Gill Shines Light on Educational ‘Bright Spot’ in Tennessee and How Teacher Twjauna Williams at Maplewood High is Making a Difference


This Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – Gill talks about an educational ‘bright spot’ in Tennessee’s public school system he found at Maplewood High School. He describes how teacher Twjauna Williams is making a difference by leading the charge of incorporating the private and public business sectors to train and prepare high school students for the workforce right after graduation. Gill asked why this program was not being duplicated throughout the state and the nation.

Towards the end of the segment, Gill was disappointed to learn that legislators and metro council members were unaware of the program and urged current mayoral candidates and school board members to stand up and take notice ensuring that Miss Williams and the kids at Maplewood High continue to get the support they need.

Gill: Yesterday I had the opportunity to go out to Maplewood High School. Now when you look at the schools in Metro Nashville Public School system. Maplewood consistently ranks as one of the lowest. One of the worst-performing in terms of graduation rates in terms of test scores. And Gra-mar, which is the middle school next door, is not much better. It’s an impoverished neighborhood.

You’ve got a lot of kids that really don’t want to be in school. In the absence of teachers that are providing the right kind of leadership. They’re not performing in their classrooms. They’re not even showing up in the classrooms. And other than those bright spots, and there are some extraordinarily dedicated teachers who are reaching some of these kids.

We’re losing these kids to the streets. We’re losing these kids to drugs. We’re losing these kids to crime. But at Maplewood High School. Again, one of the worst schools, if you look statistically in Nashville, there is a very bright spot. And there is a superstar, rock star teacher out there, TJ Williams. Twjauna Williams who teaches automotive mechanics.

Now about four years ago, Bridgestone-Firestone, Firestone in particular, which is owned by Bridgestone, Firestone set up a service center and put money in to help not only train these kids to become auto mechanics. To get their certifications. To get their qualifications to literally move right from high school into the workforce. And not just going out to one of the quick-change deals where they’re going to change your oil.

To actually get the certifications and get the training to be auto mechanics. And Firestone, to their credit, has put several hundred thousands of dollars behind this. They have a complete automotive center. They’re teaching kids everything from the marketing to the greeting of customers. Getting their hands into the innards of cars and repairing them and fixing them.

Everything from repairing breaks. To changing tires. To rotating tires. To balancing tires. All this, right there on the campus at Maplewood High School. And Interstate Batteries have provided them with batteries that they can then change out batteries. It is literally a Firestone service shop. And the money generated there if you get your car fixed or get some work done the money flows into continuing this program.

It is a shame that it’s not getting more attention because there are a lot of stories about how bad the schools are doing in Nashville. And here’s a bright spot that really deserves some attention. So I was pleased with Lonnie Spivack from American Paper and Twine has been supportive of the program out there. And I just want to say, it is an amazing program that is producing real results.

Now there are other school systems around the country who kind of tried to copy this blueprint. But what they lack is Twjuana Williams who’s the teacher. She is a spark plug who is actually a driving force. Who cares enough about these kids to do whatever it takes to keep this program alive and thriving.

And if you’re looking for a program that works, we hear Governor Bill Lee talk a lot about creating these private/public partnerships to train kids that may not be a great fit for college. To get the training, whether it’s in HVAC. Whether it’s in welding or auto mechanics. You have a program that’s working right here in Nashville.

And hopefully, the Governor and his team will go out and spend some time learning a little about what’s working here and how it might be replicated. I talked several months ago about that in New York at LaGuardia, they have a high school program at LaGuardia airport where they’re teaching high school kids to learn the basic skills of being able to do aircraft maintenance.

Everything from making sure that the seats will go to their upright position. The tray tables will go up and come down. Fixing windows. Fixing other parts of airplanes. And these kids are literally at the airport learning the skills at the airport that will transfer right to the workforce when they get out of high school. Why wouldn’t we see the same sort of program implemented say in Memphis where you have FedEx?

Why wouldn’t FedEx do a similar program, copy that program? It just takes some leadership. Again the Governor and his team talk a lot about creating these private/public partnerships. Well, you’ve got one that’s working extraordinarily well.  Doesn’t get much attention. Doesn’t have the resources that they could use. But it’s working and working well.

And over the last several years, many kids who might otherwise have gone on to the streets. Be unemployed. Maybe be caught up in crime are getting jobs. Good jobs because they’re getting the training in high school. And again, thanks to Bridgestone-Firestone for stepping up and providing the leadership.

And Interstate Battery and others that are providing the resources and assistance to get things done. Again, I hope it will get some attention. More importantly, I hope the Governor and his team will go spend some time and learn more about what they’re doing at Maplewood High School with Twjuana Williams and her folks at the Firestone Service Center/Training Center, right there at Maplewood High School.

Again, these are high school students. They’re sophomores and juniors, seniors, and many of them plan to go to work right out of the high school graduation line. Going right to work for Firestone. Making a lot more money than they would make working maybe fast food somewhere. Again, it’s a program that’s working and I’m happy to give it a little bit of attention and encourage you to find out a little bit more.

If you want to be helpful, you can drive by and let them take care of rotating your tires. Balancing your tires. Changing your tires out. Getting your brakes done. Getting your spark plugs changed. Getting an oil change. They can do the work right there at the school and they have a full-service center including an intake counter where they learn how to handle customers. How to do marketing. All that sort of thing.

Again, some good news that doesn’t get much attention. Hopefully, it will get a little more attention. I talked to a legislator yesterday, had no clue this program even existed. Metro Council members aren’t even,  I don’t know if the school board is aware this program exists. It’s actually making a difference and should be replicated at other locations around the country. It just takes the leadership and the vision and somebody as dedicated as Miss Williams.

By the way, she was born at Elmendorf Airforce Base. We were talking and she’s a military brat like me. We were at Elmendorf in Anchorage Alaska when I was a kid.  That’s where she was born. She’s got that air force brat/service background in her DNA as well which is not surprising that she’s providing service in a unique way in a community that needs all the creativity and all the innovation and all the outside the box thinking.

And hopefully will continue to get the support not only from the administration there at Maplewood High School but from the school board. I would encourage members of the local school board. Members of the Metro Council and mayoral candidates like Cooper and Briley to go check this out and see what you can do to make sure she and her students are getting the support they need but the encouragement. Just the ‘atta boys’ that they deserve and that somebody’s paying attention and recognizing that they’re doing a great job.

Maplewood High School, kudos for that program you’ve got in place.

Listen to the full hour:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Maplewood High School Auto Shop” by Maplewood High School.







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