By Thomas Sellers Jr.
In 2014 the city of Millington made history when it opened it’s own school district.
The birth of Millington Municipal Schools started as an idea a few years ago and began to become reality when the residents of Millington voted for it.
With the target of August 2014 to open the doors to MMS, the dream got a huge push when Dr. David Roper was hired as the superintendent. The veteran educator arrived in Flag City ready to take on the challenge of creating Millington’s own school system.
“I started on Monday, the 20th of January,” Roper recalled. “The first few days were very interesting. I was coming from Murfreesboro and had not located a place to have as a permanent resident. So the first 11 days I was living out of a hotel room.
“Since then, I’ve bought a house here in Millington,” he added. “My wife and I are enjoying being in the neighborhood. People have been very welcoming to us. Speaking of, that Thursday night (Jan. 23, 2014) of that first week I was just amazed and really kind of overwhelmed by the great reception that we had from the citizens of Millington who turned out that night.”
The four proposed Millington schools, E.A. Harrold, Millington Elementary, Millington Middle and Millington Central High, held a citywide meet and greet for Roper.
“I remember it well because it was an extremely cold night,” Roper said. “By the time the meeting started, it was in the low 20s and going down from there. I didn’t know how many people were going to show up. But when I walked in, we had a packed cafeteria there at the high school. People were so nice and so welcoming to me and my wife Sandy. That was very encouraging.”
The encouragement got Roper out and about to learn about his new home. Meanwhile parents, students and residents of Millington learned about their new leader of schools.
Roper spent 21 years in the Birmingham, Ala., School System, advancing from a school psychologist to the superintendent’s executive assistant.
After obtaining a doctorate in education administration from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, he served a total of eight years as the superintendent in the Roanoke, Ala., and Elizabethton, Tenn., school systems.
Roper has also been the director of assessment in the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Special Education and executive director of the Guilford County, N.C., School System’s Office of Innovative Services.
Coming from Middle Tennessee State University, Roper got himself familiar with all the groundwork done before his arrival.
“It’s been a whirlwind to say the least,” he noted. “Obviously the schools already existed but the school district was new. So we had no central office staff at all. The first few days we had a Central Office staff of one — that was me.”
Roper had to hire supervisors and administrative assistants.
“The first few months in addition to trying to establishing our support team at the Central Office, there were a lot of issues what had to be dealt with,” Roper recalled. “Some were just procedural issues in the schools themselves with facilities coming over from Shelby County Schools. A lot of legal issues we had to deal with. We had a number of meetings with superintendents of the other municipal school districts and the superintendent of Shelby County Schools to make sure the transition occurred as smoothly as possible.”
Then it was time to gather data on students that would be coming to MMS and deal with situations involving attorneys and the Department of Education.
“Since they haven’t had any newly created school districts in the state of Tennessee for decades,” Roper said, “a lot the time we would have issues. And a lot of the time we were told, ‘We haven’t really thought about that. Let us look into it and get back to you on that.’ Not even the Department of Ed folks had all the answers sometimes. We learned some things.”
With the legal issues falling into place, the summer arrived setting the table for three landmark moments. In June, the agreement called for the schools being turned over from Shelby County Schools to Millington Municipal Schools.
Then on July 1, the incoming MMS employees were no longer affiliated with SCS. And then it was time to prepare for Aug. 4, 2014.
“All that leading up to the first day of school for our students,” Roper said. “I couldn’t even begin to list all the issues we had to grapple with. But we worked through those things.”
Since the first day of school, Roper has met with the other municipal superintendents to develop a Share Services package. The work to make sure Year One goes smooth is consistent.
“Over the past number of months since the school system has been up and running, we’ve gotten very positive feedback from the community,” Roper said. “A lot of folks are saying their children have said the year is going well. A lot of our teachers have told this is the best year that they’ve had in a number of years or ever. Including some who have been teaching a number of years.
“We don’t claim for a minute we don’t have any issues or problems,” he added. “We deal with things. But in general, we’re very pleased not only with the creation of the district. But with the operation of things and with things moving forward.”
Roper said the schools are doing so well because of the leadership of principals Mandy Compton (E.A. Harrold), Kathy Wilson (Millington Elementary), Selina Sparkman (Millington Middle) and Clint Durley (MCHS). At the Central Office, things are ran by Amy Jones (Human Resource Specialist), Bruce Rasmussen (Chief Financial Officer), Georgia Dawson (Supervisor of Instruction), Oscar Brown (Supervisor of Operations and Transportation) Jill Church (Supervisor of Special Education and Student Services) and Chris Scoggins (Supervisor of Instructional Technology).
“I’m very pleased with the team of leaders we’ve put together not only in the Central Office with our building administrators, our principals and assistant principals,” Roper said. “I believe they’re doing an excellent job.
“We’re still very early on as for the history of the district,” he added. “We’re only a few months into the Millington School district. We’re working on a 5-year plan we hope to have at our March Meeting to bring before the board. It will have our vision for the next 5 years of what we see happening with student enrollment and staff needs. Our facilities and the needs that they have.”
Roper said his job is to continue to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the system to always keep moving forward. But progress was made difficult in year one when facility problems could no longer be ignored.
“We were disappointed in some areas of our facilities,” he noted, “the shape our buildings had gotten when they were turned over to us from Shelby County Schools. The perfect example at the high school, the gym and the ninth grade academy, both of the roofs were in such bad shape. As soon as we could get some funding we started on replacing those roofs.
“Fortunately some funding came in from the Shelby County Commission to do it and that’s in the process of being done as we speak,” Roper continued. “We’re appreciative on that.”
The MCHS Freshmen Academy experienced moisture because of the leaky roof creating mold. The building was unable to be occupied this current school year.
Spectators at Trojan Basketball games this past season smelled the tar being placed onto the William Osteen Gymnasium roof.
“We’re moving ahead and when I look back now that I’ve been here just a little bit over a year,” Roper said, “I think back to those early days. We’ve come so far in that one year’s time. I think that when people look at that, they can see an amazing amount progress that has been made.
“I’m appreciative of the groundwork that was laid by a lot of folks in Millington over the last few years before I got here in working to realize the dream of Millington having its own school system,” he added. “And now that has been brought to fruition and I think that’s a great thing.”
The road to Millington Municipal School was paved by the Millington School Board, P.A.M.S., the Millington Transition Committee, the Millington Education Foundation and private supporters.
Now the system is home to more than 2,700 students and about 300 in-building employees.
“It’s all about the kids,” Roper said. “I was so pleased that we had been in such a mode of creating a school district from January until August. Now we were finally past the creation mode into the operations mode. We’ve all been looking forward to that day.
“And it had come and you could see all those smiling faces on the kids, and the staff was very upbeat about things and looking forward,” he continued. “That certainly brought a smile to my face. It as a sense of accomplishment. Not just my accomplishment but the accomplishment of a team effort by so many folks coming together with a common goal of getting the school system up and running.”
With things up and running, Roper likes to walk the halls of the dream which is now a reality.
“I think people had to get used to seeing the superintendent walking around the building,” he said. “It was interesting, I was over at Millington Elementary one of those early days talking to some of the kids.
“At the end of the day when they were gathering in the cafeteria to get on the buses to go home,” Roper concluded, “one of the teachers said to the kids, ‘Do you know who this is? This is the Superintendent of the our schools.’ The kids were saying, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ I never had someone ask for my autograph. It was great that we were up and running. And that we were able to be out there and see what was happening in our schools.”