Behind the Headlines – September 7, 2018

Behind the Headlines – September 7, 2018


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind The Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Back to school with
Bartlett, Germantown, and Collierville, tonight
on Behind The Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by
superintendents from a number of the suburban schools,
starting with David Stephens from Bartlett, thank
you for being here. – Thanks for having me. – (Eric)
John Aitken, superintendent Collierville Schools,
thanks for being here. – Thanks for having us. – (Eric)
And Jason Manuel is the superintendent of the
Germantown Schools, thanks for being here.
– Thank you. – Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. We’ll go through each,
everything kinda going on in each of your
separate school systems, and I’ll note that
we’re gonna try to get all the superintendents
of the municipal schools. When this has aired we’ll
have had Dorsey Hopson on from Shelby County Schools. I’ll start with you John,
you had a big announcement and the opening of
a big high school, what a couple weeks ago? $100 million project,
what does it say that that was possible, what,
four years into Collierville having its own independent
school district? Is there something symbolic
about that, or is it more just a facility that meets the
needs and that’s all it is? – Well I think it’s
symbolic with the formation of the district, but
more importantly, I do think it meets the
needs of a growing community. When we opened, we
actually had to forge in our local agreements
with Jason in Germantown to handle capacity
for a few years until we could decide
what route to take. But as the town has grown,
student population has grown, we immediately
noticed that we had to handle some capacity
issues, so a lot of marketing, a lot of thought research
went into, and we ended up with the One Town,
One School campaign to build one big high school to serve the community
for a lot of years. And yeah, we had grand
opening on August the fifth. We’ve been in it now
almost three weeks and things are going smoothly. Like any house
under construction, some punch list items
still working through. A little behind on athletic
facilities, excuse me, but those are rounding
into shape as well. So we hope to have everything
completed here pretty soon and get off to a little bit
more normal routine now. – And I’ll go to Bartlett, you
all have begun construction, about to, begun renovation
of your high school? – We are right in
the middle of it. We are doing about a $60
million renovation project to the high school. Our situation’s a little
different than Collierville because in Bartlett we did
not have a big piece of land to go out and build a school. And I think John you guys
needed another middle school, so it worked there, well
we needed that facility. What had happened over
the period of time when we started our district
is as growth went out into eastern part of Shelby
County, Bartlett had really, that school had
dwindled down in numbers and to no fault of
anyone, I tell folks that they were having
to build schools, they had to build
Houston High School, they had to build
Cordova High School, they built South Wind Arlington, so a lot of those
dollars were going there. And when we took
over the facility, you know our auditorium was
built in 1917, the gym 1950. The newest building
was over 40 years ago, so we really needed to
look at that and see what was gonna work for
the city of Bartlett, for our school district
to go try to find land that wasn’t available,
build a new school, or take that one and
do a major renovation. So it has been a little
bit of a challenge. They did a lot of
demolition over the summer, but we’ve got it to the point
where we’re holding classes, things are going better than
I expected, going really well. And they’re going to
start pouring concrete in the next couple weeks and
buildings will start going up. – And we just looked at some
renderings, I should say, architectural renderings
of what’s to come. For you, and come back
to John on this, but to what extent was this demand
for the school a function of, was the demand there, and
you sort of addressed this, but was the demand there four
years ago, five years ago, before school consolidation
and deconsolidation, or is this a response to
something that’s happened in the last four years? – I think it’s a response
to something that happened in the last four years because
I think what you have now, and I tell people
this all the time, we have one high
school in the city. And back in old Shelby County, I believe we had
eight high schools, so if you did one thing at one, well we need to do it at all
to be fair and equitable. But once you have
one high school, you know our mayor, our board
of aldermen, our school board, they’re all focusing
on that one school. So now that’s how we were
able to, with the funding through our city, to be
able to do this project. I think that’s one of the
things that’s exciting about our municipal districts
is that we have a community that is focused on a
sub-set of schools. It really helps us
keep that laser focus and try to make sure that
what we’re doing is the best, and not being so
big is a good thing. – Germantown Schools,
you’ve got construction, I think we don’t have photos
of some of the construction, but you’ve got, on
the elementary side. – Yes.
– Construction going on. What’s happening there and just
generally with your schools in terms of the investment,
and again four years into being an independent
school district? – I think we were all
experiencing the same things in Shelby County, we
inherited $26 million in deferred maintenance
where we had roofs, HVACs that were long
past their lifespans, and so we’re doing
band-aid repairs, trying to get
parts for products. So we’ve invested over $16
million in deferred maintenance and lowered our
deferred maintenance, but we’ve also put in
a total of $55 million in capital improvements,
so we are growing the same, we’ve increased by 900
students in our district. And so we are building a new
$30 million elementary school. We’re up out of the ground. They’re doing
block and right now they’ve poured
foundations there. Forest Hill, Poplar Pike is
the location of the school. But also at Riverdale, at
our middle school level, we got rid of 22 portables that
had been there over 20 years and we had a new
expansion there. So we are growing but at the
same time fixing those things that had been neglected
in our district. – And before we go to
Bill, just the status, for those who don’t
follow it as closely as I’m sure you do and
other people in Germantown, the status of the three
Germantown Schools that stayed with the Shelby
County School System, that aren’t part of your
municipal school district. What is happening there? Negotiations continue or? – No, not at this time. We had tried to offer money
and the city was working with the school district to try to get back Germantown
Elementary at first, or Germantown Middle and High, but our first priority was at
the elementary school level, and they were not interested
in taking an offer from us, or us buying that
school back from them. So we made that decision
before we went ahead and broke ground on the
new elementary school. But that is something
that the city would always be interested in, the
school district would always be interested in working
with Shelby County Schools to buy back those schools. – Okay, Bill Dries. – So Jason in your case,
the Riverdale expansion that you did, you
added classrooms there, but it was more than just
building more classrooms. – (Jason)
Yes. – And I think you’ve
all experienced this, that you’re not only
building new schools or renovating schools
for your school district, you’re also taking
a big step ahead because when you build a school
today, it’s a lot different than maybe when you
built one 10 years ago. – Yeah, so we look
at lots of things. How we teach has changed,
and I know all of us have one-to-one initiatives
where we are adding devices in our schools, and to do that, you have to change the
infrastructure of the broadband. So if you’ve got all
those children on devices in your school, how
are you doing that? But at the same time,
how the teachers teach in those classrooms,
you’ve gotta look at how the technology
really integrates with what they’re doing
in those settings. So that’s one of those changes. The use of natural light, and
of course we’re all concerned about security, so we’re
looking through a new lens of how do you build a school
to protect against things that could happen in the future. But yes it has changed,
we’re changing the brand of what education looks like. – And David, at
Bartlett High School, you have a really big
campus that’s been added to over a century, I mean the
auditorium was what went first. – (David)
Yep, 1917. – Yeah, more than
100 years old now. So how do you do that in a
renovation where you’re remaking the campus while students
are still going to school? – That was a thing
where we sat down with Fleming Architectural
Firm and looked at this. And I was saying, “I don’t see how we’re gonna
be able to pull this off.” But it’s amazing, the planning, working with Flintco,
Linkous the two contractors, they’ve done a tremendous job of how we’re phasing
it, timing things. Fall break is coming up, they
have work that is planned during those days,
Christmas break. The summer, it was just the
number of people out there. So we have this thing phased
over a two year period. One of the exciting things,
and I believe Jason hit on that was the safety and
security of getting all of those separated buildings
under basically one roof with connectors,
with courtyards. So we’re excited about
what that’s going to do. But it has been a challenge. But I’ll say our teachers, and
our students, and our parents have been so understanding
and flexible, ’cause I think they can
see what’s coming on. The exciting thing about
this, it’s not like all the sudden two years we’re
gonna hand the building over, there will be parts of it
that go online this spring, some new vocational classrooms will be completed this spring. Some other classrooms around
the first of the year. So we’ll be kinda
rolling these out, so all of our students
will be able to experience some of the newness. But we’re excited about
it and we think it’s gonna be a big thing for
the city of Bartlett, of having that facility. – John, the scale of
Collierville High School is, I mean you could go on and
on with all of the stats and specs for that building. But you also considered
safety in it too. I think when parents
and folks like me are coming through
looking at everything, we’re looking at the auto shop, we’re looking at all of the
tech stuff, the STEM stuff. And you also considered
safety in it too. How often, do parents
ask a lot about that? – Oh yeah, I mean
it’s at the forefront of all of our conversations now, and a real focus at state
and national levels, and you know that’s
the way of the world for us school
administrators now. It doesn’t go away,
and it shouldn’t. So first and foremost we
have to make sure that that building is secure. All of us had to undergo
safety audits this past year through Homeland Security and
some of the state-wide people in response to applying
for grants, which we’re now in the process of putting
those grants through to enhance not only
the new high school, but going through all of
our other eight buildings, some of those were built
back in the ’70s as well, Collierville Elementary School. What can we do to better
the measures for security at those schools as well? And you look at things
such as perimeter. You look at windows. You look at landscape. You look at access. I’m speaking on my experience
at Shelby County Schools, and I have to give
them a lot of credit, even back then they saw this
as a response to Columbine, they started doing a lot
of the access controls, the card swipes, the
cameras in the buildings, so many of those things
have been carried forward to all of our buildings, so we
just try to improve on that. All of our buildings
will eventually have the safety corridor,
the safety vestibule that you have to check in
and then go through a scanner to identify any types
of sexual offenders or background check problems.
So all of us kinda have that same model, and it’s
just keeping up with the technology piece
as things change. – You all have been in
education for a long time. – (John)
Long time. [group chuckles] – Does it, and
Columbine was you know, what over 20-
something years ago. And then obviously the mass
shooting in Florida this year which struck a nerve with
students around the country, and the protests, and
the march in Washington. Do you also look at this now from a mental health
point of view? I mean, even things of bullying, things of kids who are
estranged, social media. You don’t run fortresses, right. I mean you can only do so much in terms of physical
security, I assume. I’ll turn to you first, how
do you guys address that, those issues of
bullying, social media, kids who are estranged? Is there some intervention
side there that you pursue in a different way now? – I think it’s multi-faceted. I don’t think that there’s
going to be a magic bullet or solution that’s going
to solve this problem. Bullying and mental health
is a national issue. And I think that when we look at our comprehensive
counseling programs and really how we’re serving
students as they’re coming up through our school district,
we have to be ready to identify those students
who are struggling or having issues and providing
the supports that they need. We use the term whole
child in the district. We are not just focused on
the numbers and academics. We want to make sure that we
are providing those supports for children who do
have other issues, so that we can remove those
barriers so that they can learn. – In terms of bullying, I can
remember being in high school and junior high, that
was just part of it. I mean you were just
supposed to tough it out and that sort of hierarchy. I tell my teenage kids that,
or now one’s a 20 year old, and they’re just
horrified at what, the way things worked back then. I’ll turn to you David, how,
what do you do about bullying? And how proactive are you? And where does the
barrier with bullying, be it cyberbullying or things that are said outside of school?
Are there lines now, if something
is said outside of school is it hands off, or do
you kinda try to look at the whole
experience of the kid and the bullying they
might experience? – You have to look at
the whole experience. The key to this is
early intervention, trying to catch things before
they spiral out of control. Things that, like you
were saying, when I was in school 20 years ago,
somebody would say something, you just kinda well
toughen up and go on. Now we say if you see
something, say something. If something’s
happening, intervene. I think our young people are
growing up in that culture of hey this isn’t right, like
you were saying with your son, he was appalled,
this isn’t right. And our teachers, we’re
always looking at all facets of how our students
are interacting. Social media is, I mean
it’s such a challenge. It can do so many good things,
but then on the other hand, we spend a lot of time looking
at that, monitoring that. I think it’s that relationship between the teacher
and the student, we talk about creating
that positive culture where you feel safe, you
feel safe in that classroom. If I raise my hand and ask a
question, nobody’s gonna look at me and say, “Well that
was stupid question.” Or if I go to the
restroom, I feel safe. Or if I’m walking down the hall. So we constantly talk about
that culture and those teachers building those
relationships with students, and I think that’s
what happens sometimes. Kids, they feel alienated,
or they don’t feel like they can connect, and
we want to have our students be able to connect
while they’re at school. – Generally, I mean I think
maybe people who listen who don’t have kids or
haven’t, when do your kids in the Collierville
School System, probably true of all of
you, but I’ll point to you, get onto social media? It’s a lot younger than
people might realize. – Much younger, I’m a,
excuse me, a grandparent of three-year-old twins
now, and you know the iPad is not social media, but that
technological piece of that is already started in on them, so you have to remove the iPad. They start getting the
phones at a much earlier age, I’m old school, than
I think they should. – I mean you’ve
got fourth graders, fifth graders with phones. – Oh gosh yes, oh gosh
yeah, and part of that, a parent will tell
you is safety. If they’re at school or
they’re somewhere with friends or they’re spending the night,
they want them to have that so they can contact, and
we’ve gone through that battle for a long time. David and Jason both mentioned
staying ahead of social media is one of the biggest
challenges we have. And you mentioned the
differences in bullying now and cyberbullying, it
doesn’t go away now. Our day, if you were, got in
a fight at school or whatever, you fought and it was over with. But now they go home
and they post pictures and they send
Snapchat and Instagram and that’s the challenge. And when it bleeds back
into the classroom, or back into the school
environment, that’s when we have to get involved because
it causes distractions in the learning environment. So it does have a
little blend that way. But it’s a, all of
us, Jason mentioned the technology initiatives
that all of us have. Part of a technology
initiative is education. If you’re gonna give a
kid a device, you have to teach them all those things
about digital citizenship. And parents have to
take courses as well. So part of that deal
about monitoring social media accounts,
filtering, that’s all part of that technology initiative,
so it’s kind of a global look at everything
we’re dealing with. – 10 minutes left, Bill. – Okay, you’ve got
a capacity of 3,000 at Collierville High
School I believe. It’s the largest.
– Little bit over, but. – Little bit over, so it’s the largest high
school in the state? – I think on-campus
enrollment it is. I think if you put
David’s 9th grade and our 10 and 12, we’re
one and two in the state, so because ninth grade’s
in a separate building. – So to each of you, the model for legacy Shelby County
Schools was always bigger high schools than
Memphis City Schools had. How does having first of
all a single high school in your communities, and a
high school that’s maybe larger than you had in the
past, how do you think that affects the
community at large? Does it promote growth? Does it have its drawbacks? How do you think a
high school that large? – I do think it promotes
growth and that’s kinda why we initiated the One
Town, One School campaign because I relied on past
experiences as well. I was a 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 and every store in the community
would have the dragons, so you could go here
and there and everywhere and it was all about
Friday night football, and Houston was sitting there. At that time you had Germantown
in there in the community and big rivals, but they
were in the same community. And 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. All of us, people are
moving to those communities. And I think that yes the
bigger high school does have some challenges that
we have to stay on top of, but I mean I think having
one school in the town, One Town, One School,
Everybody A Dragon eventually is a great campaign. – Yeah and I think the
advantage we had is when we started our district, we had more middle schools
than we had students. So it worked to take Chatillon, turn it into a ninth
grade academy off campus, so I could take 750 students
and that helps alleviate that crowding on campus. And we have a little over 2,000
10th, 11th, and 12th graders. So that has been, when that
happened five years ago, a lot of people in the
community were like, oh no this ninth
grade academy model. But we’ve seen a lot
of success from that. It’s worked really well. But it’s those things
you have to look at. And I think John hit it, was
with your community split between two schools,
then it’s this, yes it’s a great
rivalry on Friday night, but then you’re
splitting resources. I know Bartlett and Bolton,
when I was principal of Bolton, you know 75% of the kids
when I was principal lived in the city
limits of Bartlett, and it was always this,
there’s only so many dollars that the community can
invest into schools. But having that one school
in our city has been great, and by us having that academy it’s helped with that
overcrowding piece. – In Germantown you have
Houston High School, Germantown High School is
part of Shelby County Schools. How does the dynamic
work in Germantown? – I think for us, we have a
large number of the residents that attend Houston High School. I think what you’re seeing
with Germantown High School is there’s a large
percentage of students from outside of Germantown
that attend that school, so it is one of their optional
schools that they use, even though it’s
within our city limits. I think what’s important for
us is, it’s a good fiscal model to have a school the
size that we have, and we have 1900
students in ours. Because in order to
offer the AP classes, the dual enrollment classes,
and the state really has an initiative around EPSOS, early post-secondary
opportunities for students, whether I want to
do TTAP program like they’re doing in
Bartlett, vocational programs, CTE programs, I have to have
a school that’s a certain size to have the staff to do that. the smaller the school,
the harder it is to offer all those programs
and prepare students to move on to that next
step in their education. – So are we moving to a
comprehensive high school model? Is everyone in education
today considering basically a return to that and
a reconfiguration? – That is a state initiative, that is one of their objectives
that they’ve given us to drive us to what we are
supposed to do for students. – You know and I think
the thing that we’ve seen, I was talking to
some folks yesterday about the medical device
industry that’s in Bartlett and our advanced
machining program we have where we have $100,000 CNC
machines in the classroom that our students are using. The old days of the
career technical of being kinda the greasy, grimy, work, yeah you still work
with your hands, but it is so advanced
as far as the technology and the skills that
our students have, that just because a
student doesn’t go to a four-year university, they can still go to
community college or a TCAT, that type of
program, and come out and have a excellent
opportunity in the workforce. The thing that we have
to work at as educators is making sure that
all of our students are getting those skills that
they need to be successful, whatever that next step is. But we have seen kind
of a flip on that. Where there was at one point,
I remember they did away, back in the day, with
all the woodshops. When I was in high school it
was one of the best classes I ever took, you know I
learned how to cut a board and read a ruler
and do those things. But now it’s funny
how the pendulum’s kinda swinging back
in that direction. – You talked about
mandates from the state, or pressure from the state,
but one, obviously a big one is Tennessee Ready and
the school testing. I’ll start with you
John, your take on where, where you are as, I guess you
can only speak for yourself, I mean your take on
some of the problems that have been with the testing. Do you like the testing? Should there be these
state-wide standards? What could be done better? – I think all of us are
fine with accountability, fine with measuring
standards in some form. People have heard, across
the state have heard me, the testing window this
past year in administration was a disaster for us with
the online administration, particularly in a high school. It took three and four
days to give a test. So you know that led to a
lot of disastrous things, and just kids just
kinda giving up and not really
trying their best. So we’re gonna spend a lot
of time this year hoping and all of our talks
with the commissioner. I know the timing of this
with the listening tour on the day of this taping. – (Eric) Yeah the governor’s
in town as we tape this. – Right, we have to get
the test right this year. I appreciate the
reduction of some tests, they are doing some of that,
but they’ve got to figure out a way to get this right
’cause they’ve lost a lot of credibility with
students, and teachers, and parents across the state. – But do you, I mean
it’s an election year, gonna have some degree
of a new administration. It might be wholesale
changeover in terms of party, it might be less so, I mean is that gonna set
it back another year? And again you’re being
judged and measured on many, many levels,
as a superintendent, your teachers, and
your students on these. I don’t think anyone
would say these tests were not administered very well. – I think the whole
problem I have, I believe that we do
need accountability, we need to have high
standards, we need to teach it, but to distill down
everything that happened in a child’s life
in that school year, everything to a one-day
test, and now you’re going to say whether that
superintendent, that teacher, that school, and that school
now is going to get a grade based on what that child
did on that one day. I think we’ve
kinda lost balance. I tell people it’s
a piece of the pie, and it’s something we
definitely need to look at, and we need to have
accountability, but it’s like we’ve almost
said this is 100% of it, where it needs to be, there needs to be more
of a balanced approach. – Moving from testing,
another thing you’ll hear from parents, they’ll say
there’s too much testing, too much testing, they’ll also
say there’s too much homework and there are different
philosophies among schools, among educators about
how much homework, maybe we focus on
the high school, where you’ve got kids
on college prep tracks, should they be doing a ton
of homework, should they not, should they have
family time and not. Where is your philosophy on
this question of the volume of homework kids should have? – I think it’s
about the balance. I experience that my own
son, he’s taking all AP and dual enrollment
courses and he’ll graduate with over 18 credits,
college credits, by the time he leaves
the high school, and he spends three
to four hours a night, easily, doing his homework. But that’s his choice to
really look at the rigor. I think what’s more
important is looking at the quality of homework. Are you doing something,
instead of doing 50 problems that are the same type of skill, can you show mastery
with fewer problems? It all depends upon
the type of homework that the students have. So I’m not opposed to
homework, I think it is something important, you
have to prepare yourself. Even nationally they’re
looking at flipped classrooms where students are actually
learning the lesson at night, watching videos on their
devices and they come back and they practice their
skills in the classroom. – Really 30 seconds,
at the elementary level and into lower middle school,
the volume of homework and the feedback you get
from parents and so on. – And what we’ve done, there’s
been some national studies out there about the amount of
time at certain grade levels, and we really try to push
that with our teachers. If a student’s
taking five subjects and each teacher gives
them an hour of homework, there’s five you
know, so we really try to look at the balanced. – Right okay, well that
is all the time we have. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you Bill. And thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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