#EdChamp2017 Bold School Board Member Mary Pierce Ends Solid Service at One Term

I cannot tell a lie. Mary Pierce, the soft-spoken, pro-charter school, mom of four from the well-to-do side of the tracks made little impression on me during her school board campaign four years ago. I felt she was a project, a creation to fight the “status quo”, by the Nashville education reform crowd — a crowd I didn’t trust — and if I didn’t trust them no way I could trust their candidates. Mary, I thought, represented what I had seen so many times in this city — someone with a little time on their hands and could speak intelligently about the failures of the systems without ANY connection to those falling through the cracks.

It was recently said to me “Nashville is so white!” and that came from a white person who has lived other places. As a lifelong Nashvillian, I know that better than just about anyone here. But I understand what that person meant. Everything from entertainment to government is geared toward making Nashville’s majority comfortable while projecting an image to the world that this city is a welcoming place to all who can afford to comfortably live here.

So, without really knowing her, Mary Pierce represented the Nashville that the leaders in this city are so eager to protect and enhance. And now, four years after first meeting her, and, ultimately, getting to know her she has decided to end her school board service at one term. And while I am sad to learn of the news, I certainly understand.

Who IS this chick?

It wasn’t until immediately after she won the election that the no-nonsense Mary emerged and grabbed my attention. Though I can’t remember the situation or even the words she spoke, what struck me then and has stayed with me is her courage. Mary joined a school board with members ranging from agnostic to outright hostile on the subject of charter schools and whether she fully understood her place as part of that dynamic is a mystery to onlookers.

Over time, Mary, small in stature but big on bravado, owned the role of the maverick on the board, often the lone advocate on issues relating to choice or charter schools and delivering high-quality education no matter the school. I can only imagine the number of cold shoulders and side-eyes she received over the course of her term. Adults are often worse than children when confronted with someone who doesn’t walk in line with the group. But if she ever faced bullying (and rumor has it she has) we never knew it. Mary fought back by doing her homework, speaking out against low expectations, and never backing down.

Unlikely Ally

Recently, I had the opportunity to thank Mary for her service. I wanted her to know that this chick considers her an ally in the fight for choice and quality options for children of color. She has consistently voted and advocated in favor of charter school families, introducing a resolution last summer basically asking the board to treat these families as they, themselves, would want to be treated. The resolution failed. More recently, faced with a proposal to revoke a charter, Mary along with three other members exhibited loads of boss behavior despite heightened emotions and political strong-arming when the bold group voted to close the school. Volume and Light was thrilled to honor them as #EdChamps2017!

But the most notable quality about Mary’s term is that she never abandoned her platform. The platform that does not necessarily represent the “so white” Nashville. The platform for ensuring ALL families have access to many top-notch educational choices.  The platform that publicly acknowledges Black, Brown and poor families are not being served as well as they should. She carried that banner and, for that, she will always have my love and respect.

Wishing her all the best and may she find a way to stay in the game and take care of her family.


Reflecting on the Year’s Education Scene and Honoring Nashville’s #EdChamps2017

Volume and Light is dedicated to amplifying and illuminating education issues and stories traditionally unavailable to readers. The mission is to offer a point-of-view of education utilizing my lens as a former public school district staffer, parent, and student. This blog seeks to inform families of the good, bad, and wrong, and because of the toxic environment for parent choice, 2017 saw dozens of posts defending parents of color in charter schools.

Taking on the role of defender means staying in constant battle-mode and it is exhausting! And in September of this year, I hit a wall. The events at Charlottesville from a month prior still weighed heavily on me, I learned the only parent organization independent of the school district was losing its funding, and more than one thousand charter school parents signed a petition demanding a little respect only to be greatly disrespected – again.

I was done.

To heal, I cut my blogging obligations down to a mere one-third of the content normally produced and began to slowly recuperate from the “crash”. Then TNReady scores. In October, the Tennessee Department of Education finally released the scores from the controversial standardized test administered six months prior. I spent the entire month with the data. I will never be able to un-know that in 2017, 86 percent of 3rd through 8th graders in low-income households were not on track to read at grade level. Eighty-six percent. Enter #FliptheScript, my effort to raise awareness about the literacy crisis facing our children. More to come in 2018.


I know I’ve devoted a lot of space to the bad and wrong, but I’ve also tried to recognize the good, to honor the real education MVP’s. While not every unsung champion made it to the blog, I think now is as good a time as any to recognize a few good women and men who have done and are doing the damn thing.

So here’s to Nashville’s #EdChamps2017 (another hashtag to save the world) who have served in the best interest of children, dared to think outside the box, and modeled quiet leadership and courage.


Dr. JoAnn Brannon, Christiane Buggs, Dr. Sharon Gentry, Mary Pierce

I’ve been around school board politics for a couple of decades – as an insider and disinterested observer – and the proposal to close Smithson Craighead Academy, Nashville’s first charter school, was a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. There would be no winners post-vote, the children lose whether or not the school’s charter was revoked and anyone in support of revocation gets the cold shoulder.

The school founded and shepherded by Sister Sandra Smithson is struggling academically and financially and has for some time now. The recommendation to revoke the charter was submitted after the director placed the school on probation in April 2017 citing serious financial and academic deficiencies.

So in November, the school board was faced with the nearly impossible task of neutralizing Sister Sandra’s legacy and love for her students in order to do the job they were elected to do– to objectively consider the merits of the recommendation as presented by the director of schools. Honoring the director’s recommendation meant closing Nashville’s first charter school. Rejecting the recommendation meant keeping open a school with longstanding dismal performance outcomes, unpaid vendors, and dwindling coffers.

“We have policies so we don’t make emotional decisions.” – Dr. Gentry

The brave group of four, faced with the hardest part of the job of a school board member, voted to forever close the doors to the city’s first charter school – led by a nun.

Though the school’s charter was renewed, these #EdChamps2017 served well their official capacity by considering the director’s recommendations and honored their moral obligation by responding as if their own children’s education was at stake.



School board work is a tough gig and the story above is a perfect example of its challenges. However, there is no excuse for mistreatment of a group of people and charter schools parents have been targeted for a few years now. And they are simply saying no more.

In September charter school parents wrote and signed their own resolution:

Some of us signed a letter last spring asking for the public charter-focused attacks from some of your members to stop and for you, our elected school board, to come together and focus on making all Nashville schools excellent.

Since that time we, along with many of our fellow public charter school parents, have been dismayed to see that on June 27, 2017, you were unable (or unwilling) to pass a resolution committing to treat us, our children and our public schools with the same respect as the rest of Nashville’s schools.

These parents, grandparents, and guardians deserve the #EdChamp2017 honors for courage. Signing their name to a public document of demands directed to a few school board members who work to make their lives miserable is pretty badass.

Jarred Amato

I can’t write enough about Project LIT (libraries in the) Community, the reading initiative launched by Maplewood High School English teacher Jarred Amato. I may have obsessed with this initiative a little and between this blog and fellow Nashville education blogger Thomas Weber, we’ve got Amato more than covered. In our defense, how can you not adore the idea of equipping book deserts with books covering topics and characters relevant to the students who actually live in these areas? GENIUS! And selfless.

According to Mr. Amato, “our mission is to inspire all Nashville children to become lifelong readers by making books more accessible and creating excitement about reading.”

If inspiring all of Nashville’s children was the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the Community sorely underestimated their product. Project LIT is a now full-fledged movement with a steady flow of schools around the city and across the country joining in on the fun. As of this writing, Knoxville announced their participation.

Meanwhile, the unassuming, take-no-crap, grant-writing, book-shelving, Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year continues to teach, conducts weekly Twitter chats, and is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to promote reading and relevant content.

Jarred Amato deserves #EdChamp2017 honors for going beyond the call of duty and providing out-of-the-box services to students.

Singing Praises to the Unsung

There are education champions at every school and within every community. It is our responsibility to recognize unsung advocates like Thomas Weber, blogger at Dad Gone Wild, who has been a consistent voice for traditional schools and fierce supporter of teachers. The treasure trove of churches who partner with schools offering space for programs and events, tutoring, supplies, food, and volunteers. The silent resisters who by virtue of the school they’ve chosen send a powerful message. The vocal few with whom I may disagree but respectfully acknowledge the source fueling the stance.

May 2018 be the year for endless unpopular, uncomfortable, and uncompromising decisions and movements that seek to change the trajectories of thousands of marginalized children in our city. Happy New Year!

Enjoy more 2017 EdChamp behavior…

Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition – Spearheaded by Conexion Americas and has the TNDOE’s ear and respect. The coalition is growing into an education policy and advocacy powerhouse focusing on equity with an eye on students of color.

Nashville Charter School Leaders join other leaders across the country to fight against their own interests. March 2017

“But we cannot support the President’s budget as currently proposed and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the Administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families, and communities.”

Nashville Teacher Residency – Teacher prep program that seeks to satisfy the need for teachers of color. May 2017

The Passage – Two Chattanooga teachers hop on a bus and meet their students’ educational needs wherever they are! June 2017

Cicely Woodard – Tennessee’s 2017-18 Teacher of The Year is a Metro Nashville Public School teacher and we are proud. September 2017

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post – thank you. A heartfelt thank you to those who have lifted me by supporting this blog, by supporting me. Your advice, shares, RT’s, texts, calls, and coffees have carried me all year long. I’m eternally gratefully. 

2018 is looking up — so many BOSS plans in the hopper! Stay tuned and, as always, Stay Woke.

“Your Role Is Not To Do His job” From National Urban Schools Leader To Nashville School Board 

Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education’s commitment to governance policy

Michael Casserly, Executive Director of The Council of the Great City Schools paid a Valentines Day visit to the Nashville School Board to establish an effective evaluation process by which to assess their one and only employee, director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph.

Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean, smartly captured Casserly’s most searing advice “If you start saying who he should hire or which programs he should adopt … the board forfeits the role to hold him accountable.” While this not the story of the day, I will never miss an opportunity to introduce to some and reinforce to others the school board’s governing framework. But, again, board responsibility is not the story du jour.

Straight A’s

According to The Tennessean, the battle-tested director received glowing accolades accompanied by a string of perfect grades. I’m silly happy for the director of schools after a rocky start with what appeared to be a collusion between certain media types and internal saboteurs. Now, eight months into his tenure, board members are singing his praises for making good on promises.  School board member Mary Pierce posted on Facebook, “He clearly laid out his plan, and then executed it.”

With that said, I’m grateful to the school board for standing by their man by allowing him the space required to build and roll out a plan. I am also pleased to see a united front. Unfortunately, I’ve been around long enough to witness blissful honeymoons fade into bloody battles overnight. Yes, overnight. So, I’m cautiously optimistic — just shy of being a negative ninny.

From the Fire

Effective Valentines Day, the honeymoon ends and the hard part begins. Henceforth, Dr. Joseph will be evaluated by student achievement and, let’s not forget, charter schools applications are due April 1. These things matter. Big time. Student achievement and charter schools have proved fatal to the tenures of Nashville’s last two directors of schools. Just saying.

You might be thinking “she is expecting them to fail!” Au contraire, my sista. I’d love nothing more than to see this board stick it out for the long haul, but again, I’ve seen too much. The battlefield is too enticing. I can’t help but think of the W.B. Yeat’s poem The Second Coming (of which I learned through Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart) where he morosely acknowledges “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” I guess I am a negative ninny.

Into the Frying Pan

Expect to see lots of chatter about charter applicants and watch for darts thrown by community members seeking a seat on the board in 2018 (these darts actually launched in 2016). Despite these distractions, always be mindful that part of the school board’s job is to allow the director to do his. Also, unless Dr. Joseph commits some fatal sin, remember the honeymoon through the tough times. Remember the straight A’s. Remember the extensive outreach to families, teachers and community.

If we are prepared, we don’t have to succumb to the inevitable.

Note to 2018 School Board Candidates

The school board has three (3) responsibilities:

  1. Pass the budget
  2. Govern through policy
  3. Hire, evaluate, and fire their one and only employee

You’re welcome.