Success. It’s a simple word but one teachers, students and parents strive for on a daily basis.
In the Germantown Municipal School District, more than 500 employees help 5,732 enrolled students at its five schools achieve success. Recognized by the state of Tennessee as an Exemplary District, Germantown Municipal Schools has an attendance rate of 97 percent and college attendance rate of 96 percent for its graduates.
Much goes into that strong record, from parents to teachers and administrators.
“What’s exciting about Germantown Schools is we’re hitting every benchmark – whether it’s athletics or fine arts or academics – we’re hitting on all cylinders,” said Jason Manuel, superintendent of the district.
In fact, Manuel said the district has seen large increases in student enrollment, a mark that has them beyond 10-year projections for the district. That growth has the district considering the construction of a new elementary school. There also is a 64,000-square-foot addition underway at Riverdale Elementary School that will serve 450 middle school students.
“The design is different than anything we’ve seen in the past,” Manuel said. “Lots of areas for students to collaborate. There will be a STEM lab, not just a stationary science lab. It will have flexible seating where they can do different STEM activities.”
The Germantown Municipal School District is in its third year following the merger and demerger of Shelby County Schools. In a county that once featured separate Memphis City and Shelby County districts that briefly merged into one, Germantown is now one of six municipal districts; Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Lakeland and Millington are the others, in addition to the Shelby County Schools.
Riverdale Elementary actually is a kindergarten through eighth grade school. Houston Middle is a traditional sixth through eighth school. Other schools are Houston High, and Dogwood and Farmington elementary schools. Germantown has open enrollment for all students in the city.
The Germantown Municipal School District Strategic Plan sets guidelines to achieve its vision of Excellence. Always. Its mission is “To prepare, inspire, and empower students to become life-long learners and socially responsible citizens.” Its stated goals are to maximize student potential; recruit, develop and retain exemplary staff; mobilize community engagement for system’s benefit; establishes 21st century classrooms and schools; and work effectively as a school board.”
Success at the high school level is seen on one hand with test scores. The district’s lone high school – Houston High – leads the state with the highest ACT average of 24.1. There are 199 students in the school’s 30-plus club.
The high school offers an honors academy. Participants must take at least 12 AP or honors classes while also completing 12 hours of community service per year. A capstone project at the end of year can be anything from a project such as a Scouts program to an internship in a field he or she is interested in. That program has 250 students with an average ACT score of 33.4. The school offers 24 AP courses for the students to choose from.
There also is a leadership academy for other students that matches them with adult mentors who check up on them, both on their grades and attendance. It helps the students connect to ways to be leaders in the community and at school.
And not all Advanced Placement classes are created the same. For example, while some students are cut out for AP French, others are driven toward AP Computer Science.
But college readiness doesn’t just mean four-year schools. Tennessee Promise ensures all graduates across the state can attend a two-year college for free.
“We’re looking for a culture change,” Manuel said. “Not that it’s not important for every student to go to a four-year school, but with Tennessee Promise it can be your pathway to a four-year school or a pathway to a career.”
The district works closely with institutions such as Southwest Tennessee Community College and corporations like Smith & Nephew to help students make connections and have a better understanding of the new career paths that exist. The skill set required to be a machinist, for example, is much different than what it once was and requires a unique knowledge of today’s technology trends.
Germantown Municipal Schools is moving toward having devices available for every student. This is year two of a four-year sequence. This year all eighth and ninth grade students have a MacBook Air. Next year will see it expand to also include seventh and 10th grades.
The district also is focused on the creation of 21st century classrooms thanks in part to its Classroom Crashers pilot program. Teachers submitted applications to talk about how they could use 21st century technology. A committee of parents and teachers went through the evaluations, picking one elementary classroom and one high school classroom that both during the summer received a $40,000 upgrade.
Chalkboards were replaced with interactive TVs that include an Apple TV that allows students to connect their devices to display work.
“You’re focusing instruction on individual learners, which requires flexibility in the classroom,” Manuel said.
So everything is on wheels including desks. Flexible furniture allows for small group work spaces. Different types of seating allows for students to sit at a desk or use stand-up desks if they so choose.
Thinking outside the box in classroom spaces is only one way Germantown works to give its students the best possible learning environment. Giving students a variety of academic and extracurricular activities also furthers the mission, Manuel said.
“We talk about why we’re successful and it’s because we have something for everyone,” he said. “Academics, athletics and our fine arts program that’s successful.”
Kate Crowder, communications specialist for the district, said with its smaller size the district is able to find support in the immediate Germantown community that didn’t exist as part of a former much larger countywide district.
“We find support in interesting places,” she said. “The city of Germantown has partnered with us in meaningful ways. The (Germantown Education) Foundation supports us. The parents themselves are incredibly involved. They’re here, they’re providing input. How can we think outside the box when looking at the school calendar? What are ways we can expand the foreign language program? Things that give us what I consider a competitive edge. It has to do with that level of engagement.”
Part of the support that has come from the city of Germantown includes $7 million for the expansion of Riverdale, which is a $12 million project overall, and another $1 million to reroof Dogwood Elementary.
The district welcomes individuals or community organizations to get involved. For example, the students involved in the honors academy need ways to fulfill their required service hours. The need can come from organizations in Germantown or elsewhere in the greater Memphis community.
“We also meet with all kinds of boards to find unique partnerships that we can strike up,” Crowder said. “It’s maybe a private school feel but it really works for us in Germantown. It’s amazing to offer that type of experience for public school dollars.”