As Shelby County Schools’ deputy superintendent, David Stephens played a central role in the merger between Memphis City and legacy Shelby County schools last school year.
Now Stephens runs Bartlett City Schools, which has 10 schools and around 9,000 students. He sat down with Chalkbeat to talk about what he learned from the merger, Bartlett’s plan to become a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) district and what he would’ve done differently if he could do the merger all over again.
1. Stephens says his father— who was one of the architects of Memphis’ desegregation plan 40 years ago — gave Stephens his first job in education teaching at a juvenile prison. He was also one of the few people who understand what his experience has been like the last few years. (Click on the picture below to listen to his full answer.)
2. Stephens said that 20 years ago he never would’ve thought Bartlett would have its own district, but now it’s ready.
3. Bartlett’s comparative advantage is all the STEM jobs nearby, according to Stephens. He is branding his schools accordingly.
4. Stephens said that, while some may still be worried whether the municipal districts will work, he thinks people will eventually see them as just another one of the many options that emerged for parents during this time.
5. One of the most important lessons he learned during the merger last year was how important it is for a new district to get the logistics right. (The picture below is of repairs to a hallway in one of the buildings Stephens is rushing to get ready for Bartlett’s first year.)
6. Stephens is writing his doctoral dissertation on last year’s school merger. He said the two districts should have never merged.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.