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School leaders address district’s goals, new high school

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Leaders within Collierville’s 3-year-old school district are no longer content with being one of the best education systems in the region. They’ve set their sights on something much more ambitious.

“What if we were known for being the best school system in the entire nation,” said Glen Herald, Collierville Chamber of Commerce Board of Director Chairman.

This was the message that Herald and Superintendent John Aitken conveyed Wednesday to a packed house at Ridgeway Country Club during the Collierville Chamber of Commerce’s monthly membership luncheon.

Both men spoke of the myriad ways the district is working to “prepare all students for success beyond high school.”

Herald specifically addressed how the national skills gap is affecting businesses in the Collierville area and Aitken discussed how Collierville Schools is creating “demand-driven education” to help bridge that gap.

Aitken noted that Collierville Partners In Education (PIE), a 501 c(3) organization operating under the umbrella of the Chamber, is one of the tools the school district will rely on to determine how students can best serve their community after graduation.

“Through PIE,” he said, “the business community can tell us what they expect of our kids and we can tell them what we can provide.

“We’re working on way to produce a better worker for you,” he added.

Aitken said he wants every student to eventually have college credit “when they walk across that stage.”

He said the district is even looking at ways to pay for every student’s Advanced Placement test, which allows students to earn credits before graduating.

Aitken said the district plans to continue growing the STEM curriculum to all grades and that there is now a STEM teacher at every school.

Speaking on the expansion of technology within the district, he noted that there is currently an “iPad in the hands of every third- through- eighth grader.”

He added that every high school student will have a laptop next year.

The middle and high schools will also offer a curriculum to get students “career ready.”

Aitken said the curriculum will give students the “skills needed to hold a job.”

“We have to serve all kids,” he said.

Last Monday, the district even began offering an advanced manufacturing class in a partnership with Carrier.

Aitken radiated with excitement toward the end of his presentation as he began to address the city’s new high school, which is, “knock on wood,” slated to open next August.

Five classroom wings are planned for the innovative school, with each wing lending itself to a different career path. There will be an open courtyard and a clear story through the main hall.

The school will also feature a 1,000-seat auditorium, an auto shop and an entire technology wing.

Regarding athletics, Aitken said he hoped to quell some recent “Facebook chatter.”

He noted that the football stadium will seat 5,000 and include synthetic turf.

There will tennis courts, fields for soccer and lacrosse, softball and baseball diamonds and a “Dragon Walk” between the main building and athletic facility for pep rallies.

Aitken called the school both “big” and “ambitious” and added that it was necessary for the rapidly growing district, which already boasts an average attendance of 8,600 students.

“This new facility opens up the door for us and you,” he said.

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