“This is how Heaven works. They’re practical. We are always looking for rays of light. For lightning bolts or burning bushes. But God is a worker, like us. He made the world — He didn’t hire poor Indios to build it for him! God has worker’s hands. Just remember — angels carry no harps. Angels carry hammers.”
Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter

“so whatever you want to do, just do it…Making a damn fool of yourself is absolutely essential.”
Gloria Steinem

I was thinking this weekend about the unique situation some MNPS administration alumni are currently facing. On Friday I mentioned that 2 alumni – Ron Woodard and Aimee Wyatt – are finalists for district superintendent jobs in Tennessee, but there is more to the story.

Sonja Stewart – former Pearl-Cohn principal and current central office administrator – is up for the superintendent job in Green Bay.

Two MNPS alumni – Adrienne Battle and Chris Marczak – are among those applying for the MNPS Superintendent position.

The common thread that runs through all of these talented administrators is that they all learned their craft as long time MNPS educators. These aren’t people that have a history of popping in and out of jobs. These are people who set up roots, become part of the community, and engaged in the hard work required to improve student outcomes.

All have served as principals. Battle was at Antioch High School. Marczak at McGavock. Stewart at Pearl-Cohn. Woodard at Maplewood. Wyatt was also at Antioch. They took some of the toughest jobs and created successful outcomes.

As principals, none of them were office jockeys. Just the opposite. Recognizing that relationships are at the heart of the work, they all regularly interacted with students, teachers and the community. Striving to continually strengthen relationships.

My first introduction to Ron Woodard was through a YouTube video where he and then AP Ryan Jackson took to the streets of North Nashville to motivate Maplewood students.

Wyatt, Battle, and Stewart all served at schools that bordered on the cusp of being on the state’s naughty list, but under their leadership, those schools not only stayed off the list but thrived. Under Marczaks’s reign, Mcgavock was a state-recognized reward school.

All five understand the value of putting teachers at the forefront. As a superintendent in Muarry County, one of Marczak’s first orders of business was to empower the district’s teacher. As interim-superintendent Battle has worked hard to impress upon stakeholders the high value that teachers hold.

Sonja Stewart is deeply admired for her commitment to her staff. Many consider the work she started at central office as it relates to AP leadership, transformative.

Aimee Wyatt in addition to being an exceptional educator has been a confidant and a mentor to a large number of principals, both locally and nationally. In her current roles as the director of state and district partnerships for Southern Regional Education Board out of Atlanta and a career academies coach for the Jacksonville-based Steele Dynamics, she has built relationships across the country with school districts as disparate as Omaha to New York.

Battle has experienced success at every level and is currently being praised for the shift in tenor that she has facilitated in her short time at MNPS’s helm.

Marczak and Woodard recently served together in Maury County. It wasn’t a always smooth sailing but its important to note that despite the recent acrimony, the former did complete his initial contract of 5 years. The national average is 3 years.

As superintendent Marczak developed and implemented the district’s first 1:1 laptop integration, created the district’s first partnership with Columbia State and oversaw the highest increase in ACT scores the district has ever seen.

As Maury Counties number 2 guy, Ron Woodard helped facilitate Marczak’s success stories in addition to launching an Aspiring Administrators Academy for MCPS and creating the district’s first Teacher Leadership Institute. Leadership and putting teacher at the forefront, it can’t be underestimated.

Dr. Adrienne Battle stepped into a very difficult situation and has done an admirable job righting a formerly teetering ship. Where once it seemed you couldn’t go a day without seeing a story detailing a district failing, under Battle, MNPS seldom makes the news in a negative light. Instead the focus remains on the students and getting teachers the needed resources in which to serve students.

To be fair, there are those that are critical of the five. Marczak likes to hear himself talk. Battle is indecisive. Stewart manipulated grades. Woodard can be a bull in a china shop. Wyatt can be too political. I would accept that there may be some truth to those charges but would counter by saying that the surest way to avoid critics is by not accomplishing anything and nobody can say these MNPS alumni are devoid of accomplishments.

It does bother me that all of these candidates are no longer entrenched in the MNPS family. Had the past 4 years been better managed, I can envision a place for all 5 in the MNPS hierarchy. But as they say, if wishes were horses, dreamers would ride.

The last 4 years saw an exodus of MNPS by some extremely talented educators – from every level, classroom to central office. Those departing educators’ talents were recognized by employers outside of MNPS – state of Washington, Lipscomb University, Vanderbilt University, and independent contractors to name a few – and as a result, they were quickly snapped up and their talents utilized. All have helped lead their new employers to increased success.

Now, several districts in Tennessee and beyond have the opportunity to do the same with 5 more talented MNPS alumni.

As they do their due diligence I believe that the counties of Jackson – Madison, Tullahoma, Green Bay, and even MNPS will discover that we develop superior talent here in Nashville, be it teacher, coach, principal, or an administrator. We just do a lousy job of holding on to that talent.

Hell, we even let Woodard’s wife Cicely slip away the year after she won Tennessee teacher of the year. That’s inexcusable.

Hopefully, whoever is the new director of MNPS – be it Battle, Marczak or one of the other talented applicants – they recognize that MNPS has got to stop being the state’s best employment agency.  That we finally quit supplying the surrounding districts with the best and the brightest while failing to adequately fill our own positions.

Just this morning I heard of two more MNPS teachers heading to Rutherford county, who is aggressively working to poach our talent. This is an untenable position. We need to recognize and appreciate the people we have. It starts by raising salaries but doesn’t stop there.

I wish Stewart, Woodard, and Wyatt, the best of luck. I’m cheering Marczak and Battle on, but wait to see the quality of the other applicants. But this is bittersweet because my druthers would be to celebrate the success of these talented administrators as MNPS leaders, and not be sending them off to other communities to make their kid’s lives better.

I just felt the need to get that off my chest today instead of waiting until what’ll probably be Tuesday, due to the holiday, for my next blog post.

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Categories: Education

4 replies

  1. Don’t be surprised if a mystery candidate from TX, CA or FL shows up. Get my drift TC??

  2. How quickly we forget that Ron Woodard had to answer for a sexual scandal that happened on his watch where a student and a teacher were involved. He was quoted as telling the parents that the student was “not innocent” in the affair. Odd, how Nashville never heard of the results of the $3 million lawsuit.

    Chris Marczak was the principal of tiny McGavock Elementary. His teaching time was very small before entering administration. Did he even teach 3 years? How does he teach his craft or hire others to teach when he never mastered it himself? A sex scandal happened on his watch too. No teacher want to work for someone who has not mastered his craft. Why did Maury County let him go?

    No parent wants a superintendent who doesn’t put the safety of children first. Just because you have multiple degrees doesn’t mean you have a clue what you are doing. Too bad great leaders like Dave Moore are not interested in being superintendent. He would not put up with the BS cycle that will continue with spending on huge contracts and more Central Office people. Guys like him would put students and teachers first.

    With Charters and vouchers, it won’t be long before MNPS will be bankrupt because superintendents and board members just don’t get it. No to Marczak.

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