A Tennessean story
this morning mentions the names of four people who have signaled their interest in becoming interim director of Metro public schools: Maplewood principal Julie Williams, MNPS administrator Lance Lott, former Paris (Tenn.) Special School District director Paul Doyle, and celebrity homophobe
Carolyn Baldwin Tucker. Some public school advocates in town are pushing the intriguing candidacy of a fifth person not mentioned in the Tennessean
story: Mildred Saffell-Smith
Saffell-Smith is a former public school educator who graduated from what was then known as Pearl High School and spent more than 30 years with MNPS. She taught English at Glencliff until the mid-1970s, through the early years of integration, and then became an administrator: assistant principal at Dupont Hadley Junior High, West End Middle, and Hume Fogg, and eventually principal at MLK from 1996-2002. At Pedro Garcia’s request, she returned to MLK as interim principal during the 2005-2006 school year. Saffell-Smith has a Ph.D. in education from Peabody at Vanderbilt, along with bachelors and masters degrees from TSU. She has taught at MTSU and TSU and is currently on the faculty
in educational studies at Cumberland University.
I met Saffell-Smith at an open house for her hosted by some public school parents last night. She strikes me as an energetic, passionate advocate for public education who sees the most critical role of the system’s central administration as helping principals and teachers do the difficult job they are asked as professionals to do. Saffell-Smith supports the idea that smaller learning units and communities present attractive options for overcoming some of the stubborn problems in the system. Although she recognizes the value of measuring achievement for knowing where we are in relation to where we need to be, she wants to unleash principals and teachers to work toward common goals in diverse ways that suit their students and circumstances. In this sense, Saffell-Smith plainly rejects the one-size-fits-all approach that became the hallmark of Pedro Garcia’s tenure as director.
Saffell-Smith has the virtues of being a knowledgeable and experienced participant in the system as well as a thoughtful and critical observer of it from outside. A parent who had kids in school during Saffell-Smith’s time as principal describes her leadership as “extraordinary.” I have no idea if she’s the best candidate on the table to lead MNPS as interim director, but she is clearly someone worth listening to.