Hillsboro High School parents, students and alumni packed Tuesday night’s school board meeting to stare down Director of Schools Jesse Register face-to-face and deliver a clear message: Reinstate adored teacher Mary Catherine Bradshaw as the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator.
“The timing of this transfer is reactionary, illogical and debilitating,” said Cameron Phillips, parent of a Hillsboro student. “The IB mission is to retain knowledgeable personnel at the helm. Ms. Bradshaw is the finest coordinator in the state of Tennessee
“When has excellence equaled dismissal?” she asked.
Tuesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting gave the Hillsboro community a chance to publicly weigh in on what has turned into the hot-button topic of public education in Nashville: the removal of Bradshaw, a teacher at Hillsboro since 1984, from her position as director of the IB program. It’s an issue that has already attracted attention from state legislators and Metro council members, and spurred thousands to pledge support via Facebook and through petitions.
“This issue is bigger than Mary Catherine,” said David Williams, a Hillsboro math teacher and middle-years IB coordinator. “What faith can a family put in MNPS if one of its best and brightest, and leader of a successful, community-inspired program, is transferred? What does that say about how we do business educating our children –– your children?”
Metro officials have named veteran educator Sharon Chaney as Bradshaw’s interim replacement. Officials have not gotten into the specifics of Bradshaw’s transfer, but have said Bradshaw will continue serving with the district.
On Tuesday, Williams informed the school board that he, in fact, was the first candidate to be offered the new IB coordinator position.
As reported by the Nashville Scene, a rift between Bradshaw and the school seemed to originate through the continued implementation of career academies –– the model of the ongoing transformation of Metro high schools –– that seek to break up comprehensive schools into career-oriented themes. The transformation has been advanced by Jay Steele, associate superintendent of the district’s high schools, brought to Metro schools last year from St. Augustine, Fla., where he led a similar charge.
A few speakers at Tuesday’s meeting demanded Register, Steele and Hillsboro principal Terry Shrader sit down to figure out a way to retain Bradshaw as the program’s coordinator.
Others took aim not only at the decision to dismiss Bradshaw, but also at the concept of career academies in general, characterizing the approach –– perhaps unfairly –– as “vocational training.”
“If the best teachers such as Ms. Bradshaw are removed from the school, and there’s an increased emphasis on vocational training, I can only infer that the objectives of the administration are not in line with maintaining the highest level of intellectual challenges of college-bound students,” said Bruce Carter, a parent.
Approached recently by The City Paper regarding Bradshaw’s transfer, Register declined to speak on the personnel decision itself.
Register said he’s pleased with the direction at Hillsboro, specifically the recent announcement of the Hillsboro STEM academy partnership with Vanderbilt University. He also said he’s excited about the expansion of the IB program within the Hillsboro cluster.
But the outcry over Bradshaw’s transfer seems unlikely to cease.
William Nelson, a Hillsboro alum, said if Bradshaw is not retained supporters plan to seek support from the business community and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to further their cause.
“Please relieve this situation by Monday, May 9, or we will continue to take this to the business community,” Nelson said. “Get your popcorn ready.”
This story has been updated to reflect a clarification of Jay Steele's role in advancing MNPS career academies.