Dawn Waldron has a hard time remembering any big changes that have occurred at Cedar Grove Elementary School in the last 20 years.
“It still has the team dynamic that (former principal) Mr. Gill started all those years ago,” said Waldron, a kindergarten teacher at the school, “and the family atmosphere.”
Waldron is one of the “original eight,” those teachers and education assistants who were among the first employees of the school and still work there today. They were each hired by Harry Gill Jr., the school’s first principal when the school opened in August 1997. Gill went on to become the Rutherford County director of schools and now serves as the town manager of Smyrna.
Former and current students, employees and parents gathered at the school today to celebrate its 20th anniversary with the community. Among the guests were the school’s three former principals — Gill, Kellye Goostree and Mark Gullion — along with current principal, Paige Jorge.
“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years, and my, how time flies,” Gill said from the podium, while reflecting about the experience of being a new principal who had to hire all the employees for the new school.
“I learned this from coaching, if I was going to be successful, I had to put the best players on the floor,” Gill said, referencing his many years as a champion-winning girls basketball coach. “So from the beginning, I set out to hire the best teachers.”
Among them was Goostree, who later succeeded Gill as principal and who currently serves as the principal of Brown’s Chapel Elementary School.
“I was his first teacher hire, and when he became director of schools, I was his first principal hire,” Goostree said. “So I feel like a lucky star.”
Until this school year, Mark Gullion served as principal at Cedar Grove for seven years. Beginning in August, he was promoted to coordinator of special education for Rutherford County Schools. But he took this morning’s event to do something he loves to do.
“Good morning, boys and girls!” Gullion enthusiastically said, when it was his turn to speak.
And the gymnasium full of students thunderously responded, ”Good morning, Mr. Gullion!”
“It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to do that,” Gullion said, “And I’ve been missing it.”
Cedar Grove Elementary School originally opened to serve grades K-8. It was immediately a popular school — during the beginning of the massive population growth that has affected Rutherford County — and opened with more than 100 students over the designed capacity. The school has a history of excellence, including once being ranked in the top 35 schools in Tennessee and numerous recognitions for high achievement and growth.
That sense of pride and high standards remains today.
To maintain that momentum, Gullion encouraged everyone to put themselves in “uncomfortable” situations that challenge them to grow and overcome. He says that attitude is what keeps a school great, even as it ages.
“It’s not the bricks, it’s the people inside it,” Gullion said, later adding, “Tradition is great but you also have to change with the times.”
Jorge, who became principal in August after previously serving as assistant principal, echoed that mantra.
“We cherish our past and look excitedly toward the future,” Jorge said.