“Our students don’t get a redo.”

Perhaps no word comes out of Dr. Adrienne Battle’s mouth more than “student.” In our one-hour interview with her to prepare for this profile, she repeated the word 71 times—42 more times than her next most spoken word (“school”). “Whenever there are tough, hard decisions to be made, they should be made not for the adults’ sake, but for the students’ sake,” she says. “Sometimes we get caught up in positions and movements of the adults when the decisions should be grounded only in what’s best for students.”

Dr. Battle’s commitment to Nashville’s students comes from a life-long investment in Nashville and its public schools. As the first MNPS Director of Schools to be a graduate of the district, she has long felt a desire to work in the community that raised her. “My story is here,” she says. At just 8 years old, a third grader at Cole Elementary School, she already knew she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. “My teachers were like superheroes to me. I loved their passion, their care for others, and I thought they were the smartest people in the world.” Even though she attended college away from home at Missouri State—graduating Cum Laude with a BA in elementary education in 2003—Dr. Battle managed to convince her faculty there that she should do her student teaching back in Nashville, back at home, where she knew she wanted to return after graduation.

Throughout her work in education, Dr. Battle’s student-centered approach has always been grounded in a deep commitment to each student. “Our students are not just a number. We need to make sure that at the individual level, we are meeting each student’s needs.” While principal at Antioch High School, she made it clear that the faculty and staff would learn about the cultures and backgrounds of the students to understand their perspective and context and eliminate misinformed notions that could get in the way of meeting each student’s needs. “There is this sense of urgency to get it right for all of our students every day, every school year. Our students have one shot at this. And every day matters. Our students don’t get a redo.”

“I’m completely humbled.”

When Dr. Battle was a junior at Overton High School, she was summoned to the principal’s office. Her principal, Mike Hammond, wanted to know why she wasn’t running for student council vice president. Adrienne was an excellent student, a star athlete, and a respected member of the student body. Yet she didn’t see herself as a leader. Not yet anyway.

After school that day, she asked her family what they thought. When they reinforced what her principal had said – that she was a born leader who others respected and admired – she decided to take the plunge and run. It paid off.  That venture into student council at Overton would be her first step in the journey that would eventually land her at the helm of the entire school district.

Now, just over two decades later, Dr. Battle is the first MNPS superintendent in many categories – first female, first African American female, first graduate of Nashville public schools – and this fact is not lost on her. “This opportunity – one that I don’t take lightly – allows us to recognize the leadership and talent and diversity that already exists in MNPS. I’m completely humbled to be serving in this capacity.”

While she most recently served in the position of community superintendent, supervising one quarter of MNPS public schools, Dr. Battle’s extensive experience ranges across a wide array of grade levels, school types, and leadership positions within MNPS. Her resume is impressive: She student-taught at Dalewood Middle and Cumberland Elementary, later accepting a full-time position teaching 6th grade math, reading, and language arts at Dalewood, where she would then serve as athletic director and team leader over academic programs. She worked on the leadership teams at East Academy, a private school focused on the theory of multiple intelligences, and MNPS’ Glencliff High School. She was principal of Antioch High School for four years, which she led to become the first MNPS zone school to earn Reward School status. Her impressive work there got her noticed. In 2016, she was again appointed to a new leadership position – first as a priority schools executive lead principal and then as one of four community superintendents. In this role, she oversaw 44 schools, including all of the schools in the Glencliff and Antioch clusters that she knew so well.

So how does her experience influence the way she will manage the district? She leads through a focus on teamwork, an unprecedented sense of discipline, and most importantly putting the student at front and center in every decision she makes.

“Everyone brings something to the table.”

Being part of a team is something that comes naturally to Dr. Battle. As a competitive athlete throughout high school and college, when she wasn’t on the track running, she was on the basketball and volleyball courts supporting and leading her teammates. She has the unique ability to see the bigger picture, allowing her to act with urgency to make improvements now, but also understand how all the interwoven pieces and people work together to create a high-functioning team.

She also knows the key to building and leading a great team is valuing people for who they are and what they are able to contribute. “What is important to me, especially with the level of commitment our leaders have to our district, is that we are able to invest and coach and pour into our people so that their commitment matches their ability to lead on a daily basis. It’s something in education we often forget about. Everyone brings something to the table.” Dr. Battle recognizes the vast levels of commitment and experience within MNPS, noting that “my inspiration is right here. The other leaders, principals, administrators, teachers, support staff, bus drivers – just having the honor and pleasure of working with so many great educators has kept me motivated. These people deserve the credit for me being grounded and committed to the work in the district.”

Dr. Battle thinks of the team as going well beyond the school walls. While working at Glencliff High School, Dr. Battle would get to know her now good friend and MNPS Chief Human Resources Officer, Tony Majors, who was serving as executive principal at the time. She would also meet current MNPS School Board Member Gini Pupo-Walker, who was Glencliff’s Family and Community Engagement Specialist, and current Community Achieves coordinator Alison McArthur, who served as Glencliff’s Academy Coach. Under Dr. Major’s leadership, Dr. Battle would gain significant experience in creatively leveraging partners through the district’s Community Achieves model. The model brings together business and non-profit partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities for students and their families. In 2011, while she was serving as Glencliff’s Academic Principal, the school was one of three in the nation to receive the national Community Schools for Excellence award. This experience showed her the critical role of partners and families in moving the needle for kids. “It meant a lot for students to see us pushing for a certain goal and then to see that same commitment to the goal at home or in the community. Partnerships are key to meet the needs of students.”

Given her emphasis on the team as a key element to drive success, Dr. Battle does not shy away from conversations about the culture in the district. “We have to address the culture and climate of our district and really invest in our employees, as often as possible, and really value what they each bring to the table. I believe that is how you are able to recruit and retain the best and the most highly qualified individuals to serve our amazing students.”

“Adrienne, get ‘em focused.”

Her high school coaches are not surprised by her trajectory. They always saw greatness in Dr. Battle. In a recent conversation, some of her previous coaches and teachers remarked that she is the same person today that she was in high school: disciplined, responsible, very focused and driven. One coach explained that as the captain of the basketball and volleyball teams, she was always able to rally the team. “Adrienne, get ‘em focused,” the coach would say, and Adrienne would motivate and encourage the team and everybody would be with her. She had a decisive style of leadership, one that empowered teammates and made people want to be around her, and one that could get results.

Dr. Battle’s experience as a student athlete had a significant impact on her life. She knew that great things happened when effort and time were invested, as she learned through her roles as basketball and volleyball team captain in high school and her continued dedication and love for athletics in college. In her career, this discipline translated into well-defined and communicated expectations. “Adrienne always set clear expectations,” her Glencliff High School colleague Alison McArthur explained. “People want clear expectations. Teachers love them. Kids love them. And teachers and kids will rise to them.” Consistent, clear expectations are critical in the field of education, which often sees frequent changes in strategy, materials, and methods resulting in confusion, low morale, and mixed results. A dedicated focus to a certain approach offers a commitment to see it through with fidelity, offering the full support, time, and resources needed to reach success.

Her disciplined approach does not mean that she doesn’t want to have fun. “I  want us to keep the joy, fun, and excitement to learning that I know can exist every single day. Whenever possible, keeping us laser focused, but knowing that that joy of learning has to be present across our district – that’s what I’m about.”

“Bright days ahead of us.”

Under Dr. Battle’s leadership, the district can expect a focus on proactive and transparent communication. Her “Listen In” sessions have been well-received and her honesty and student-centered language have garnered positive feedback. She also deeply understands the importance of intentionally reaching out to families and partners: “It is important for us to be good listeners, and demonstrate that we are not just trying to check off a box, but that we are trying to understand the context that is being brought to us.”

She recognizes that the district has work to do to improve public confidence in the school system. She doesn’t try to sugarcoat the hard work necessary to improve, but she also has a sense of optimism and hope about the potential. “I’m excited about what will come next and about the changes that can help us improve our efficiency and effectiveness as an organization. What I realize is that some of the challenges we’ve experienced are not uncommon—we are a large organization—but it’s a reminder that while we are a large urban district, we have to continue to constantly work at improving, and be open to the feedback we receive in order to align internally with what we want to achieve. I am looking forward to our next steps as a district, as a community. I think we have bright days ahead of us.”