By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Right now the historic grounds on which the first Millington Central High School stood and various other educational buildings is a bright green.
Green is a color associated with the season of spring, a time for rebirth and new growth. The color is also a symbol of fresh or raw.
Soon the green blazes of grass will be crushed and unearthed to make way for the new Millington Performing Arts Center. Another sign of the development and progress of Millington Municipal Schools.
The system, which started in 2014-15, is home of E.A. Harrold Elementary, Millington Middle School, Millington Elementary School and Millington Central High School.
MMS started to take shape with the arrival of Superintendent Dr. David Roper on January 20, 2014. Since his hire, administrators, faculty, staff, students, community leaders, businessmen and residents have helped Roper expand and enrich the four schools.
“It has been a very fast three years,” Roper said. “We’re in our third year of operation. This is year four for some of us. But it’s gone very fast. And we believe we’ve come a very long way in that period of time.
“We had some bumps along the way,” he added. “But we feel good about the direction things are going in now. We’ve gotten good feedback as far as our staff, their satisfaction level. Our overall standing on the scale of 1 to 5 that the state uses for this past year increased from a 3 to a 4. Which we were pleased with especially due to the fact with new test in place the Tennessee Department of Education folks basically said over and over again warning that test scores will probably go down.”
As the director of schools, Roper is working along side the principals Mandy Compton (EA Harrold), Selina Sparkman (Millington Middle), Kathy Wilson (Millington Elementary) and Dr. Clint Durley (Millington Central High).
The team is focusing on increasing resources for students, improving test scores and having an impact on the children outside of the classroom as well.
“We realize in several areas we still have a long way to go,” he said. “We’re having concerted efforts to bring up some of our Math scores. They’re not at the level we would like to see them. Though we’re pleased, we certainly not satisfied at this point as we progress.
“The collaborative efforts are going in the right direction with the city,” Roper added. “We’re working closely with the city of Millington and it has a general positive outlook for folks on the city side and school system side. We all seem to be optimistic about the direction we’re heading in. It’s certainly encouraging for us.”
Roper and Durley agreed it will take more than just the employees of MMS to continue the growth of the schools.
“To start out as a teacher in that building and then work 5 years and then get a chance to come back as an administrator, you’ve got a different outlook, a different prospective,” Durley noted. “One thing about all the school systems I’ve worked for, out here in Millington there has always been a focus on the community. And what the community needs.
“On this particular project we’re getting ready to embark on now has really been focused on what the community needs,” he continued. “With Playhouse 51 and our partnership with them, local churches and agencies have been helping by hosting events for us. This is something the community needs.”
The next symbol of growth for MMS and the community will be the Performing Arts Center. The nearly $6 million project is set to break ground in early March.
The expected timeline for construction of the Performing Arts Center is a year with a possible opening date of March 2018.
Roper said community leaders like Playhouse 51’s Jane Lester have been influential in the planning process for the facility that will showcase acting, music and singing.
“She has set in on many of our planning sessions,” he recalled. “We’ve gone to links to activity involve others. Getting feedback from choral, drama and band people so we can get this right the first time. It will be user friendly.”
Durley said he hopes not only will current and future Trojans embrace the new Performing Arts Center but past students who represented the Black and Gold see the benefits of the new structure.
“We tore down a historical building the year before I came here,” he recalled. “The old school and that was the pinnacle of this community. For us as a new school system be able to give that back to the community who has worked so hard for so long says a lot for the system to be able to do that in only three years.”
The Performing Arts Center will be another addition to the evolving campus of MCHS. Roper noted MMS inherited some damaged buildings and canceled plans for campus development.
MMS had to repair leaking roofs to the William Osteen Gymnasium and the Freshmen Academy (Annex Building).
“Before we got control of our own schools, the perception in Millington, we were given the short end of the stick,” Roper said. “One indicator of that was when we took over the school buildings. They had been neglected for so long that it started to have mold growing in it. The building was not operational for the 2014-15 school year.
“First thing we had to do was scramble around to get a new roof on the gym, a new roof on the annex so we could stop the leaks first and then following that we had to do a complete renovation of the inside of the Annex,” he added. “Not only could our students have classes in there and occupy the building again, it would be a much better building for our students to function in than previously before.”
The Annex Building’s doors reopened this past August to a grand celebration hosted by MMS and the City of Millington after $3 million of renovations.
Durley worked along side Oscar Brown, supervisor of operations and transportation, on layout plans for student safety and where to place certain classes.
“We really wanted a place for new programs to be set up like our Health Science groups which are involved in various competitions throughout the state,” Durley noted. “We’ve added a new MEP (Mechanic Electric and Plumbing) program.
Nearly $40,000 will be invested in vocational programs that will call the Annex Building home. The MCHS Navy ROTC calls the building home along with some performing arts programs, CTE and SPED classes.
Durley said one of MCHS’ goals is offer students a variety of educational options to gave them a stronger chance in the work force after graduation.
Recently graduation numbers reported from across Shelby County made headlines. With all the local municipals listed, Millington was the only school system to experience a slight decrease in graduation rate.
“I guess there is a natural tendency with these six municipal school districts all being created in the same year to be some comparisons,” Roper said. “We’re not in this to have a competition with Lakeland, Arlington, Germantown or Collierville. We’re in this to try to get the best possible outcome for our students here in Millington.”
Roper said the results didn’t take into account the factors that impact Millington compared to the other suburban municipalities like social economics, single-parent households and guardian-base homes.
“As far as the background of our students, there is really almost no comparison with some of the other municipal districts,” he said. “That’s just our reality. We play the hand that is dealt us. Millington has its own reality.”
From his experience at MCHS as a teacher, coach and administrator, Durley said he understands Millington.
“I want to caution people on what determines the success of a school and what determines the success of a school system,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s the individuals who service that particular school and the stakeholders who have investments in that school. When you look at other school systems around, say you compare us to another municipality, like Collierville for example. From my understanding they have new construction that’s taking place — multi-millions of dollars. You’ve known me for a while. I think you know how my philosophy works.
“Dr. Roper knows,” Durley added. “From when I coached and taught to an administrator now, you won’t find me digging on Facebook or Instagram on what Collierville is doing regarding their facility upgrades. What you are going to find is someone who shows up to work everyday that is focused on what type of difference they can make for the individuals we serve.”
4Roper said the recent release of graduation rates and test scores just sharpens the focus of the employees of MMS to build a better Millington student.
“With any list and if you’re ranking scores, you have to have someone first and someone at the end,” he said. “That’s not how we look at it. We look at it as, ‘Are we going in the right direction?’ The kind of increases that will lead us like Dr. Durley mention ACT scores. We’re now approaching what is the state average for student ACT scores. We’re not quite there yet but we believe we will be soon.
“For a community like Millington, the issues our students have within their backgrounds, households, that’s coming a long way in three years,” Roper continued. “We’re pleased with that but we’re not satisfied. We want to continue working on that.”
Roper and Durley said Millington will see improvements in the test scores as the administrators, faculty and students embrace the changes toward increasing the numbers.
And for those who are MCHS alumni, positive changes will be evident as you drive down Wilkinsville.
“You left home and you come back,” Durley said, “‘you say, ‘You know what, it looks a lot like what I remember. But it’s new. They made some improvements. But they haven’t forgotten about my legacy and what I’ve done while I was here.’
“When you walk in and you see the color gold, it’s going to be that distinguishable color we’ve come to know in Millington,” he added. “The same one you see on that light pole we’ve put up. The same one that’s on that stadium. The same one on the uniforms our kids wear when they play ball. It’s those little things that people notice that makes them want to come back. We’re doing a good positive work here in the community.”
Roper added the latest sign of change to come will pay tribute to the foundation started more than 100 years ago.
“This is not happening by accident,” Roper said. “This is literally by design. We’ve taken pains. The building could have had any look we’ve chose. But we’ve intentionally chosen the front of the building. What you’re going to see when you drive down Wilkinsville is what people used to see when they saw the old high school for many years. It has the traditional design to it.
“That building meant a lot to a lot of people in Millington,” he concluded. “Then it got removed before we started this. It’s kind of a tribute to those folks who have been around a long time and who have graduated from Millington.”