8 things to know about Lakeland and its new superintendent

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Dr. Ted Horrell was hired as the first superintendent of the Lakeland School System in January. Horell sat down with Chalkbeat to discuss his career, the challenges of starting a district from scratch and what people misunderstand about the new Lakeland district.

Listen to or read Horrell’s answers below.

 1.  Is there a moment in your education career that exemplifies why you are in this business?

Lakeland Elementary School has a guitar club, and so they got wind that I played the guitar.  And somebody said, well you need to join the guitar club.  And I said I am definitely joining the guitar club.  And the teacher invited me to play some of my songs for the students.  We interacted back and forth and they played some songs for me.  It was very fun.  It was very grounding.  It was at the most simple level of why it is that we’re doing what we’re doing, is because it makes a difference to kids. 


 2.  What is your dream job?

Right now this is my dream job.  This has been a great opportunity to learn the superintendency on a smaller scale.  It’s about as small as you can get with one school.  Because it’s so small I don’t really have a staff to speak of.  I have got a secretary and I work really closely with the school.  But that’s given me the opportunity to see every single aspect of a school system.  Because even small school systems have to do many of the same things that larger school systems, in fact most of the same things that larger school systems have to do.


3.  What are the challenges of forming a new district?

There’s nothing that you can take for granted is quote just going to happen. When you walk in as principal, there are a lot of things that you don’t have to worry about. They’re going to happen. The alarm system probably works, the closed circuit TV probably works, the light bill has probably already been set up. In this situation there is nothing, there’s almost nothing that is going to keep happening unless you do something.  

4. How do you know what are all the things you need to do?

One of the best parts about this experience for me is that all of the six munciipal superintendents meet together regularly. We have a standing meeting once a week.  We sit down and we kind of benchmark and go over our punch lists.  And somebody will say I had a thought to call the garbage pick-up folks, has anybody else called?  This is a couple months ago.  And we’ll say yeah I called them and left a message.  And sometimes we’ll say let’s just bring them in here together and we’ll all meet with them.  Or sometimes somebody will say, I did this application for the state, would anybody else like to see it?  And usually we’re all like, yes, we all have to see  it, I haven’t done that, I didn’t think about that or in some cases I didn’t even know I needed to do that.  So we do a lot of sharing.

5.  What challenges are left to make sure everything is rolling on day one?

The buses is the one thing that we’d all like to have resolved.  Some of that has to do with the process and some of it has to do with the complexity.  But we don’t have bus routes yet and we’re not 100 precent sure of start times yet. Althought we’re working under the assumption that we’re going to have the same start times.

6.  How does being your own separate district allow you to focus more on improving the quality of education at Lakeland?

Before it’s over we’ll have done 250 or so policies that we’ve done since January essentially, which is a lot.  Some of them have a lot of complexity to them.  The teachers gave me feedback on what they wanted to see in those policies on things like grading and discipline and attendance and things like that…. When you’ve got 50 or 200 schools you just don’t have that luxury. You’ve got to do something that is going to fit everybody. And most things don’t really fit everybody. So you wind up with a lot of top down things….But with ours it’s going to be very very specific to our kids, our teachers and our community.

7.   Lakeland has such a close relationship with Arlington and many of their students attend schools together.  Why are there two superintendents rather than one?

Ms. Mason [the superintendent at Arlington] and I, we’ve talked a couple of times [about that], at the time we both applied to be one superintendent for both systems, and now I think we both agree I don’t even know how you would do that with two different boards. It seemed a lot simpler in my head.  It’s really hard enough to kind of work with and respond to one group of five people, if you had two differnt groups that would be a tough gig.

8.  Are there any misconceptions about what you’re trying to do at Lakeland?

I think what’s good for any of us is going to be good for all of us. There’s a politicizing of this story as there is with everything.  And there are certainly a lot of political aspects of it.  But at the end of the day we sat down with Superintendent Hopson in Shelby County Schools and his staff several times to work through problems and we got them worked out.  And at the end of the day we had to ask what’s best for the kids.  That’s really what we’re all trying to do.


This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede