Tennessee

With its own school system, leader says Germantown will distinguish itself

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
This interview with Germantown Superintendent Jason Manuel is the sixth in a series of interviews with the district leaders in Shelby County. The superintendents talked about their careers in education, preparations to get ready for school and future plans for the districts. To read the other interviews, click here: Arlington  Millington  Collierville   Bartlett   Lakeland

After starting his career teaching country singer Dolly Parton’s nieces and nephews, Jason Manuel has risen to become Germantown Municipal School’s first superintendent. In this interview he explains why Germantown thinks of itself as exceptional and sometimes appears to be less cooperative than the other municipal districts. Recently, a Germantown board member described her district as the “battered wife” to Collierville after the two districts couldn’t come to terms on a transportation contract.
One of Manuel’s biggest challenges has been learning to deal with the number of different people who have to be heard, including parents and politicians. If he doesn’t check his email in the morning, he’ll have 150 people waiting for him at lunch because 4,000 parents have 4,000 different ideas about what the schools should look like, he said. For example, on the day Chalkbeat interviewed him, he was fielding complaints about a wrestling sports team’s shirt with a phrase students love but that has the words “God” and “gangs” in it.

After teaching Parton’s nieces and nephews but before his dream job teaching Biology at Houston High School, Manuel taught horticulture.  “We were doing French drain systems at the soccer field. It was a whole different ball game than I was used to…. I was like 21 years old trying to figure out what I was doing.”

Manuel says that if the municipal districts had a year longer, the days leading up to the first day of school would’ve gone smoother. They’ve struggled to transfer all the student and employee data into their software in time and were forced to outsource their bussing. “We really just had one choice: Shelby County Schools has the fleet of buses and you can’t just go to a car lot to buy a bus and say, ‘Hey I need 35 buses for my students.’”

Although Germantown wants to make separate decisions from the other municipal districts, Manuel said his district can save money by sharing some services. “We want to be different. We want to do what’s right for Germantown, not necessarily for Bartlett or Collierville.”

Houston High School will always draw students from outside Germantown and will measure itself by the best schools in the nation, rather than by other districts in Shelby County, according to Manuel. “Now that we get to decide things for ourselves and not what’s best for the greater good of all of Shelby County Schools, some things are going to be different and some things are going to be more focused.”

One of the reasons that Germantown has appeared at times to be going it alone, according to Manuel, is that its members had to deal with the loss of its three namesake schools — Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School and Germantown Elementary School –when Shelby County Schools decided to retain them. Shelby County Schools board members said the majority of the schools’ students at the schools lived within Memphis boundaries so it would make sense for the district to operate the schools.  “We have a lot of hurt that we’re going to have to heal here,” Manuel said. “Those parents feel like something has been stolen from them.”

Manuel has a long list of ways Germantown has begun to differentiate itself from the other districts. “If I want my child to do six weeks of pottery or archery or tennis or golf, there will be a menu of different courses that they can take…”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.