On registration day, school transfers based on experience, reputations

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
Makayla and Sherlisa McKay registered for classes at Millington High School today. Leaders of the six suburban districts said registration day was more important than ever this year.

Shelby County students and parents took shade from the summer sun on Tuesday to register for school in everything from flip flops and t-shirts, to military and football uniforms. The day took on special importance this year because many schools’ boundaries have changed, especially in the suburbs where six new municipal districts will open their doors for the first time on Monday next week.

Parents were urged by district officials to notify them of their final decisions so they could get a headcount and start assigning teachers, ordering textbooks and determining class schedules for the first day of school next week.

“There’s never been a year as important for everybody to show up for registration,” said Collierville Municipal Schools superintendent John Aitken, according to the Memphis Daily News.

Public schools receive most of their funds based on how many students are enrolled, so districts want their buildings to be at or near capacity.

The six new suburban districts are hoping that hundreds of students who live outside their boundaries will choose their schools, bringing revenue with them. The districts created their budgets based, in part, on how many families said in the spring that they were planning to attend.

Arlington Community Schools, for example, expects more than 800 students to come from out of district based on what parents have told them. But families who live outside the district don’t receive bus service and, if families change their minds, it could force the new suburban districts to make cuts or hire new teachers to meet demand.

Early reports suggested that the registration days were running smoothly, although Germantown’s superintendent claimed that more students than expected showed up, according to the Commercial Appeal.  Lakeland School System registered 845 students, which was 35 more than it budgeted for, so it may hire another staff member, according to Dr. Ted Horrell, the superintendent.

Charter schools and other optional schools in Shelby County and the Achievement School District are also looking to increase their enrollment and revenue. Most charter schools will enroll any students they have room for. And any student who is zoned to attend a low-performing school in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, can choose to attend a school in the Achievement School District instead.

Millington High School

Chalkbeat TN spent the afternoon at Millington High School in the Millington Municpal School District talking to parents and students about how they decided what school to attend.

Many parents’ and students’ decisions were based on ordinary concerns unrelated to the new Millington district. A home school student was excited to return to school with other students his age. A student who got in a serious car accident last year is hoping her second go-round at Millington will be better than the first. A couple students talked about how excited they are for their ROTC courses or football season.

But changes in the district forced other students and parents to make a choice. Some parents are driving their students 20 minutes to school now because they live outside the boundaries where the district provides busing. One student is transferring to Millington for the first time because she’s living with her aunt and she wanted to go to a school that was more challenging than what she found in Shelby County Schools. A senior, who was zoned to go to Shelby County Schools this year, wants to finish high school at Millington instead, and will drive himself to school every day.

Although most of the students and parents said registration day went smoothly, there was some confusion. One parent asked what “EA” on her child’s form meant, not understanding that her child had been assigned E.A. Harrold Elementary. Other parents lined up in the district’s central office and asked which forms they needed to prove that they were residents.

Administrators at Millington declined to comment on how many students enrolled or how the registration day went.

Student and parent snapshots

Patricia Lurry is sending her 10th grade daughter Capria Walton to Millington High School because the school she was assigned to by Shelby County Schools, Bolton High School, is too far away. “She would have to go fifty miles from home, to school, to Bolton, and that’s terribly far for parents to have to go to,” Lurry said. “Because if something happened you couldn’t get over there.”

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

She will also be ferrying her niece, Virginia Allen, an 11th grader, who wanted to attend Millington instead of Trezevant High School, where she attended last year. “I felt like there was focus [at Trezevant] but I need a more settled place,” Allen said. “It was just wild there.”

“They won’t expect nothing but your best and they won’t expect less or more,” Walton said about her first year at Millington.


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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Helen Clark said enrolling her 10th grade daughter Brandy was much easier this year than last. She’s looking forward to better meals in the new district.

“I’m glad that they switched back to the meals for the kids because they did not like the other frozen meals,” Clark said. “And now the kids can actually have a home cooked meal.”

“I didn’t eat last year,” Brandy said. “It was awful.”

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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Makayla Mckay and Sherlisa Mckay return for their 11th grade year. Makayla said she is excited about her ROTC course and is enrolled in AP English and Honors History. But she said that some of her classmates who live in Shelby Forest will attend Woodstock now instead of Millington.




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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Richard Fell said he likes that Millington focuses on teaching his children, Emily and Christian, character and not just academics. He also thinks the school will be less crowded and the student-to-teacher ratio will be smaller this year. But the most surprising change was the cost of meals.

“The breakfast and lunches are free and I’ve never heard of a school system doing that before,” Richard said. “But I was telling one of the teachers I’d be interested to see what the statistics show how it improves the grades now that children have food to eat when they come to school.”


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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

David Lee decided to let his son Garett attend 11th grade at Millington after home-schooling him before. They moved to Millington two years ago from a small town in Oklahoma and Garett found the large size of Millington overwhelming as a freshman.

But now Garett says he’s ready and his dad thinks there will be fewer students in the school with the creation of the new district. “He wants go to prom,” Lee said. “That’s what he told us. He just wants to get the socialization of high school, which I think is good for him.”


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Pamela Freeman’s daughter was zoned out of Millington. But Freeman read joyfully from the letter giving her daughter permission to continue attending Millington in 11th grade, after attending a Millington school every year since elementary. “Your out of district transfer for Brianna Freeman to attend Millington High School has been approved.”

Freeman said she had to prove that her daughter had good grades and stayed out of trouble in order to attend. She’s hoping Millington has hired a new art teacher after her daughter’s favorite art teacher passed away.


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PHOTO: Oliver morrison

Augustina Luna Garcia is happy that her four children — Ricardo, Abigail, Irving and Leslie Luna — are learning more at Millington than when they lived in Oakland, Tennessee. (“A mi me gusta porque ellos en este progresaron más que donde yo los tenía en Oakland y ellos subieron mas calificaciones aquí en esta,” said Luna Garcia.)


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PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Melissa Harris sent her two children Selina and Christopher to Lucy Elementary School last year. But because Christopher is moving up to Millington Middle School this year, Harris and her husband decided to move Selina to Millington for first grade as well because the start-times of the two schools works better for their schedules.

Harris is nervous about her son starting middle school, but he says he is excited. “I heard a lot of nice stuff about it, like the PTSA, you can have teachers and students join it,” Christopher said, adding that his old teacher told him he should join. His favorite subject is science. “My favorite lesson is space. I’m really good at space and I just like studying it.”

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”