Beloved former educator, alderman Ernest Chism dies at 77

Photo: Chism family/Facebook

Photo: Chism family/Facebook

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A veteran leader in the Germantown and Shelby County communities has passed away.

Ernest Chism, who was prominent in both the educational and political spheres of Germantown through his work as a principal, school board member and alderman, died Friday evening at the age of 77, his family said in a statement.

“Known for his folksy humor, colorful personality and ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ approach, Chism earned a well-deserved reputation throughout the county and state for his honesty and integrity,” the family said. “He is considered by many to be one of the founding leaders of the modern-day Germantown community.”

Chism first came to the Bluff City as a master’s student at the University of Memphis, and he started his teaching career as an art teacher at Westwood High School.

He then took on roles as an administrator, serving as assistant principal at Hillcrest High School and the first principal of Raleigh-Egypt High School. Chism was the youngest-ever principal in Shelby County Schools, his family said.

In 1973, Chism started his 28-year career as principal of Germantown High School. During his time at the helm, Germantown High became a nationally recognized, award-winning school for academics, athletics and fine arts.

The Department of Education named Germantown High a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 1994. The school’s achievements also include many National Merit finalists, regularly winning academic contents, winning the Best of the Preps athletic trophy for 16 straight years, winning state championships across numerous sports, and receiving the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Arts in Education Award for the school’s video curriculum. Germantown High was also the first school in the county and one of the first in the state to have a computer lab.

Notable leaders, including President George H.W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and a delegation from China, visited the school to study its success.

Chism also spent 28 years as chairman of the Shelby County Schools Principals’ Association. He worked with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to help develop the Deputy on Campus program and also helped develop SCS’ alternative school and in-school suspension programs.

The Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association presented him with the Distinguished Administrator Service Award in 1995 and named him the District Administrator of the Year in 2001.

Chism retired as principal in 2002 but didn’t stop giving his time and talents to his community. He was elected to the Shelby County Board of Education and served until 2013.

During his time on the board, he advocated for building a new high school, Southwind High School, which opened in 2007.

He was elected as a Germantown alderman in 2004 and was re-elected in a landslide victory in 2008. He served on the financial advisory, telecommunications and education commissions.

Outside of his main jobs, he served on several boards of directors for community organizations.

The Germantown Lion’s Club named him Citizen of the Year in 1985, and he won the City of Germantown’s Hometown Hero award in 2000.

“No matter what role he assumed, Ernest Chism had a unalterable determination to give every person he met the means to be the best they can be, to do the most that is possible, and to perform to the highest standard. He spent his entire adult life finding ways to open doors for others in order to allow them to achieve,” family members said about him in a statement.

Chism was married to his wife, Alyce Ann Barnes Chism, for 53 years. They have two children and four grandchildren.

The family requested any memorials be sent to Methodist Healthcare Foundation, “Ernest Chism Fund,” P.O. Box 42048, Memphis, TN 38174-2048.

Family also set up a Facebook page for those who knew him to share their memories.