By Bill Short
Five of the 10 candidates running for seven positions on Millington’s first municipal school board responded to questions last Thursday night during a public Forum.
Co-sponsored by The Millington Star and the Millington Exchange Club at the Harvell Civic Center, the Forum was moderated by Star Editor Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Nov. 7 school board election will feature only three contested races.
Oscar Brown and Cecilia J. Haley are competing for Position 2, Jennifer Carroll and Thomas D. Stephens for Position 6, and Donald K. Holsinger and Charles P. Reed for Position 7.
The four uncontested candidates are Gregory Ritter for Position 1, Chuck Hurt Jr. for Position 3, Cody Childress for Position 4 and Louise Kennon for Position 5.
In his opening remarks, Sellers noted that three of the 10 candidates – Childress, Hurt and Stephens – were not present.
“They are all out of town,” he said, “and they regret that they are not able to be here tonight.”
He then allowed the seven candidates who participated in the Forum to introduce themselves and explain why they want to be part of the school board.
Kennon said she has been a resident of Millington and involved in the school system for more than 60 years. Noting that she was a teacher for “quite some time,” she said many members of the audience were her students.
With a doctorate degree, Kennon said she is certified by the state to teach kindergarten through the 12th grade, including biology, geography and history.
“I’m here to serve this community,” she said. “We need to take hold of our schools. I really think we can make a difference.”
Ritter said he is a lifelong resident of Millington who attended the elementary, middle and high schools. He thinks the city has a “real opportunity to do something great,” and he wants to make sure it is done properly.
Noting that he has always heard Millington referred to as the “stepchild,” Ritter said he has grown weary of that label.
“I want us to put our best foot forward and show everybody else who we are and what we can do,” he said. “And lead in this effort to create our own municipal school system.”
Declaring that he became a candidate because it is “the right thing to do,” Brown said Millington must “come together” as a community and build its school system “from the ground up” to make sure it works.
While acknowledging that there are some challenges, Brown said he is willing to roll up his sleeves and “fight that battle.”
“We have to fight, because a lot of people say we’re not going to make it,” he noted. “So, we’ve got to make it happen. It’s not about my children or your children, but our children.”
Haley said she is running for the school board because she and her husband Jake have a 10-year-old son who is a fifth-grader at Lucy Elementary. She also said the community must do all it can to make sure its children are educated, so they can obtain good jobs.
“We have to start here,” she noted. “We can make a difference.”
Haley also said the school board needs to support the teachers. Because they are the ones who spend the time “day in and day out” with the children, she wants them to have the “tools” they need to succeed in the classroom.
Holsinger said that, prior to retiring from the Navy in 1986, he hired teachers and recruited students while working for Southern Illinois University on the base in Millington.
Immediately after retiring, he worked five years for an educational consulting company, doing conceptual analyses and feasibility studies for starting schools. So, he believes he has some skills to bring to the school board that it can use.
“I’m here to try and make it a success,” he said. “We hope to get a good school system, and I know we will.”
Carroll, a lifelong resident of Millington and a teacher for the past 11 years, said she became a candidate to put “an educator’s voice” on the school board. With both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education focusing on reading and literacy, she called it her “passion.”
Because she has served on many leadership committees, Carroll said she has seen the “ins and outs” of what a school system needs to operate successfully for the students’ achievement.
“That’s why we are forming our own school system,” she noted. “It’s for our Millington students to be successful and excel in school.”
Reed, a native of Mobile, Ala., and a 30-year Millington resident, said he and his wife came to the city from Cape Cod, Mass., with the Navy. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and a minor in biology, he taught various classes while in the service.
After retiring from the Navy, he obtained a master’s degree in education from The University of Memphis and taught at Millington Central High School for several years.
Reed said he believes that, if Millington builds the best possible school system it can, people will want to be a part of the community and “grow” with it.
Next, Sellers presented the following questions to the five contested candidates who participated in the Forum:
1. What have you done recently to help the schools?
Haley said she is currently serving as the secretary of the Lucy Elementary PTA and is “constantly volunteering” at the school at every opportunity. However, she believes it is not just about what one person can do, but about the community as a whole.
“People who don’t have children are more than welcome to volunteer their time,” she noted. “We need everyone’s help.”
As a member of People for the Advancement of Millington Schools since its inception, Reed said he has tried to help residents “understand” the school system.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about how the school system works,” he noted. “And I’ve tried to work very hard to dispel that.”
Noting that his two sons graduated from MCHS in 1988 and ’89, Holsinger said he was “very involved” then in the sports programs as a coach and an official. When his sons went to college, he got involved there, working at Union University for nine years.
“When you have kids in the school, you tend to get hands-on,” he acknowledged. “When you don’t have, like I don’t right now, you try to do what you can.”
Because his son and daughter are both graduates of MCHS, Brown said he has been “100-percent involved” in the schools for as long as he has been in the community. And recently, he has done “pretty much” whatever they need.
Noting that he is still the high school’s Boosters Club president, Brown said it has put more than $30,000 a year in “fund-raising money” back into the program for the students.
Carroll said she has recently volunteered to help the Lucy Elementary students with fund-raising efforts in the neighborhood where she lives.
“When you move to working on a school board,” she said, “you find that you’re surrounding yourself with those students. So, you’ll be working with this community and those students and being able to volunteer your time there.”
2. What policies do you think the school board should initially adopt after it is sworn in?
While expressing uncertainty about policies, Holsinger said there are some “tasks” that the board will have to accomplish immediately. And one of the “most critical” is to hire a superintendent.
He also said the board must get the parents involved, because that will provide a “great” indication of how successful the school system and the schools within it will be.
Reed said it is his understanding that the board must adopt 37 policies by Dec. 10.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know what all those are,” he acknowledged. “But we have to review them, come to a general consensus, adopt them and submit them for the state to approve.”
Reed also echoed the importance of the superintendent search.
“I think the superintendent is absolutely critical to this whole scenario,” he said, “because he or she is the linchpin around which everything else is going to turn.”
Brown said all the Memphis city and Shelby County schools had “very good policies,” but the problem comes when they have to be enforced.
“You’ve got a disciplinary issue,” he noted. “You’ve got to set your standards and hold yourself, the students and the teachers to those standards. Once you do that, the kids will adjust.”
Haley said she thinks the board should look at school systems that are “similar in size” to what Millington’s will be and use their policies as a “model.” If it does not, she said, it might encounter some problems.
Carroll said the board members must take time to look at the policies, because they are the “foundation” upon which the schools will be based. She also believes the board will need “input” from a superintendent to make sure everything “falls into place.”
“We will be able to pull from resources from different districts,” she noted. “We need to really dissect them and make sure they’re specific for our school system.”
3. What qualifications and experience would you look for in the applicants for Millington’s first school superintendent?
Reed acknowledged that an applicant’s educational background will be “really important.” But he said he will also look for an individual who has a very strong “character-based personality.”
“We need someone who’s comfortable in his own skin,” he said. “Someone who can make a decision and live with it. Someone who’s not going to back down from a fight.”
Holsinger said he will look for the “right person” for Millington and its schools who can communicate and work with the board, parents and faculty.
“Over the last 10 years or so, in the school system that put us into this situation, we’ve seen some horror stories in superintendents,” he recalled. “We’ve got to avoid those situations.”
Carroll said she will look for an applicant with different variations of “leadership experience” in education that include administering schools prior to operating a district.
She will also seek someone who can “foster and build” relationships among employees and parents, as well as recruit good teachers and administrators.
Brown said the board needs a superintendent with strong communication skills who can work with the Shelby County School System on issues like transportation.
“It doesn’t make sense to take kids from an area, just because they’re not inside the city limits of Millington, and move them all the way across town to somewhere else,” he noted. “So, we’ve got to be able to make those negotiations happen.”
Haley said Millington’s school system needs a superintendent who is a “proven leader,” not a manager.
“To me, a manager maintains the status quo,” she said. “We need someone who can step up to the plate, lead these schools and have a vision for them to carry to fruition.”
4. How will you make sure that the school board’s initial proposed budget will sufficiently enable the school system to operate for its entire first year?
Brown said he will look at the budget from the standpoint of what is needed to “run this business.” He also said the board will need to know how many students the system will have and how much money it will receive for each of them.
“What if they say we can’t get the buildings?” he asked rhetorically. “I believe the buildings should be free to us. But if we’ve got to buy buildings, that’s another thing.”
Brown said the board will have to make “good, logical, common-sense decisions” on the budget.
Noting that the budget will be prepared based on the funds that are available, Holsinger said there are certain sources, such as the state’s Basic Education Program funds.
“They’re based on the number of students you have who attend, not who are enrolled, but who actually show up for classes,” he said. “So, that’s a challenge for the principals to get their students there.”
Holsinger said the school system will also receive funds from the half-cent sales tax increase that Millington residents approved last year. He noted that the only “variable” would be to seek an increase in the property tax rate.
“If we come after a big property tax, you would have a new school board after the next election,” he acknowledged. “So, we’re going to have to work with the funds that we have. They’re adequate to do the job if we do it wisely.”
Reed said it will really “boil down” to how U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays rules on where the school district lines will be drawn.
“Within the confines of those lines are going to be the students who will attend our schools,” he noted. “Once we find that out, we’ll know exactly how much money we’re going to need. So, it’s just one of those things where we’re going to have to wait and see.”
Carroll and Haley both agreed that it is a difficult question to answer without knowing the number of students who will be attending the school system.