Not many people can say they discovered their life’s passion at the age of five, but that is the case for Jeff Smith, the new director of visual and performing arts at Metro Nashville Public Schools. Smith began playing the piano when he was five years old and that love grew for the arts during his high school years in choir, band and the drama club.
“Participation in the arts changed my life and changes the lives of the students we serve every day,” Smith said. “Many studies show that greater participation in quality, rigorous arts instruction leads to positive academic, social and emotional growth for students.”
Smith, who taught music for more than 10 years and, most recently, served as the director of visual and performing arts for Duval County Public Schools, relocated to Nashville with his wife and three children in September. Although he is a new addition to the MNPS family, he is excited to get to work.
“[I] look forward to working together with all stakeholders to further public education and the local arts community,” Smith said.
Visiting classrooms and seeing students’ work in action is one of Smith’s favorite parts of his job, but he also enjoys collaborating with community organizations and leaders to provide support for students and teachers.
“Shortly after accepting the position of director of arts in [Duval County Public Schools], I learned that many of our music students lacked the instruments necessary to participate and achieve success in the music programs,” Smith said. “By working with many nonprofit and business partners, we collected over 200 used instruments and donations from community members. [We] immediately put those instruments in the hands of students who needed them.”
Smith adds, “This experience and many others have taught me the value of perseverance, hard work, collaboration and the need to provide the resources necessary for every child to reach his or her full potential.”
While some may not consider visual and performing arts as important to a student’s success as academic classes, Smith disagrees. “The arts are an essential part of a well-rounded education and provide students with the opportunity to express their creativity, build 21st-century skills and achieve excellence.”
Metro Schools partners with businesses and community organizations across the city to provide supports and services for its students. The district is so thankful to have these partnerships to help better meet the needs of MNPS students – inside and outside of the classroom.
Parallon, a healthcare company, began its partnership with Buena Vista Elementary School in 2016, and has provided a variety of services to students including mentoring and tutoring programs, supporting special events and conducting fundraisers.
Check out this interview with Ryann Schneider, senior counsel at Parallon, and Myra Taylor, principal at Buena Vista Elementary, about their partnership:
How did Parallon’s partnership with Buena Vista begin?
Schneider: In 2016, we moved our Parallon corporate offices to Capitol View. In connection with the move, Parallon immediately looked for ways to engage in community support with our new north Nashville neighbors. Buena Vista’s Community Achieves coordinator, Megan McGuire, welcomed us to the neighborhood and took time to educate our Caring for the Community team on the needs of the Buena Vista students and surrounding communities. We saw immediate synergies in how we could support the great work of Buena Vista and its Community Achieves Strategic Plan. We worked to build a deep and connected engagement with Buena Vista that included day-to-day activities as well as targeted support for strategic school initiatives and events. Our working relationship is that of any good neighbors – we are here to help each other grow and flourish – especially in times of need.
What kind of services does Parallon provide Buena Vista students?
Taylor: Parallon really does it all! They do drives for the school to help procure needed items like school supplies, school uniforms, winter clothing and more. Additionally, they provide volunteers for enrichment and academic programs, including Lunch Buddies, Reading Buddies and math tutors. They provide critical volunteers to school events, and have sponsored exciting field trip opportunities, including a trip to the US Space and Rocket Center for 3rd grade students. Additionally, they participate in Staff Appreciation events, including an end-of-year luncheon for teachers. Parallon truly provides wrap-around services for Buena Vista and assists in meeting our most crucial needs.
Why did Parallon want to get involved with Buena Vista?
Schneider: We could see the deep commitment Buena Vista had to serving as a central point of service for their students, families and the surrounding community. The Community Achieves Strategic Plan for Buena Vista outlined so many services designed to improve the lives of those in our community both inside and outside the walls of the school. Their teams were really looking at the needs of the students and families in a holistic and meaningful way. We knew we wanted to be a part of that good work.
Why did Buena Vista choose Parallon as a community partner?
Taylor: Buena Vista and Parallon chose each other! Parallon’s mission of improving human life in the community makes it a perfect fit for community school work. Being a school partner is more than just focusing on the students – it encompasses students, families and an entire community. Students thrive when they are a part of healthy, safe communities and that is the work that Buena Vista and Parallon are doing together: strengthening the supports for families in our North Nashville community. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that impacts all of us together.
What changes have you seen in students since this partnership began?
Taylor: Parallon is a known-name at Buena Vista. Students know that Parallon is there for support in every way. Students know they have the resources at school that they need to learn – including school supplies, backpacks, school uniforms and more. Our students absolutely love the relationships they have with the volunteers from Parallon. They can’t wait to see their Lunch Buddy from week-to-week, or talk to their Reading Buddy about how they’ve grown their reading level. The relationships are so important to our school culture because our students know that people in the community care about them and are cheering them on in the classroom and beyond.
What benefits does Parallon get from this partnership?
Schneider: The benefits Parallon gets from the Buena Vista partnership far outweigh the financial contributions, time and talents we contribute. We greatly value the time we spend with the students and staff at Buena Vista! Parallon employees come back from service engagements with the school reenergized – we can see the direct impact on the lives of those in our communities as we fulfill academic and social needs. This work also gives us the opportunity to share experiences and use talents together as a team in a different way than our day-to-day operational relationships. It helps us see the best in each other and strengthens our organization as a whole.
Why is it important for businesses to get involved in public education?
Schneider: Public schools are uniquely positioned to provide insight into the current needs of the community, and to connect many families with a wide range of resources and support. Many families that may not be comfortable approaching a non-profit or community center are open to receiving assistance in a school setting because the school is already a part of their family’s day-to-day support system. Our schools shape the future of our communities; the investment a business makes in public education has an enormous, immediate impact, but also blossoms to improve our city in future generations.
Taylor: There is no better investment a business can make than an investment in local public education. By partnering with a school in their community, a business makes a commitment to those students, families and the neighborhood that they are invested in their success, and the success of a future Nashville. These students are our future city leaders, and the time and energy that businesses pour into students now will shape our city moving forward. Additionally, a business/school partnership creates a sense of community – the idea that we are all in this together and that success is celebrated collectively. The relationships formed between a business and a school, and the work they can do together, makes for a powerful ROI for the city of Nashville (and beyond).
On Sept. 29, the Nashville Period Project challenge, an initiative to raise community awareness and reduce the stigma around menstruation, wrapped up collecting thousands of feminine hygiene products for MNPS female students in need. The lack of these products on a monthly basis is an issue for many economically disadvantaged girls and may prevent them from attending school each month. The project was started by Dr. Lakisha Simmons, executive director of the Achiever Academy, a nonprofit leadership academy for women. The challenge was a huge success raising more than 200,000 products through the help of more than 35 organizations and hundreds of volunteers.
“I don’t think I realized how big this was going to be, there has been so much participation from the community,” said Judith Lewis, MNPS Community Achieves specialist. “We hope this will be an ongoing project.”
The 200,000 products alone were more than what organizers expected but doubled after Healing Hands International announced plans to donate an additional 200,000 products to total more than 400,000.
“We are so happy to be able to spread those items to schools throughout the district so that girls do not have to go without proper feminine hygiene products each month,” Lewis said. “This project was created to eliminate barriers to education, and it has been amazing to see the support come from far and wide.”
A portion of the donations have been divided into boxes and delivered to every high school in the district as well as some middle schools. The district has made remaining products available to MNPS that may also need the products for female students as well as in the offices of school nurses.
The next step in the initiative is establishing a discreet distribution plan to limit the embarrassment or attention that may come with the need of these products. Lewis and others in the district are carefully thinking through any other possible barriers to provide access to all girls.
Those who would still like to donate products, may do so directly to schools or to the MNPS Warehouse, located at 2941 Foster Creighton Drive.
**Note: The MNPS Warehouse has limited space and may briefly stop collecting if the space becomes too full.
Read more about this Nashville Period Project initiative here.
Channel 5 News: Volunteers Help Girls in Metro Schools
Alison “Niki” Rager is a proud product of Metro Nashville Public Schools. She has literally spent her entire primary and secondary school years as well as her teaching career in what is now known as the Northwest Quadrant. “I have been in the district my entire life, I feel like I was born here,” Rager said.
Rager began her teaching profession 17 years ago at Goodlettsville Middle School, formerly Goodlettsville High School, where she also attended school and has spent her entire teaching career so far.
“When I started here, I was the baby of the teachers. I have gone from teaching self-contained fifth graders to being a teacher leader in my building,” said Rager who is currently an eighth grade math teacher, a role she says is her sweet spot.
“These are my kids because I was just like these kids,” she said. “I want them to feel what my teachers made me feel – that math is real, relevant and accessible to them each day.”
In addition to moving from being a fifth grade teacher to an eighth grade teacher, Rager serves as a team leader and new teacher mentor. She said her goal for mentoring other teachers is to make sure they feel confident, loved, valued and, most importantly, appreciated.
“I was lucky to have amazing teachers throughout my time in MNPS. They taught me to love myself, to be the best at what I do, push myself to succeed and to be proud of who I am,” Rager said.
One teacher that stood out in particular for Rager was her eighth grade math teacher, Mr. David Brooks. “He made us feel like we could accomplish anything; he made us feel important and taught me that it is okay to struggle.” When Rager joined the GMS team, her former 8th grade teacher was still there teaching students and served as a teacher mentor to her until his retirement. They have maintained a close friendship to this day.
Rager said she will continue her teaching journey by striving to be a positive school leader and teacher mentor. Her goal is to continue encouraging and showing her students that success is possible.
Tony Griffy will never forget Johnny Cash under stage lights as the country music legend gave an unexpected performance at his own tribute concert. Griffy’s view wasn’t the same as that of the audience’s though because he was a part of the team responsible for managing the audiovisual (AV) and production of the show, a unique and personal perspective he has had quite a few times in the past two decades.
Along with Cash, Tom Petty, Vince Gill, Chet Adkins and the Woman of Faith Tour are just a few of the big shows Griffy supported in the ‘90s, both domestic and abroad. He has followed tours through the Dominican Republic, for audiences intimate and large, including one venue holding 90,000 fans. The elements of the job that he loved – the physicality, travel and fast-paced nature – are also what led him to pursue a career shift a few years ago.
“Working in AV and production was really fun, but really hard work,” Griffy said. “I would get home from tours completely exhausted.”
Griffy decided to press pause on his traveling lifestyle and took his A+ (plus) certification to enter the technology support field, another job that requires constant learning and current knowledge of the ever-changing tech world. After a few years of other tech jobs, Griffy joined Metro Nashville Public Schools and is now the technology support team manager in the district’s IT department. His team helps solve technology issues and streamline processes so teachers and administrators can spend more time doing their jobs and less time trying to decipher their devices. He understands and emphasizes the importance of each piece of work that goes into running a large school district in the same way he knew his role impacted an entire performance in the production world.
“We are not just fixing computers as much as we are restoring productivity to help people to do their jobs better to support students,” Griffy said.
Griffy brings a calm, level-headed and positive demeanor to all of his tasks no matter how frustrating. He firmly believes that the way you interact and work together, even in your small teams, can make a difference in the entire organization—with each interaction impacting the next.
“I stay calm by knowing things can go wrong, but there’s always some kind of positive end result,” Griffy said. “I believe If you work hard at something you will have success.”
This year, along with encouraging his team to get out of their offices and engage with others at Metro Schools, Griffy wants to continue improving workflows to track problems at a higher level. He sees improvement but looks forward to mastering the tools available to make the district more streamlined, data-focused and a great place to work and learn.
Alvin E. Jones serves as executive director of discipline for Metro Nashville Public schools. Although his title may sound intimidating, that could not be further from the truth. In fact, Jones and his assistant directors are committed to restorative discipline more than punitive. As a new approach for the district, Jones’ department has a dual goal of due process and restoration – and it is the biggest change he has seen in the district over his 40-year career.
“I think the district is much more sensitive to the individual needs of children than it has been in the past,” Jones said. “I think we have started looking more at the things necessary for a student to be successful on an individual basis.”
Jones, along with his directors, are committed to working with every assistant principal on compliance, within the handbook guidelines, while reviewing each child’s individual circumstance. This allows for “better outcomes for students by exploring alternatives,” he said.
One can feel Jones’ passion when he talks about his team and their work.
“When you go back and look at the actual meaning of discipline it comes from the word disciple,” Jones said. “Disciple means to go back and teach – to train. We want to do more teaching and training with less disciplinary because the bottom line is all these kids are going to grow up and we have a hand in shaping what that’s going to look like – that’s the important part.”
Jones can see how his team’s new approach has had a positive impact on student outcomes. Student success is the department’s main priority. He firmly believes you cannot use a cookie cutter approach to serving students’ needs. He takes the necessary steps to review student files and ask the difficult question: “why?” This prevents recidivism and aids in their success in reaching high school graduation.
“There are some kids who have just made a bad decision, and I hate to see someone’s life get turned upside down and be defined because they made one bad mistake,” Jones said. “There are times when I have been able to help kids go on and get their diploma and put them in positions where they can be successful.”
While retirement from the district is on the horizon for Jones, he has no definitive plans to pursue it at this time. He believes he still has much more to do and much more to give in serving children and having a lasting impact on their lives.
Lorenzo Carrion and Brandon Majors, both 2018 graduates of Cane Ridge High School, were awarded the inaugural Butch McCord Legacy Scholarship by Major League Baseball’s Nashville RBI program on Sept. 19.
McCord, a former Negro league player and local advocate for youth baseball and softball, gifted Nashville RBI with scholarship funds to provide two players with scholarships each year for the next five years.
Carrion and Majors have played with RBI and represented Nashville in the RBI Southeastern Regional Championship for the last three years. The RBI Nashville Allstar team plays under the name “Nashville Sounds” and has a strong partnership with the minor league baseball team.
The former MNPS students were presented with scholarship checks (Majors – $3,500; Carrion – $2,000) at First Tennessee Park and also received a gift bag from the Nashville Sounds.
Majors attends Columbia State Community College where he plays on the baseball team. He plans to major in physical therapy after he completes his associate degree. Carrion is currently enrolled at Volunteer State Community College.
All students can learn. That is the belief of Delishia Danielle Porterfield, an exceptional education coach for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
“I [want to] ensure our students with disabilities have the same opportunities as their peers,” Porterfield said. “Everyone was created for a reason and has something to offer. We were created for a specific purpose.”
A former special education teacher, Porterfield now helps teachers, administrators and parents work better with students who have disabilities and to see the enormous potential of these students.
“The favorite part of my job is advocating for our students,” Porterfield said. “I enjoy giving people the tools to work with all students regardless of their ability level.”
Before joining Metro Schools, Porterfield was an exceptional education teacher in Williamson County Schools. Her move to MNPS in 2012 was both thoughtful and strategic.
“MNPS has a strong history and legacy [of providing great education to students]. I wanted to work in an urban district to help empower our next generation of leaders.”
Although Porterfield loves working with students with disabilities, her job does not come without emotional ups and downs.
“My heart breaks when I see a parent cry with hopelessness,” Porterfield said. “I rejoice with families when I see tears of thankfulness because they have someone in their corner partnering with them to give their child the best opportunities possible. Those encounters are the moments that remind me why I do what I do.”
While Porterfield’s work has its challenges, she is thankful to have a strong team of exceptional education teachers supporting students with disabilities throughout the district.
“Our exceptional educators want to take the limits off of our students,” she said. “We are passionate about what we do because we see the difference it makes. We want to empower schools with the tools to help educate all students and for our students, and I am inspired by the wonderful things we are doing here in MNPS. The work that our teachers and paraprofessionals do each day is life changing.”
More than 150 students and guests visited Overton High School Sept. 17 to announce a new partnership with Comcast kicking off their Digital Literacy initiative. Students from the Academy of Information Technology are part of a student-led digital literacy training program, the “B.O.B. Squad” (Bobcat Opportunities through Broadband), in which they will provide trainings based out of Comcast-funded computer labs. A total of 100 IT students were chosen to be a part of the inaugural group.
Through this program, BOB Squad members will work with Legacy Mission Village and others in the community to increase digital literacy in the area. As a way to encourage students to become more digitally literate themselves, every member of the BOB Squad received a laptop from Comcast and six-months of free internet service. The company also awarded a $20,000 Comcast Foundation grant to Legacy Mission Village to establish a computer lab serving refugee families in Middle Tennessee.
“We have connected six million low-income people – 48,000 in Davidson County – through the Internet Essentials program since 2011,” Cohen said. “Comcast believes that the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire a new generation of leaders.”
The event included Metro Nashville Public Schools leaders and community partners from across the city, including Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, Board of Education Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and District 2 Board of Education Member Rachael Anne Elrod. Also, participating in the event was Nashville Mayor David Briley, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer David L. Cohen and U.S. Gold Medalists Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, among other leaders from government, business and education.
“This generous partnership will not only give students access to technology but will help expose them to new social and economic opportunities,” Dr. Joseph said. “We are so very excited about this effort and we sincerely thank Comcast for partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools.”
Karon Fairs is a fairly new face to Metro Nashville Public Schools, but she’s no stranger to sports. Fairs, who was named senior secretary for the district’s Athletic Department just over a year ago, said, “I love sports, I love people and I love my job.”
Her recent appointment with the school district is new but she has a long history with Nashville’s public school system. Born and raised in Nashville, Fairs attended Alex Green Elementary and Cumberland Middle Schools. She graduated from Whites Creek High School and then attended Tennessee State University, where she also worked for 11 years in the Human Performance and Sport Science Department.
During her tenure as a student in Metro Schools, she played in the band for eight years, but her number one passion was playing sports.
“I wasn’t just a student; I was a student-athlete,” Fairs said. “I ran track in the 440-relay, the hurdles and the 100-yard dash.”
In her current role in the MNPS Athletics Department, Fairs believes she has found her sweet spot. She plays a key role in the execution of the day-to-day activities. Not one day goes by without Fairs speaking with a school’s athletic director, a coach or principal to make sure that upcoming sporting events, as well as all student-athletes, are in compliance with Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) rules and MNPS standards and policies. In addition, she works to assure that schools have public safety presence, such as police officers and EMTs, available at sporting events for the safety of students as well as the fans. Fairs also makes sure that all sporting equipment ordered for schools meets the guidelines for TSSAA and MNPS to provide the safest equipment possible for students.
“I like having the opportunity to connect with people and provide good customer service,” Fairs said. “I don’t get to attend all the games but I interact with schools all the time. I have three children who are athletes and two of my daughters play sports in Metro Schools, so I also spend most of my time supporting them and their schools.”
Additionally, Fairs gets to plan special events for the Athletic Department such as the Hall of Fame Luncheon. When she is not attending MNPS sporting events, she spends her time shopping and attending professional sporting events with her husband and three children.