“ WORK HARD and be kind.” Those are words that Dr. Tammy Garrett, Bedford County’s new school superintendent lives by and instills in the students with whom she connects. Dr. Garrett sees her- self and the rest of her office in support of the students and teachers in Bedford County’s schools. She likes to picture an upside-down triangle with the students at the top, the teachers in the middle, and the administration at the bottom. She uses the information and data available to better understand what students need to be successful and then tasks herself and her team with providing that information and support to them.
For example, students who have access to good nutrition perform better in school. Students who have support for their mental health and safety needs are more likely to be successful in their academic studies. It takes a diverse team, including other government agencies and local businesses to provide the students of Bedford County with the variety of support needed to set them up for success.
Dr. Garrett looks forward to increasing students’ post-graduation plans. As a first-generation college graduate herself, she has a special place in her heart for helping all Bedford County graduating seniors find, develop, and successfully complete advanced training for their future careers, whether at a career and technical education facility, community college, or four-year university.
This enthusiasm for post-graduation plans isn’t just about individual students experiencing financial success and career stability. It is also an important part of attracting businesses and industry to Bedford County. Large organizations that are looking to open new facilities often require people within the local population to be able to fulfill their employment needs. Additionally, having a strong local school system is attractive to people considering a move to Bedford County. That means strengthening test scores and curriculum.
“We were beyond excited to hear the news about the state’s $42 million funding to build a new campus for Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Shelbyville,” says Garrett. “This investment in our county and our students is a game-changer for our citizens.” Along with inspiring the students of Bedford County to plan for their futures, Dr. Garrett is very excited about dual enrollment possibilities for students to be able to simultaneously complete high school graduation requirements while earning college or career and technical degree credits. This is an extremely time-effective and cost- effective way for students to get a jump-start on their future careers. Dr. Garrett loves to read! A recent book she read about literacy is by Robert Probst and Kylene Beers-Forged by Reading. It inspired her to think about the way reading helps to challenge our own thoughts and ideas. How reading is used in the educational system she believes makes a difference in the lives of every student.
As a young person, she loved the book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, reading it over and over again. She also enjoyed the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has fond memories of going to the library and checking out a book she hadn’t yet read and discovering a different time, place, or way of thinking in the pages between the covers. She has seen the effect of education changing lives because it has changed her own life.
Her parents each completed the eighth grade and valued the educational opportunities available to their daughter. They encouraged Dr. Garrett to go much farther with her education. She said, “I was a first generation college student. Teachers and coaches changed my life. That is my purpose here. To give back and change the lives of kids; show them what is possible. I want kids on college campuses who don’t see that in their future because they haven’t seen people do that in their families. I want to change lives, just like mine was changed.”
She found success on the basketball court and softball field. Her high school coaches, Doyle Parham and Tom Miller helped to instill the discipline and mindset necessary to be a winner. In fact, she didn’t walk during her Spring Hill, Tennessee high school graduation ceremony, even though she was the school’s salutatorian (the second highest student in her graduating class) because her softball team was at a state tournament. She taped her speech in advance, advising her teachers that if her team was winning, she would be playing ball on graduation day.
Dr. Garrett continues to be a fan of sports today. She recognizes the value found in the lessons learned on the field of teamwork, discipline, healthy living, competition, and sportsmanship. The roots of her mantra to “work hard and be kind” are in her athletic experiences.
Dr. Garrett had a very special educational mentor named Dr. Linda Gilbert, former Director of Schools in Murfreesboro, who lived the value of meeting the needs of the whole child so they would be able to learn to their maximum potential. Dr. Garrett remembered fondly, “She showed me how to partner with people in your community to get the kids what they needed. Just the heart she had for kids in education modeled what I do today.” Sadly Dr. Gilbert passed away in 2020, but her legacy clearly lives on in Dr. Garrett’s commitment to Bedford County’s children and indeed all of its citizens.
In her downtime, Dr. Garrett likes to recharge by spending time at the lake going boating and fishing with her husband Joe. She particularly loves watching bald eagles soaring at Kentucky Lake and finds them mesmerizing to watch. She has two children: a daughter who is a teacher and a son who recently graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee. And it should come as no surprise that her favorite leisure activity is reading.
According to Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Keep watching the students of Bedford County, and eagles won’t be the only soaring that Dr. Garrett gets to witness. -GN