With the first semester of the newly consolidated Shelby County Schools in full swing this week, all eyes are on this mammoth system and what it might mean, if anything, for education’s progress, efficiency and reform in the Mid-South.
As the new executive director of Stand for Children Tennessee, Betty Anderson will be based in Nashville, yet she said, “there is a lot more engagement in the Memphis reform community, there are a lot of coalitions, business involvement, there’s a lot of involvement by the Gates Foundation, the Teacher (Talent) Initiative, things that Stand has been involved in before me.”
In addition, the Memphis chapter of the organization is currently without a director and is actively looking to replace Kenya Bradshaw, who left recently for a position in Texas.
Stand for Children Tennessee is part of a national network that advocates for students by affecting policy and legislation, increasing funding, improving schools and working toward solutions to the challenges affecting education today.
Anderson’s background is in education, having majored in it at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, close to her hometown of Fayetteville, Tenn. She realized early on that the classroom wasn’t the place for her, but, she said, “I never lost my interest in education.”
She moved into championing the causes of educators and the needs of students alike by taking a job with the Tennessee Education Association as editor of its monthly magazine, “Tennessee Teacher.”
Anderson moved from that position to the TEA’s lobbying political action team, where she spent seven years as chief lobbyist and political action organizer across the state. In working closely within the TEA for 10 years, she was also deeply involved with the Memphis Education Association.
When Ned McWherter was elected governor in 1987, Anderson said she “had the good fortune of being named his legislative liaison. He was the first governor to appoint a woman to that position. Of course I was thrilled and found the job I really loved.”
As such, she was responsible for training and organizing the 45 departmental lobbyists.
Anderson later attended the Nashville School of Law at night, passed the Tennessee bar, and was asked by Memphis-based law firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC to head up its Public Policy Group, where she represented the Tennessee Charter Schools Association and other nonprofit organizations.
“I stayed with them almost 11 years and in September of 2011, I stepped out of Baker Donelson and decided, after all these years, to go at an easier pace and primarily work with clients as a consultant and strategist on legislative activity and state government overall,” she said.
She continued to work with the charter schools organization as well as Microsoft and the health care industry in Memphis.
Of this ample experience and its role in Stand for Children, she said, “I couldn’t have been better prepared for this offer because in everything I’ve done, my interest has always been education and kids.”
The divorced mother of son Chris Anderson, an attorney with the Nashville office of Littler Mendelson, and two granddaughters in the city’s public school system, Anderson was looking forward to retirement, that easier pace, when she was recruited to head Stand for Children.
“I’m excited about this change,” she said.
And she’s looking forward to the challenge of the organization’s broader mission of furthering educational reform in the state as well as current issues such as protection of the Common Core curriculum, a set of state educational standards mandated by the federal government.
Anderson plans to spend plenty of time in Memphis working toward the organization’s goals but is impressed already with what she’s seen here.
“I think probably the involvement of education reform advocates like Stand and others, and even local groups that are intricate to those communities such as the Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Memphis, you’ve got a lot of those involved … there seems to be a community interest that exists in Memphis that I find very energizing,” she said. “There’s hardly anybody I talk to in Memphis who is not on board with improving the education system and the lives of kids in Memphis.”