I pitched the very first radio feature that Chalkbeat TN did in collaboration with WKNO, the local public radio station in Memphis. The text is below but you can listen to the story here.
August 7, 2014
School is back in session this week, and many suburban students are attending one of the six new municipal school districts.
Millington is a little different than the others, however. It’s poorer and more diverse, which means its schools had much in common with Shelby County Schools, a system the city didn’t want to be part of.
“A lot of folks in Millington felt like for whatever reasons they got what I call the short end of the stick as far as resources that were allocated from Shelby County Schools,” said David Roper, Millington’s new superintendent.
Starting a brand new district was not without hurdles. The main ones involve resources. Roper says he’s held back on hiring central office staff, which has caused problems.
At Monday’s meeting, board member Mary Kennon noted:
“I have called as late as 9:30 at night to talk to one of ’em, and found they were still in the office working, including Saturday and Sunday, so I personally feel very strong that the help is needed.”
Other hurdles: Millington lost 3 out of 4 principals this year. It wasn’t using its twitter account, and was the last new district to join Facebook. One parent wondered why Millington didn’t start the year with a celebration day, like the other districts.
Board chairman Greg Ritter says he’d rather spend money on students than administration.
“Every dollar that we take out of our budget and put it in central office, than that’s a dollar I don’t have for instruction.”
Like other districts, Millington is competing to enroll students. The more they enroll, the more money they get from the state.
But boundary changes and paper work have not been easy for some parents. After the new district borders were drawn, Millington High School student Briana Freeman found herself assigned to a different school. Her mother, Pamela, said this added one more task to do.
“She’s been going to this school her whole life either Millington High or Millington Middle or Millington Elementary….I thought it was stupid,” Pamela Freeman said.
Pamela had to get a special letter for her daughter to enter the district.
She’ll now also have to drive her daughter to school every day because the district doesn’t have transportation for out-of-district students.
Other parents, like Patricia Lurry, are willing to make the drive. She thinks Millington’s schools will be better than Shelby County Schools. Her daughter could take a bus to Bolton High, her assigned school, but it’s farther away than Millington.
And there’s one more thing Lurry likes: “It’s good to be in a place where it’s multi-cultured, it’s really really diverse. That’s what we were looking for.”
Millington is Shelby County’s only district that is about half black and half white. It also has the highest percentage of Hispanics. For the new school board, the real challenge is raising academic standards. Among the new districts, Millington’s four schools have the lowest combined test scores.
But for parents such as David Lee, test scores and district boundaries are grown-up problems. Lee says that going to the prom is on his son Garret’s mind as he leaves homeschooling behind.
“That’s what he told us. No he just wants to get the socialization of high school, which I think it’s good for him.”
Lee says he feels more comfortable sending Garett to public school, now that Millington has its own district.