Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year. This is the second column on Bartlett schools. The previous column on Bartlett schools published on Nov. 3.
In 1955 John D. Barnes became principal of Bartlett High School, and his wife, Hazel, was his secretary. Bartlett had started growing and was referred to as a bedroom community, where people who work in Memphis lived. When Mr. Barnes came to Bartlett the student enrollment was 450 and by the mid-1960s it had grown to 1,200 students.
To accommodate that growth, science facilities were added. Then in 1965 came facilities for band, and in 1965 a new cafeteria and combination library and study hall were completed. Meanwhile the main building, built in 1917, was becoming very expensive to maintain and was demolished in the summer of 1977 along with the beloved “Senior Steps” that only seniors and faculty could use.
The new building opened in the fall of 1978 with no steps, but many new classrooms, labs and amenities, and it also has the nameplates and cornerstone of the old building in its lobby.
Mr. Barnes was a big man who made an imposing figure walking down the halls. Former students remember him as a strict disciplinarian, but someone who was fair and well liked. Mr. & Mrs. Barnes retired in 1979.
Tate Thomas followed as principal from 1979 to 1997. He actually came to Bartlett High School in 1958 as an eighth-grade teacher, became an assistant principal in 1969 and was named principal in 1979. During his tenure as the school grew, more advanced courses were added, as well as vocation courses that gave students a variety of classes to choose from. He worked to motivate the teachers so they in turn would motivate students to bring out the best in them.
He took a personal interest in the students; many returned after graduation to share with him their achievements beyond high school. With his longevity at Bartlett High as teacher and principal, he taught many children of former students. Also during his tenure the school celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1992, and the name of the school newspaper, The Gleaner, was changed to The Panther in 1984.
From 1997 to 2009 Michael Parnell took over the reins of Bartlett High School. He had served as vice principal for several years and moved up as Tate Thomas retired. In the summer of 2001, the Main, A, E and C buildings were remodeled and many classrooms redesigned for specific classroom instruction such as vocational classes. The auditorium had major renovations, including new lighting, seating and sound equipment.
During the summer of 2002, the West, Northwest and Science buildings were renovated and remodeled, completing an $11 million project. Mr. Parnell was instrumental in bringing the instructional management computer program into Bartlett High’s system, and he helped initiate the advanced placement program in the Shelby County School System. A much remembered event during his time was the Bartlett basketball team winning the state championship in 2001.
From 2009 to 2012 Malcolm Hawkins Jr. served as principal of Bartlett High School. He attended Bartlett as a student, went on to get his degree and came back to Bartlett to teach during the 1980s. He was known for involving his students in community projects. He was assigned to other Shelby County schools and came back to Bartlett to serve his last years in education before retirement as principal.
Ken Demetriou was principal of Bartlett High from 2012 to 2014 during tumultuous times. In 2012the Memphis City Schools surrendered their charter and were assimilated into the Shelby County Schools system for the 2013-14 school year. In 2013 Bartlett formed its own municipal school district, and the 2014-15 school year was the first year of Bartlett City Schools. Mr. Demetriou navigated Bartlett High through these unsettling years and in 2014 became Operations Director with the new Bartlett City Schools.
Tim Jones became principal in 2014 of Bartlett High School. Under the new Bartlett City Schools, Bartlett High was used for grades 10-12 as a new Ninth Grade Academy was established and housed in the old Shadowlawn Middle School building. During the summer of 2014, restructuring and renovation was done to prepare the building for the ninth graders. This year there are 1,808 students in the high school and 744 students in the Ninth Grade Academy. With the advent of Bartlett City Schools, all the Bartlett schools are experiencing a sense of camaraderie and community spirit. The business community has been very supportive of the programs and activities in the schools. At Bartlett High the spectators at football and basketball games have increased significantly and there is a new feeling of enthusiasm in the air throughout the city.
One of the significant honors Bartlett City Schools has received is that Dr. David Stephen was named 2017 Tennessee Outstanding Superintendent of the Year. Bartlett City Schools are poised to do great things in the coming years.
Sources: The Bartlett Express, The Commercial Appeal
Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.