations within Memphis, particularly the closing of high schools such as Carver and Northside that were once large-enrollment schools.
As the student headcount dropped but the large buildings remained, all of the programs and courses that large high schools can offer left too. Hopson has been calling for larger and probably fewer high schools than legacy Memphis City Schools historically had to give students the same opportunities Aitken spoke of for Collierville.
Hopson’s most recent discussions have been around making a renewed East High School the leading edge of that change.
SCS board member Miska Clay-Bibbs says Collierville High and the still general plans for East High School are a critical point in the shift. And the cost is part of the discussion.
“Last year from the county, our whole investment for capital improvements was $92 million to be able to distribute throughout the whole district,” she said.
SCS will likely have a student headcount of around 90,000 compared to Collierville’s estimated 9,000 students across nine schools.
“Within that $92 million are the building of two brand new schools that will actually be in my district,” Clay-Bibbs said of the new Alcy and Goodlett elementary schools being built for a combined total of $45 million.
“You think about maybe the possible sportsplex at East High School and you think about an investment in every high school so that it attracts students in that way and makes them feel good. That’s costs money,” she said. “I think one of the things that I’m hopeful for is that once people see how we spend these dollars around capital improvements, the community will then believe that our kids deserve that. Sometimes you have to show them in order for them to be able to say, ‘Yes, we are going to do it.’ In the next 18 months or so, we are hoping they will stand up and say every community deserves that.”