Schools get early Christmas present
MICHELLE WILLARD, Post Staff Writer
“I’m glad in the holiday season to give the community a great, big Christmas present,” Nancy Phillips said about the appointment of Dr. Linda Gilbert as the next director of Murfreesboro City Schools.
Gilbert was named as the choice for the system’s top spot after a unanimous vote by the school board at a special meeting Thursday night. Gilbert will officially become the head of the school system Dec. 15.
With strong community support, Gilbert was selected from a field of more than 20 candidates that had been winnowed down to two – Lela Bridges and Gilbert – who vied for the top stop after Marilyn Mathis stepped down from the post in October for a job in the public sector.
“There is no more natural connection than we could have found than Dr. Linda Gilbert,” School Board member Ray Butrum said of the appointment.
Gilbert is a familiar face around Murfreesboro, having served as a professor at MTSU and administrator and teacher at MCS.
“I know the past of Murfreesboro City Schools like the back of my hand,” Gilbert said of her experience in the school system. “But my decision to apply for the position, while grounded in the past, is focused on the future.”
Her past began as a student at Mitchell Neilson Primary, in fact, which was where her inspiration to enter education as a life-long profession began.
As a first-grader at the school, an “outstanding teacher” taught her.
“Ms. (Margaret) Briley was teaching my new friends and me about the world outside and inside Murfreesboro,” she said. “And she helped me fall in love with learning. That year is when I think that my career began.”
That career took her back to the city school system, where the 1997 Tennessee Teacher of the Year winner started as a music teacher at Black Fox, Reeves-Rogers and Mitchell Neilson Elementary schools and ended up in the administration as community relations coordinator and associate director of instruction.
As a teacher, administrator and professor at MTSU, Gilbert said she honed the skills a director of schools needs to make MCS an “effective instruction.
“Certainly, my work with MTSU has expanded my skills in those areas,” she said. “But in addition to the ‘academic’ side of the work, there is the community side.”
It was Gilbert’s connection to and support from the community that left her head and shoulders above the rest of the field, the school board said.
And the teachers in the trenches agreed.
“I am thrilled,” Scales Elementary Principal Catherine Stephens said after the vote. “I have worked with Linda for several years. I know of her love for children, of her high expectations, of her steadfast encouragement and of her undying support.
“We will go far as a system with her as a leader,” she continued. “We will reach the stars.”
Stephens’ sentiments were echoed by the standing room-only crowd that responded with deafening applause when the ballots were read.
“It shows, Dr. Gilbert, that you have a lot of support but also a lot to live up to,” school board member Butch Campbell said of the community’s response.
With the future of the city schools system firmly in her hands, her first order of business will be improving communication throughout the system, Gilbert said.
“I believe communication within the district and communication with the community are just vital,” she said.
The community’s response and engagement in the director search was important and she intends to build on that, she said.
“People are openly talking about their hopes for the district and their dreams for the children,” Gilbert said. “They are talking about their vision for the future. And that is just so, so important.”
Building on traditions and using the staff and faculty of MCS is also important to Gilbert.
“We will build on the strengths and the talents that are found in the district and in the community. There are great strengths there. And there are great talents there,” she said about facing present and future challenges during her upcoming tenure as director of schools.
She said she looks forward to working with the teachers, administration and students, as well as Rutherford County Schools to make two “magnificent school systems.
“I think we can do some special here …” she said “But we have some work to do and there is not a reason we cannot do what we need to do.”
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or email@example.com.