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VOL. 133 | NO. 180 | Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Suburban Superintendents Mark Fifth School Year in Changing Times for Education

By Bill Dries

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When he began creating the Bartlett City Schools system five years ago, superintendent David Stephens had more middle schools than he had middle school students in the suburban city. And the high school-aged population was split between Bartlett and Bolton high schools.

Bartlett City Schools Supt. David Stephens

“With the community split between two schools, yes, it’s a great rivalry on Friday night,” Stephens, on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines,” said of the football rivalry between the schools.

“But then you are splitting resources. I know Bartlett and Bolton,” he said. “When I was principal at Bolton – 75 percent of the kids … lived in the city of Memphis or Bartlett and there are only so many dollars that the community can invest in the schools.”

Having a Bartlett system with a single high school would put nearly 3,000 students in grades 9-12 and instantly make Bartlett High overcrowded.

“So, it worked to take Shadowlawn (Middle School) and turn it into a ninth-grade academy off campus so I could take 750 students, and that helps alleviate that crowding on campus,” Stephens said. “You have a little over 2,000 10th- through 12th-graders.”

Bartlett High is just beginning a $60 million, two-year reconfiguration and renovation of its campus.

In Collierville’s school system, the immediate move at its founding was to work out an agreement with Germantown to allow Collierville students to continue attending Germantown’s Houston High School as Collierville built the 3,000-plus capacity, $93 million Collierville High School that opened in August.

Collierville schools Supt. John Aitken

Collierville High and Bartlett High, counting the ninth-grade academy, are the two largest high schools, by student capacity, in Tennessee.

“I do think it promotes growth,” Collierville schools superintendent John Aitken said. “I rely on experience. I was principal at Houston High School. I taught at Collierville High School. When you have two high schools in a community – yes it was a successful model. But I also was always jealous of Collierville.”

In the legacy Shelby County Schools system that covered the county outside the city of Memphis, students in suburb towns and cities had attendance zones that might have assigned students to Bolton in unincorporated Shelby County or students from Collierville to Houston High in Germantown.

After the demerger of public education starting in 2014, Germantown’s borders include two high schools – Houston and Germantown. An agreement between SCS and the Germantown Municipal School District, Germantown High, Elementary and Middle remain part of SCS and Houston is the single high school in Germantown’s municipal school district.

Germantown superintendent Jason Manuel says at least for now that is how it will remain. Germantown officials have made several offers to SCS. The latest last year for Germantown Elementary was rejected by SCS, prompting Germantown to move ahead with the construction of a new elementary school currently underway on Forest Hill-Irene Road south of Poplar Pike.

“We made that decision before we went ahead and broke ground on the new elementary school,” Manuel said. “The (Germantown) school district would always be interested in working with Shelby County Schools to buy back those schools.”

Germantown Supt. Jason Manuel

Improvements to Houston High are waiting in the wings for the Germantown system as it adjusts to a school of about 1,900 students, mostly from Germantown now that the new Collierville High is open.

“It’s a good fiscal model to have a school the size we have,” Manuel said. “In order to offer the AP (advanced placement) classes, the dual enrollment classes … I have to have a school that is a certain size to have the staff to do that. The smaller the school, the harder it is to offer all of those programs and prepare students to move on to that next step in their education.”

Aitken says the new high school and its status as Collierville’s only high school is a factor in the town’s recent population growth.

“I wanted to see that whole community come together and I think we are seeing the results of that as growth is happening in Collierville. People are moving to Collierville,” he said. “I think that yes, the bigger high school has some challenges that we have to stay on top of. But I think having one school in the town … everybody a Dragon… is a great campaign.”

All three superintendents said they run school systems where technology has been a factor in new school construction and renovation as Bartlett, Germantown and Collierville have “one-to-one” initiatives – meaning one digital device for every student be it a laptop, iPad or tablet.

“And to do that you have to change the infrastructure of the broadband,” Manuel said. “If you’ve got all of those children on devices in your school, how are you doing that? At the same time, how do teachers teach in those classrooms? You’ve got to look at how the technology really integrates with what they are doing in those settings.”

Social media on campus and off campus also means historic concerns like bullying are not only treated differently but the bullying itself takes a different form.

“Staying ahead of social media is one of the biggest challenges we have,” Aitken said. “In our day if you got in a fight at school or whatever, you fought and it was over with. Now they go home and they post pictures and they send Snapchat and Instagram. That’s the challenge.”

The challenge expands the borders of the school in terms of administrators and the school system reacting.

“It causes distractions in the learning environment,” he said. “If you are going to give a kid a device, you have to teach him all of those things about digital citizenship. Parents have to take the course as well.”

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page.

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