James E. ‘Jimmy’ Hayslip had a major impact on the people and institutions he came in contact with during his life in Shelby County.
Hayslip, who died Jan. 7 at age 85, worked 44 years in the old Shelby County school system before his retirement in 2000.
During that time, he served as a teacher and then principal at four schools, including Collierville High School, before being moved up to the school system’s central office in the early 1980s.
Before going to Collierville, he was principal at Lucy Elementary, the elementary grades at Raleigh-Egypt and Riverdale Middle in Germantown.
He was the system’s communications, public relations and athletics director for 16 years before his retirement. Ward Harvey, the superintendent who brought Hayslip to the central office, gave him the task of researching and documenting the history of the school system.
The work he did on that task may prove to be Hayslip’s longest lasting legacy.
The old county school system served students in the county outside Memphis from the early 1870s until the 2013-2014 school year when the Memphis and county systems were combined into one system after city school board and City Council members proposed and Memphis voters approved the surrender of the city school system charter.
Following that one year, the county’s six suburban municipalities established their own school systems.
Hayslip compiled a list of what he said are “unique accomplishments” of the county district’s schools despite low funding from the state and county governments. That list is among his papers.
He dated the county system from 1867 when the state legislature authorized counties to develop schools but he said research shows no county schools were actually opened here until the early 1870s.
Hayslip pointed to a copy of a report that appeared in the Memphis Morning News on June 26, 1904. The report, by Maude Moore, the county’s public instruction superintendent during 1901-04, outlines the early schools in the county system.
She said school commissioners reported in January 1871 that they had had difficulty in organizing schools because of the apathy of parents and the lack of suitable buildings for schools but that one school was set to open on Jan. 16, 1871, and “another was in the process of organization.”
Moore also said that on July 1, 1871, school commissioners of the 17th District reported that $544.20 had been received from the county trustee for school purposes. This was apparently county money and may be the first or at least some of the first county money provided for schools here.
A Tennessee guide on education that can be found in a Roosevelt New Deal collection that was compiled during the Depression includes this description of state action on schools right after the Civil War:
(“While the Republicans controlled the state, the post of superintendent of public instruction was created, county superintendents were appointed, school taxes were levied and special schools for Negroes were put in operation. As soon as the Democrats returned to power, in 1869, these measures were repealed. In 1873, however, the legislature passed bills which substantially incorporated the earlier measures.”
(Other accounts say the plan for using a county pattern for naming school officials and authorizing county funding came from approaches in use in a number of Northern states.
(From the start of authorizing counties to collect taxes for schools, Tennessee laws always directed that the county funding be divided among school districts already existing in the counties.
(A review of history shows that Memphis city government formed city schools in 1848 after a change in the city charter allowed it to do so.)
Members of Hayslip’s family said that a place will be selected to receive the reports and documents that Hayslip compiled where they may be viewed and studied by historians and others including members of the public.
In addition to his service as an educator, Hayslip was the official scorer for the University of Memphis basketball team for 53 years before retiring from the post in 2016.