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VOL. 133 | NO. 154 | Monday, August 6, 2018

Day One

New school year sees historic changes shift to putting down roots

By Bill Dries

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Five school years into the historic merger and demerger of public education in Shelby County, the start of the sixth school year classes this month shows the change is establishing very real roots.

Every school year Dorsey Hopson has served as Shelby County Schools superintendent, the district has been a part of the change. In August 2013, he toured schools on the opening day of the only school year a single public school system served the entire county. A year later he toured schools in the city of Memphis and unincorporated pockets of the county as six suburban school systems made their debut.

As SCS opened for students on Monday, Aug.6, Hopson stopped at Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools in South Memphis. With construction to start soon on a new, larger Alcy Elementary nearby, students from Charjean and Magnolia will merge into the new Alcy when it is completed.

Consolidating schools within a few miles of each other onto a new campus, like the new Alcy Elementary, has emerged as the school system’s strategy beyond closing schools,

“We’ve closed close to 30 schools because the way they were operating was not under conditions that led to the right students outcomes,” Hopson told the Shelby County Schools Board at its July 31 meeting. “And it was simply not efficient to operate schools where students didn’t live and in states of disrepair. We are now seeing the fruit of that. We are building new schools in inner-city Memphis.”

The Germantown Municipal Schools District and Millington Municipal Schools also opened for classes Monday, Millington under the leadership of new superintendent, James “Bo” Griffin, who succeeds David Roper.

Roper was Millington’s first school superintendent, and his departure marked the first turnover in leadership at one of the seven school systems since the demerger in the summer of 2014.

Griffin comes from SCS where he was principal of Bolton High School. He previously led the turnaround at Raleigh Egypt Middle High School – a restructured grade 6-12 school that challenged the state-run Achievement School District’s takeover of the middle school.

In Germantown, the city’s new $27 million elementary school on Forest Hill-Irene Road south of Poplar Pike is under construction as the school year begins.

Meanwhile, Monday signified the start of the second school year for the expanded Riverdale K-8 school, a $9.7 million addition that eliminated 22 portable classrooms at the Germantown school’s campus.

It’s also the second school year for the $20 million Lakeland Middle Preparatory School.

The Riverdale addition and Lakeland’s new middle school also marked a move into new classroom space in public schools built from the outset for modern technology and other changes in education, including classes for smaller groups of students.

When the other four suburban school systems – Arlington, Bartlett Collierville and Lakeland -- start their school years in a week, the new $95 million Collierville High School will make its debut.

Chris Fitzgerald, a contract worker for Flintco, mops the floors of the main lobby inside the new Collierville High School. The $90 million high school will soon be home to roughly 3,000 students beginning on August 13, 2018. (Daily News/Jim Houston Cofield)

Built for a capacity of 3,000 students, the 450,000-square-foot complex of seven buildings and an athletic facility scheduled to be ready in September, is the largest high school in the state. While legacy Shelby County Schools operated high schools with a larger enrollment than legacy Memphis City Schools, Collierville High is a leap beyond even that model.

“It’s large so get your walking shoes on,” Superintendent John Aitken said to several hundred people awaiting Sunday’s ribbon cutting.

Every students gets a MacBook Air and their parents pay a $50 device fee with textbooks as classroom sets – a step Aitken says will eventually result in phasing out textbooks students hold and keep in lockers. There are no lockers at the new Collierville High School. Aitken noted that the desks have separate chairs so “your hair doesn’t get caught when you lean back.”

The library, called a “media center,” but still has the familiar shelves of books. There is a four-bay auto repair shop and a smaller version of the school’s state-of-the-art kitchen in the culinary arts section.

The band room is the “large instrumental music room.” Sheet music to “Star Wars” is boxed along with copies of “Advanced Techniques for Hands.”

There is s 3,000-seat gymnasium, and another 900 combined seats in two auxiliary gymnasiums.

“This is not study hall,” Aitken warned as he showed off the community room that holds 150 for either student or community groups.

Aitken emphasized the high intends for every graduate to get their high school diploma with either some college credit already earned in dual credit courses or an industry certification toward a job after high school.

“Connecting to both adults and students in the schoolhouse, I think, gives us a leg up on some of the things that we’ve done traditionally,” he said. “I think it gives us space big enough for the growth in the community for a lot of years to come.

The 1948 school year opened in September instead of August. A new campus near the outskirts of must have drawn similar attention.

East High School opened with a capacity of 2,000 students, up from the original plans for an enrollment of 1,500. It was not quite complete on the first day, according to a history of East on the East High Alumni Page, www.easthigh.org, and added grades over the years until it was a full high school in 1950. The next year it was over capacity at 2,100 students, leading to construction of a nine-room annex.

A group of college students studying architecture came up with some ideas for an East High sportsplex as part of a summer internship program at the LRK architecture firm. The ideas are still tentative but Shelby County Schools leaders are talking with potential donors about raising money for the new campus look. (Looney Ricks Kiss)

The school year that began Monday marks the second academic year for the four-year conversion of East from a conventional school with an attendance zone to a citywide T-STEM school – a science, technology, engineering and math curriculum with applications toward transportation uses of all kinds.

When Hopson talked last month about the “bold decision” to make East “one of the premier high schools in Memphis and Shelby County,” it was with a nod to the new Collierville High School. And he found agreement on the school board.

“This is not just about East High School,” said board member Kevin Woods. “This is about painting a vision. We should have equitable facilities.”

The new Collierville High School also came up during the race for Shelby County mayor. Mayor -elect Lee Harris stood outside the new Collierville campus in one of his ads making the same point Woods made – the need for that kind of school in Memphis.

“I think it’s a direct reflection of where Collierville is going. I think it’s directly influenced by growth,” Aitken said when asked about the mention of the new facility in Lee’s campaign ad. “I think this school and the building of this high school is spurring a lot of the growth in Collierville as well.”

Aitken added the taxpayers’ funding initially of the school district and then the new high school shows the community’s commitment to education.

Hopson, on his Twitter account, congratulated Aitken and town leaders on the new school. And Aitken returned the favor.

“I think you are going to see that commitment in the county as well as they try to improve some facilities,” the Collierville superintendent said.

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