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Pencil Shavings

Changing of guard in school system: Good or bad?

Dawn Hankins
Posted 3/6/21

Bedford County has a new school superintendent - Dr. Tammy Garrett of Murfreesboro. Congratulations and welcome from a product of the local education system. Garrett was appointed by Bedford County Board of Education on Tuesday after receiving a majority vote (7-2.)...

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Pencil Shavings

Changing of guard in school system: Good or bad?


Bedford County has a new school superintendent - Dr. Tammy Garrett of Murfreesboro. Congratulations and welcome from a product of the local education system.

Garrett was appointed by Bedford County Board of Education on Tuesday after receiving a majority vote (7-2.)

During her recent interview, Dr. Garrett discussed with the board how she's been known organize bus loads of staff and teachers for home visits - a program which turned out to be quite meaningful to the students, she said.

One thing we should all remember, even if she wears superhero costumes with the kids, Dr. Garrett is fallible, like the rest of us.

Disappointment expressed by some in this community over the board's final decision exists. That is understandable as the superintendency is considered the brass ring or better yet the creme del a creme in the profession-not just from a salary standpoint, but kind of a right-of-passage for veteran teachers.

Critical comments have been made, I'm told, on Facebook and directly to some board members. Still, others have stated on social media how they're encouraged by the appointment of Garrett.

Some Facebook posts - a few by retired educators - mentioned how it is time someone with her leadership

abilities take the reins. Others have said the board looked right over three local and very qualified educators during this process.

Both sides have a point.

Truthfully, many of us only see the surface of the education system looking in. Perhaps sometimes that's advantageous for us, given the complicated nature or alphabet soup associated with Tennessee education.

Board members told me that they really listened a lot to teachers and the community during this hiring process. One said she even observed Dr. Garrett's interaction during interview sessions with teachers and members of the community.

Certainly, as well, board members said when it comes to hiring the leader of the entire school system (wow, what responsibility) there is much to consider.

Consider this . . . how the superintendent has to be a leader of many who can carry a full plate of responsibilities, every day, for the next 3 or 4 years. (The board has not agreed on the length of Garrett's contract yet.)

A school superintendent must be someone who can manage phone calls day and night, emails, potential school fires (it happens), continued COVID-19 situations, ill-mannered students, firings and hirings, school events, ballgames, school board and county meetings, new school projects, old school woes, student tears, deaths, communicative diseases, standard implementation, more standard changes, snow days, phone calls and home visits, new curriculum requirements, home visits from police at 3 a.m., concerning school issues and an a planner full of numerous public speaking engagements and superintendent meetings.

As if that's not stressful enough, there are, by the way, over 8,000 students currently in this system and thousands of employees, ultimately under the superintendent's care. Oh yes, the superintendent is expected to be pleasant and smiling at all times.

You think I made that up, don't you? I learned this from some very wise retired superintendents.

Still, knowing all this, Dr. Garrett applied and was hired by due process last week.

While I don't completely agree with every bit of the voting process from Tuesday night, I do believe that the board members made their decision to hire Garrett in good faith. I'm personally still on the fence about how the voting process could be improved.

I believe chair Diane Neeley's recommendation, one which she researched with the help of Tennessee School Board Association, was a pretty tidy way to handle a vote of this magnitude.

I praise the steadfastness of board member Glenn Forsee, who bravely pushed forth his amendment to change that voting recommendation from the two top candidates to one. But if the board had not delivered a majority vote, which is required by law, then as I see it, the evening could have gotten rather long and drawn out.

The thought should be to do what's fair to those candidates, always. I think at best it was a good decision to keep this process clean and simple. You know, the K.I.S.S. rule is often a good thing (keep it simple silly.) Yes, I changed that acronym, because I don't care for the word stupid.

Sad as it may be, in the end, only be one person sits in the superintendent's chair. This brings to my mind the lessons we teach our kids, or at least we should, about winners and losers. From those lessons, then we need to accept the board's decision and try to move forward.

I was talking with Tony Davis, long-time drama teacher at Community High School this week. I really liked what he had to say about the superintendent appointment. Davis said, "I don't know the other nominees, but I do know Dr. Ralston very well. I think he would have been an excellent choice for the position. I have confidence that the choice made will be fine. I will work to support that person in any way I can to help make the school system even better than ever."

Community High School principal, Ralston, is a fine person and educator. I've known him and his family all my life. We're both Community High School graduates.

I have a high respect for Robert, as I've always been impressed by his intelligence, particularly in math, and his ability to motivate his students - even when they had to have a drive-by senior day in 2020. As well, he's a man of high moral character - a quality we desperately want in our educators.

As for Scoggins, I will say she's worn so many hats over the last couple of years; she truly deserved the praise she received Tuesday night from board members. She lost to Garrett by three votes.

I believe she serves this system well. One of her former Thomas School students thinks she was a pretty awesome teacher, based on a Facebook post. As assistant superintendent, right in the midst of COVID-19, she had to take the reins of the open superintendent's job this year.

Last, but certainly not least, is Tim Harwell. A man of great attributes, I will always remember how proud he was the year his school reached a '5' for academic progress on the state's accountability report.

Based on votes cast Tuesday night, the SCHS principal came pretty close to becoming your new superintendent. He lost to Garrett by two votes.

Of course I don't know their thoughts, but I hope and pray that the three who were not chosen as superintendent will continue to serve this school system.

When I first surveyed the four candidates, that is after writing articles about their interviews, I realized that the community was going to be blessed with a great leader no matter which one was selected.

I do understand how some might not agree with the board going out-of-town for its superintendent. This is a high profile job which in the past was generally handed to an educator who had served the system and community well.

No matter the reasoning behind each board member's choice, it is now time for us to embrace our new superintendent. From what I've researched and from having talked to her briefly, it appears she does have a lot to offer this school system.

The first time I talked to her on the phone a few weeks ago, she was simultaneously doing a locker search and taking care of other elementary needs. On Wednesday morning, following her nomination, she was busy with a Zoom principals' meeting.

She is likely a person who will run a very tight ship. But as well, she will likely always have time to share successes and achievements with students or staff. To have such skill set is optimum at best.

Discussing Dr. Garrett this way reminded me of the role model she actually had in the late Linda Gilbert, who served as Murfreesboro City superintendent prior to her sudden passing from a stroke in 2020. Dr. Gilbert has been memorialized as a leader who passed on to her staff, which included Garrett, to always put the students first in thought and practice.

Garrett also mentioned during her recent interview with the board that she's a highly competitive person, which she said means she rarely settles for last place in anything. She said the local school system, for that reason alone, is definite to rise to the academic leader board.

Dr. Garrett, this great big Bedford County education ball is now in your court,

Dawn Hankins is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.