Smithson Craighead Academy

Sound Off: Sister Sandra Smithson, Founder of Nashville’s First Charter School

Volume and Light will produce a bi-monthly piece called Sound Off featuring a community leader dedicated to Nashville families and quality choices. The inaugural Sound Off honors the founder of Nashville’s first charter school.

On a unseasonably warm day in October, I visited Nashville’s first charter school Smithson-Craighead Academy. The Project Reflect school opened in 2003, situated on a large expanse in the rapidly-changing community of Madison, has seen it’s share of ups and downs. But, like its steadfast leader, Sister Sandra Smithson, the foundation is solid.

Affectionately known as Sister Sandra, the knowledge bombs dropped that fall day was inconsistent with how we typically view nuns. I guess when you’ve dedicated your life to the disenfranchised the realities of our society can’t be sweetened with honey-dipped words. Whether questioning the timing of prison privatization with the integration of schools (deep) or calling out the black community for abandoning inner cities, this is no traditional nun.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the Sister at 90+ years of age is still very involved in the school’s operations. Smithson Craighead’s executive director Allison Driver loves that the students have access to the wisdom and love the founder brings to the school named for older sister Mary Smithson Craighead.  Mary, whose picture greets every SCA visitor, taught 3 year old Sandra to read and became a nationally renowned educator.



We cover everything from prison beds to the breakdown of the black family and she has seen it all. I’ve taken an excerpt of our discussion for this installment of Sound Off. Enjoy!


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