This week, we were proud to announce the promotions of Emmett Denson and Lynzie Smith, who are both taking the roles of Director of Schools in Nashville and Jackson respectively beginning on June 21. The following is a conversation between Mr. Denson, Mrs. Smith, and Laurie Brown, RePublic’s Chief of Staff. Responses were edited lightly for both length and content:
LB: So happy to get the chance to sit down with the both of you and learn more about you as you enter into the role of Director of Schools for Jackson and Nashville. I guess the first question I’ll ask is, how did you get into education? Where and how did your journey start?
LS: I was working in accounting. While I was gaining success in my work life, I felt no real purpose. After connecting with a friend, she suggested I try an Americorps program to teach scholars in rural areas. I did and it was there that I found my calling—planting myself in places where quality education was not an option yet, and becoming part of the solution. I fell in love with serving my Black community by teaching Black scholars the skills and knowledge they need to unlock the dreams and hopes they have for themselves.
ED: I was drawn into education by the opportunity to positively shape and mold the lives of young people. I was not the student voted most likely to be successful and felt at many times that many adults in the schools that I attended did not put forth the effort to go the extra mile for me. But I was also blessed with an equal number of helpers positioned along my path that valued and pushed me to be my best and I wanted to be that guidepost for the children that I served.
LB: It seems like you both have alignment around wanting to open doors and guide our future. So since you have started in education at RePublic, you’ve had different roles in the organization: teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, principal – and you’ve seen success in each of these roles. What excites you most about becoming Director of Schools in Jackson and Nashville?
ED: Yeah, this is an exciting and unique opportunity for me. All of the roles that you named have been in Jackson so moving to Nashville is a bittersweet opportunity. I am grateful for the opportunity to join and work alongside the Nashville team as they embark upon making our mission a living reality for the scholars in Nashville. The opportunity to work with this dynamic team and earn their trust and confidence is one of the most important things to me as I look forward to this new role.
LS: I agree with the desire to earn the trust and confidence of our region’s staff, scholars, and families. While I have been in Jackson, this role allows me to impact even more people. In my current role as principal for Smilow Prep for the last four years, I have had a chance to create and bring to life the vision I had for my school. I consider myself a visionary. Now, what excites me is to extend that impact beyond the scholars in my building, and to work with amazing principals in the regions to bring their visions to life at their schools for their scholars, ultimately producing one larger vision of a high performing and highly sought after region and network of schools in the communities we serve.
ED: I agree with all of that. I look forward to the opportunities to learn more about my principals’ vision for their schools as well as share the overall vision I have for the staff, scholars and family experience in Nashville.
LB: You both talked about vision in your responses which this role calls on you to lean on quite a bit. Beyond having a vision, what do you hope to accomplish in your role?
ED: I want to start by saying a lot has already been accomplished in Nashville. I hope that I can continue to build upon the great work that many stakeholders in the Nashville school community have already done. I hope first to make sure our scholars are receiving the high level of education they deserve. I also hope to help shape network structures in order to allow teammates to know that they are always heard and valued.
LS: I completely agree with that. High-performing schools that cultivate within scholars leaders that are not only able to attend the college of their choice, but also are deeply dedicated to the community from which they come.
LB: This is the first time in our organization’s history that we will have a director of schools in Nashville and Jackson. To have both of these roles filled by Black leaders is meaningful to many both inside and outside of the organization. When you think about your identity as a Black woman and a Black man, what do you think this means for RePublic in the next few years?
LS: Thanks for bringing this up. This is something I am really proud of. I’ve had many principal managers. They were white men, white women, and black men from other states. Never a Black woman from Jackson, Mississippi. I’m the first Black woman Jacksonian to coach and manage principals in RePublic history— and this is a region full of black women from the South! It excites me because I know in my life, representation mattered to me. It signaled to me a clear path of possible upward mobility. It signaled hope for my dreams. And representation matters to the RePublic staff and the children that we serve. I see the thoughtfulness around representation setting RePublic apart from other organizations that are led by a majority of White people. It demonstrates to other networks that the journey of leading for racial equity (one of our core values) is just as internal for organizations as it is external and wholly possible when privilege is set aside.
ED: I want to start my response by acknowledging this historic accomplishment of Lynzie as our first Black woman Director of Schools. Her story and her pursuit of excellence is a tremendous inspiration for not only myself but also for young black girls throughout the South that are striving to achieve their dreams. For me, I believe that my identity as a Black man is evidence that RePublic is on the path to becoming a place where diverse voices are desired and brought to the table and included in decision making. My hope is that this will signal a pivot to allowing data and results to drive decision-making and eventually eliminate decision-making processes, narratives, and mindsets that allow for subconscious bias. My hope is that it will not be merely enough to just have Black leaders in these positions, but also that we will be intentionally empowered and entrusted with decision-making authority and be living examples of what inclusiveness looks like. I think it is my responsibility to be cautiously optimistic in knowing that being at the table is only half the battle if we truly want to LEAD on racial equity. The other half is knowing that teammates are intentionally looking to partner with and build relationships with you and that we are trusted with the authority to set and execute our vision for excellence in each prospective region.
LB: You both have been deans together, assistant principals, principals and now directors of schools! You’ve spent a good deal of time working together in similar roles. I’m interested, when you think about our core values, what core value do you think the other shines the brightest in?
ED: The core value that best represents Lynzie is Become Better Together. Lynzie has exhibited this core value since my first day in this organization. Since day one she has always come alongside me and pushed my thinking but also been an open resource that helped me make it through some TOUGH times. She has represented this core value as a person even before this became an official core value and I am eternally grateful for her and look forward to our next chapter together as director of schools.
LS: Strive for Excellence comes to mind immediately. From the day I met Emmett I’ve known him to be extremely thoughtful, strategic, and driven. He’s a leader that never settles for #2, yet being #1 is more than a trophy for him. It’s an indicator that he is one step closer to leading a school that delivers the very best education for scholars and the very best experience for families. He’s always in pursuit of excellence, even after he achieves it in most people’s eyes. Emmett dedicates his time, sweat, and tears to making sure our scholars are #1. I am glad that we can partner on this journey together. I am excited about what we will be able to accomplish together.
LB: Lastly, what is one lesson from principalship you will take into this new role as Director of Schools?
ED: Being a principal has taught me that kids win when we empower the experts to define and execute the vision for the school. Accompanying this is an understanding that the experts are the educators that are on the front lines that put it on the line every single day for our scholars. I am going to keep that same level of commitment by putting it on the line every single day for our scholars.
LS: To add to that, I would say one thing that is particularly top of mind for me is to love on, care for, and provide for the PEOPLE within the community—staff, students, and their families.