By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools
Three new faces have been elected to the Rutherford County Board of Education, and new leaders have been selected to lead the Board.
Tammy Sharp, who won her second term on the Board in August, has been selected as the new chair and also represents Zone 1. Caleb Tidwell, who won his first term on the Board in August, has been selected as vice chair and represents Zone 3.
The other new School Board members elected in August include Katie Darby, Zone 4, and Frances Rosales, representing Zone 7.
Each new Board member, along with Ms. Sharp, recently completed an interview with the RCS Communications Department about their background and goals while serving.
TAMMY SHARP, CHAIR
Tammy Sharp ran unopposed in August to earn her second four-year term representing Zone 1, which includes a majority of the LaVergne area and Smyrna east of I-24.
So the campaign trail was much different this time for Sharp.
Four years ago, when she was an unknown to many voters, she spent lots of time standing on the corner at the KFC greeting motorists and spreading her campaign message.
She continued to meet with parents and other voters during the most recent primary and general elections, but running unopposed meant she could maintain her existing duties on the Board.
“It really did allow me to keep my focus on the School Board and it allowed me to help some other candidates,” Sharp said.
For her second term, Sharp wants to bring more attention to the fine arts programs offered by Rutherford County Schools and find ways to build an “infrastructure” for potential boosters to support students in the arts, the same way boosters support athletics, she said.
“In the past six months, I’ve been meeting with a group of citizens and business people, and one of the things we’re aiming on doing — this is kind of separate from my duties on the Board but they will eventually come forward through the Board — is to elevate our fine arts in Rutherford County to the same support we have for athletics,” Sharp said. “Not taking anything away from athletics, they’re great, but we’re leaving some students out.”
Sharp would like to see donors help students who need instruments or assistance with band fees, for example, she said. She wants to establish a website and social media presence to connect would-be donors with these students.
“We have a benevolent community who would love to help, if they just knew what the need was,” Sharp said.
She’s also looking forward to working with new Director of Schools Dr. Jimmy Sullivan, and she thinks he has the leadership qualities needed to boost teachers and serve students.
“Everybody I have spoken with, they are satisfied and very excited,” Sharp said. “They are happy with the communication Dr. Sullivan has provided, and that was one of the first things I noticed when I started working with him. I called him very Ronald Reagan-esque. He is a great communicator. That goes a long way with staff because they know what’s going to happen and where things are going.”
Sharp added: “It’s not always money for the teacher, it is a lot of working environment. Of course we would love to give them more money and things, but the work environment is important too.”
CALEB TIDWELL, VICE CHAIR
Caleb Tidwell not only lives in and represents Zone 3 — which includes the greater Kittrell, Christiana and Barfield areas — he grew up in the zone and attended Kittrell Elementary School at a time when it served grades K-8. He later graduated Oakland High School, where he attended school with Director Sullivan.
“Basically, I’ve lived here this whole time and I feel like I know the values of this area, and kind of what the people want and what the people like,” said Tidwell, adding people love the friendliness and conveniences of the area but are also growing frustrated with some of the “big city problems” slipping in.
“I want to help be a voice against some of those problems and try to be a solution to help stop those problems before they continue to gain momentum,” Tidwell said.
Like the other new School Board members, Tidwell has children — August, Ariana and Kingston — who are currently attending a Rutherford County school, specifically Barfield Elementary. He is married to Anna, whom he describes as highly involved because of the amount of School Board meetings she has attended the past year.
He also works a full-time day job, and these two factors provide a different perspective for School Board members and helps them better understand what school parents experience daily.
“The main reason, above all other reasons, is because I have three young kids who are going to be in the school system for a very long time,” Tidwell said of the reason he ran for School Board. “I was raised in this zone, so I feel I have a good feel for what school looks like — what works, what doesn’t work — and I just have a very vested interest in the decision-making.”
Tidwell says he doesn’t have an agenda, but does have two main goals: To find ways for parents to get more involved in the education process, and to promote a better workplace environment for teachers, especially when it comes to discipline issues in the classroom.
With all decisions, Tidwell wants to evaluate the biggest benefit for everyone.
“It is really a focus — not for one student, one teacher, one individual — on what is the greatest net positive for the school system in general,” Tidwell said.
Katie Darby sought a seat on the School Board because she wanted to ensure a current parent’s voice was part of the mix.
A few years ago, Darby’s child had a severe accident on a school playground, and then Darby had a bad experience navigating the complaint process.
“It was like I just couldn’t get anywhere,” Darby said. “So I thought, ‘what’s the next best thing you can do?’ You try to go on the inside and see if you can affect change from the opposite end.”
So Darby ran for School Board about four years ago and narrowly lost the election.
When it came time for election season again last spring, she had been considering another run and was also encouraged by others. She then successfully won the primary in May and the election in August.
“I really felt like parents needed more of a voice on the Board,” Darby explained. “It was one of those things where we definitely need some people who have some personal experience with their own kids who are attending these schools. I wanted to make sure we have a Board who is looking out for what’s in the best interest of the kids, and the schools and the system as a whole, trying to get the political aspect as far removed as possible.”
Darby moved to the area from Hollywood, Florida, about 20 years ago with her husband, Jay, who was a musician at the time and his band had relocated to Nashville. They have raised all three of their children — Garyn, Brylie and Halen — in LaVergne. Their children attend Central Magnet School and Thurman Francis Arts Academy.
About five years ago, Darby started a transportation shuttle business, Space Shuttle Transportation, because she had children in two schools with the same start time.
She knew there were other families who were in the same situation, and now they have a fleet of three 15-passenger vans serving Thurman Francis, McFadden School of Excellence and Central Magnet School.
“I don’t have political aspirations. I’m not trying to get anywhere in that arena, and so my decisions at the end of the day are always going to be based on what’s best for the kids, and the students, and the staff and the teachers,“ Darby said.
Education has always been a centerpiece in Frances Rosales’ family.
Her family moved to the United States from Puerto Rico when she was elementary-age, and relocated to the Nashville area when she was nine.
“My mom, she went to college and understood the importance of having a higher education, and she really pushed all of my siblings,” Rosales said. “She was really the one who pushed education in my home. We weren’t allowed to come home with a C.”
Rosales also remembers specifically an instance where a teacher’s intervention shaped the remainder of her academic life.
She was in sixth grade and the class was taking a trip to Land Between the Lakes. Her family wasn’t keen on her going, but her teacher, Mr. Carter, stepped in.
“They were not on board with me going on this trip and he asked my parents for a meeting just so he could talk them into letting me go,” Rosales said.
They agreed, and Rosales spent time learning about the outdoors and hands-on science activities, and she later earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.
“I didn’t realize what interest I had in science until I went on that trip. It solidified it for me,” Rosales said.
Rosales carried that passion for education into her own family, and she has a history of becoming an expert on her children’s academic subjects and advocating for them at parent-teacher meetings.
She and her husband, Josh, moved to Rutherford County in 2017, and they have four children — two who are adults, one attending a local school and another who hasn’t reached school-age yet.
It was during the pandemic when the school district switched to a hybrid system of in-person and distance-learning that Rosales started paying attention to decisions made by the School Board.
“For me, It wasn’t really the mask mandates that pushed me,” Rosales said. “It was just the level of planning at the School Board level and the decisions that were being made that trickled down to the school level.”
Being a working mom with children, it “propelled” her to pay more attention and determine who was making the decisions. That’s when she decided to seek a seat on the School Board.
“I looked really closely at the School Board members and realized there was only one at the time that had children in the system,” Rosales said. “I think that makes a big difference when you have a child in the system.”
In August, Rosales won the seat previously occupied by former teacher and longtime Board member Jim Estes, who did not seek re-election.
During her time on the Board, Rosales wants to address the teacher shortage and find creative ways to increase employee morale.
“One of the ways is to bring more community involvement either through non-profits or small businesses where we can have teacher-appreciation days,” said Rosales, who also operates a non-profit with her husband. “We don’t have to wait until Teacher Appreciation Week to do that.”
As an example, Rosales wants to establish countywide picnics for employees.
“A little praise goes a long way,” she explained. “If they’re not getting the praise that they are supported, who would want to stay in a job where you feel like you’re not supported and you’re not appreciated.”