Nashville schools interim director taps Tennessee’s Achievement School District chief for top post
In a major coup for Nashville public schools, interim Director Adrienne Battle is appointing the state’s education turnaround czar to a top Cabinet position.
Sharon Griffin, who heads the state-run Achievement School District, will join Metro Nashville Public Schools on July 1 as the chief of innovation.
As well, Hank Clay, Communities in Schools of Tennessee CEO, will rejoin the district as chief of staff on July 1, replacing Marcy Singer-Gabella.
The high-profile moves show Battle’s desire to leave a stamp on the operations of the district after securing a two-year interim contract. While the board could decide to start a search at any time, Battle’s appointment is a signal she doesn’t plan to be just a caretaker of the district.
Under the district’s previous interim director, top positions were left unfilled or were appointed in the interim.
“I think what is clear to everyone is (Griffin’s) track record and her work in the turnaround space with the iZone work in Shelby County,” she said.
And she cited Clay’s institutional knowledge of MNPS and his connections with statewide resources as part of why she hired him.
Battle’s decision to bring in the two won praise from at least one school board member. Board member Gini Pupo-Walker said Battle is showing through both hires that she wants to make district improvements immediately and spoke highly of Griffin.
“Adrienne Battle is not your average or ordinary interim,” Pupo-Walker said.”Her (Griffin) coming to MNPS signals she believes in Adrienne, but it also shows the urgency Adrienne has.”
Griffin’s departure from the state’s turnaround district
Griffin’s move, however, means more leadership woes for the ASD. The state will need to find a fourth replacement to lead the district in as many years.
The Tennessee Department of Education will appoint an interim within the next week, said Amity Schuyler, a deputy commissioner who helps oversee the ASD. Griffin’s last day as ASD chief is June 28, according to her resignation letter.
Schuyler said the state Education Department will embark on a national search for a replacement and could have a new leader in place as early as January.
Schuyler said the turnover of leadership in recent years is a concern.
“Changes of leadership have to be managed carefully,” Schuyler said. “You are hoping to get a leader that will stick around and remain committed in the long term. It is hard work, and it is understandable that turnover is more frequent than desired.”
A top school turnaround expert
Nashville public schools will get a leader who is recognized as one of the top school improvement experts in the state. Griffin was tapped in 2018 by former Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to lead the ASD.
The Achievement School District is the state district tasked with taking over and improving the bottom 5% performing Tennessee schools in terms of academic achievement.
The ASD works mostly in Memphis and employs a more hands-off approach by using primarily charter schools. Nashville has two ASD schools operated by LEAD Public Schools, a charter management organization.
Since her appointment, Griffin has sought to align the district’s work with the best research practices. She has also sought to ensure the charter schools tasked with running the ASD schools have a stronger teaching staff.
Marty McGreal, who oversees Pathways in Education, a school in the Achievement School District, said he is sad to see Griffin leave.
“She gets kids,” he said. “She really, really gets it. She stops by a lot. Not as many people get it right away.”
The leadership position also placed Griffin in a role where she helped advise low-performing schools, even if they weren’t part of the ASD.
Before her stint leading the ASD, she served as Shelby County Schools’ chief of schools, overseeing direct support to schools, principals and teachers.
In Shelby County, she helped lead the iZone, which is known nationally for making strong improvements among Memphis’ lowest-performing schools.
Battle reorganizes the central office
Clay heads to Nashville schools after previously serving under former Superintendent Jesse Register as an assistant to the director.
Clay has led Communities in Schools of Tennessee for two years. The nonprofit works statewide to help connect community resources and ensure students stay in school.
Battle said she will not fill the vacated chief of schools position formerly held by Sito Narcisse.
Her administrative Cabinet will also see changes, including appointing associate superintendents who oversee the elementary, middle and high schools.[Read more at the Tennessean]