Nashville has a new permanent director of schools.
During a specially called meeting on Friday, the Metro Nashville Schools Board decided unanimously to suspend its search and appointed Adrienne Battle as superintendent. Battle has led the district since last year.
Board Chair Anna Shepherd said she asked for the motion to appoint Battle to allow for continuity as the city recovers from tornado damage and as Nashville grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many are celebrating Battle’s calm leadership over the last week.
“While adhering to the search process is vitally important, I understand we must respond rapidly to changing circumstances and provide stability,” Shepherd said.
“Dr. Battle has gone above and beyond in providing a sense of security for our staff and students.”
‘This isn’t just a job for me’
The Nashville public schools board appointed Battle as interim in April after the school board bought out former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s contract.
In the last week, Battle showed up on the front lines of a tornado-ravaged city to respond to the crisis, assessing damage and quickly making plans for impacted schools. On Wednesday, she closed the district as a precaution as the city works to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Nashville.
RELATED: MNPS announces plan to relocate students, staff at some schools due to $5 million in tornado damage
But from her first moments on the job, Battle sought to establish herself as more than just an interim. Battle said from the very beginning she set out to ensure students are learning no matter how long she was to be in the job.
In her appointment as the city’s next director, she said she is humbled.
“This isn’t just a job for me, as you know,” Battle said to the board. “I am a native Nashvillian. I’m a product of Nashville public schools. I’ve served this district for many, many years. This is not a stepping stone for me. This is home. This is family.”
Support for Battle over the search
The Nashville school board hired the Tennessee School Boards Association earlier this year to conduct its search.
Board member Rachael Anne Elrod expressed concerns before the vote about the process of appointing Battle over continuing the search. She said, however, that Battle won her vote.
“Vetting, assessing and hiring the director of schools is one of only a few of our official duties as a school board member,” Elrod said. “Hiring a director without process not only puts the respect of this board in danger, but also Dr. Battle.”
Other board members said the discontinuation of the process shouldn’t be a concern.
The board spent about $11,000 on the search, said board Vice Chair Amy Frogge.
“We went into this with the idea that we were going to have an open process and really consider everyone that came before us,” Frogge said. “But obviously we are in some extraordinary times.”
And board member Gini Pupo-Walker said parents, staff and residents reached out to urge the board to make Battle’s appointment permanent.
“I also feel that these are extraordinary circumstances, but I do believe what we are doing is necessary and what I think the city is expecting us to do,” Pupo-Walker said. “I believe that once we get to the other side of this crazy time that we are living in that MNPS is poised for greatness under her leadership.”
A busy year for Battle
Despite any concerns about the process, the board unanimously supported her and many have widely agreed that Battle should be the city’s next school director.
She’s galvanized many teachers, including several on Tuesday night who said she is the right person for the job despite the board engaging in a new search. Teachers said the district needs a stabilizing force and that the removal of the interim from Battle’s title was the right move.
“Children are learning, and great things are happening, but even better things can happen … with the right person,” teacher Nancy Holland told the board. “Dr. Battle is that person.”
Battle’s candidacy also has seen strong support on social media, with many residents posting on the district’s Facebook to urge the board to give her the job.
Many also have said Battle is one of Nashville’s own and understands the needs of the city’s schools. She graduated from Overton High School and has spent her career as an educator in the district.
During her early days as interim, Battle made clear she wanted to drive the district forward to benefit the district’s 86,000 students no matter how much time she would be at the helm.
She said she wanted to ensure employees are focused on students, she wanted to limit distractions and she aimed to set expectations high.
And when she announced her candidacy, Battle said she wanted to ensure students get an educational experience tailored to their needs, that there’s a strong culture and climate at schools, and the district can recruit and retain strong teachers.
She also quickly made administrative changes when she was appointed interim, such as appointing new cabinet members to help lead work in the district, including the recruitment of Sharon Griffin. Griffin is known for her work in turning around low-performing schools in Memphis and led the state’s Achievement School District.
Recently, she appointed a new human resources director to lead a department with plenty of troubles recruiting and retaining teachers.
Battle also put into place a new partnership with Nashville State Community College to track Nashville graduates into college.
And in the upcoming weeks, Battle will have plenty to handle. For instance, it’s unclear when the district will reopen due to the threat of the coronavirus and how that plays into the end of the school year.
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Reach Jason Gonzales at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByJasonGonzales.