Nashville’s First Black Female Schools Leader Is Criticized For — Leading

I’ll make this brief.

Researchers found that when a group is shown photos of different people, black women’s faces were least likely to be recognized out of a group of white men and white women. Statements said by a black woman in a group discussion were also least likely to be correctly attributed compared to black men, white women, and white men.” Harvard Business Review

For the first time in the history of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, the product of a fierce battle to merge city and county, the fifty-six-year-old school district has a woman at the helm. And she’s Black.  

Native Nashvillian and MNPS product Dr. Adrienne Battle was named interim director of schools in April when Dr. Shawn “Unchained” Joseph, with major ‘tude and a fat check in tow, rolled out after a tenure marked by controversy magnified and judged by an unrelenting spotlight.

In The Blink Of An Eye

Last week, the school board approved Dr. Battle’s interim status which could extend over the next two years or until such time a search yields a capable leader willing to take the job. Dr. Battle has the option to apply, but word on the street is semi-resigned school board member Will Pinkston and the board’s only male wants her gone, even though he initially supported the long-term interim situation.

Dr. Battle announced her leadership team this week and the take-no-prisoners school board member became unhinged about one of her staffing decisions, publicly calling into question her leadership capability. FYI — this policy of this school board is that its singular staffing responsibility is to hire and fire the director of schools. Full stop.

Hear Her Roar

So here we have the first Black woman to lead the 10,000+ employee organization and ten minutes into her tenure a major decision is publicly derided by a school board member.

Full disclosure: I do not know Dr. Battle, but over the years watched her star rise among the ranks. [see T.C. Weber’s interview for more info] Also, I am reminded that Battle’s name was floated as a possible temporary replacement months before Dr. Joseph left the building. Which tells me all I need to know about what was expected of her.

My guess is that Dr. Battle is a quiet leader and a team player, and the powers that promoted her to the top of the lineup believed she’d be a resistor of boat rocking and just capable enough to keep the ship from capsizing. That she’d realize her power and act upon it never crossed their minds. And just as others before her, she has been chided for leading without asking for permission or request for assistance. She did what she did.

Let Her Lead

So, I’m not going to use this space to talk about how Black women are neither seen nor heard unless or until we contort our agency in an attempt overpower hundreds of years of callous disregard at which point we’re judged for being too [insert negative adjective/adverb].  

Further, it would be staid and predictable to add Malcolm X’s famous quote: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

However, I will take this opportunity to challenge everyone to support Dr. Battle’s administration and tell a friend. The issues facing our district require the full support of our entire community – no matter who is leading. So put away your recording devices, hidden cameras, and fact-checkers and focus on the kids. 

4 thoughts on “Nashville’s First Black Female Schools Leader Is Criticized For — Leading

  1. Maybe she is qualified maybe she isn’t.
    I’m perplexed as to why a person of color seems to be the determining factor in this role. In a city where the black population is 25% I’m perplexed. I remember when MLK high achool was in the top 30 public schools in the country with an outstanding pre engineering program and then a female black women was placed as principal because the school was in a predominantly black neighborhood.
    Even though the school was mostly white and asian at the time. And that school has never recovered in the rankings since then. So my question is why? Just because… I know the metro student population is mostly black, but why?


    1. Ed Brannon, MLK was never a “top 30” anything, neither was Hume Fogg, nor Hillsboro, nor MBA. These statements, which are bantered all over the place in the public ed space, are less than meaningless. MLK and Hume Fogg have test-screened input population of students, that excludes 2/3 to 3/4 of Nashville’s children. All the graduates, essentially, go on to college. There are no surprises there. The average ACT scores are exactly what you’d expect from that screening, and exactly what we see at integrated zoned schools, like Hillsboro, from students who flow through the IB academic program in an otherwise integrated school.

      Prior to the cross-town busing order, anyone would have said Hillboro High was #1 in Tennessee in 1968. That was meaningless then, too.

      The magnets were intially setup, by a court order in 1981, to foster racial integration in blighted parts of town. MLK’s mission is fading. Hume Fogg’s mission is long lost with the removal of race-based lotteries, and shimmering renewal of lower Broadway.

      While Nashville is as you say demographically, only 1 in 9 of Hillsboro cluster 4th graders arrive at integrated Hillsboro High for 9th grade. The primary exodus from public ed is white families leaving for schools that offer double and triple per student funding, career track faculty, non-crumbling school buildings, and the lower discipline troubles that come with reduction of poor student populations.

      Many African Americans were deeply upset with Shawn Joseph’s termination. I attended a “State of Education in the Black Community” event at Mt. Zion church, and there was no shortage of rhetoric that the pressure on him was entirely racist.

      I think it showed great sensitivity to hire an African American to the position, given the uproar across town. She seems to be doing as good a job as I can imagine, and I am impressed that she has even dared to shake the org structure a bit – usually interims just coast.

      Hope some of this helps. Welcome to the discussion.


  2. Dr. Battle’s org chart may be the first I’ve seen from Bransford Ave. that I can make heads or tails of. In the past, all the org charts looked like mind-numbing schematic diagrams for the Battlestar Gallactica.

    Fingers crossed that she will d*n the torpedoes that you mentioned…. and full speed ahead…..

    Liked by 1 person

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