California Refugee Aundrea Gomez of Center for Renewing America Describes How She Chose Tennessee as Home and Her Battle with Williamson County Schools

Live from Music Row Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee’s State Director for the Center for Renewing America, Aundrea Gomez, in-studio to describe her journey from California to Tennessee and her experience with Williamson County Schools.

Leahy: In-studio with us, Aundrea Gomez. That’s Aundrea, not Andrea. A-U-N-D-R-E-A. Aundrea is the Tennessee director for the grassroots organization Center for Renewing America.

That’s Russ Vought’s [organization], the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump. And the main agenda there is an America First agenda. I think we’re all in favor of that here on this program,

Aundrea. Now let’s continue with your story. So there you are in California. You had finally decided “we are getting out of this place.” I was going to use a descriptive term, but I’ll stay away from that. (Laughter)

You come here to Middle Tennessee for four days to check it out, and Nashville is your choice because, well, it’s a super-cool place in Tennessee. Let’s just leave it at that.

Gomez: Yes, it’s got the vibe.

Leahy: It’s got the vibe. And you’ve got two kids at this time and your husband. So what’s that four-day trip like?

Gomez: It’s just my husband and I, and we rent a car and we just start driving the outer skirts of Nashville.

Leahy: You were looking for a place to live.

Gomez: That’s right.

Leahy: Now, why are you looking in the outskirts of Nashville and not in the city proper?

Gomez: We enjoy the city, but we’re suburb people. That’s how we grew up. And we didn’t want to bring two kids into Metro Nashville, no. (Leahy chuckles)

Leahy: A good sign of intelligence there.

Gomez: Thank you.

Leahy: Okay, so you drive around. What are your observations?

Gomez: It’s gorgeous. The trees, the amount of green, which is my favorite color, it’s the best color. And it’s open. People are friendly.

Leahy: People are friendly …

Gomez: Yes.

Leahy: … in Tennessee.

Gomez: That’s right. The Mexican food here was not exactly up to par, but that was the one flaw.

Leahy: It’s not.

Gomez: That was the only flaw. (Chuckles)

Leahy: I must say, if you want, like, the best Mexican food in America, I guess it’s either …

Gomez: Mom’s house.

Leahy: … California, or it’s Texas, right. Are you into Tex-Mex?

Gomez: That’s fine. My mother-in-law’s cooking is the best.

Leahy: There you go.

Gomez: Sorry.

Leahy: You just got points with your mother-in-law.

Gomez: That’s right. If she’s listening.

Leahy: I’m sure she is.

Gomez: Is this going to be in Spanish as well?

Leahy: So then at what moment does the sky open and it becomes clear: “we must move to Middle Tennessee.”

Gomez: I think it was on the airplane home.

Leahy: Really?

Gomez: I was reading something and it was talking about why people were moving to Tennessee, and it just resonated with me. It was exactly why we had flown out here in the first place. And it was almost just like a confirmation of what I already felt.

Leahy: So you’re on the plane back, and did your husband come to the same conclusion at the same time?

Gomez: It was unanimous.

Leahy: So from the time you said “we’re moving to Tennessee” to the time you actually moved to Tennessee, how long did that take?

Gomez: A couple of weeks.

Leahy: That’s all?

Gomez: My husband had several job offers by the time we went back home.

Leahy: Really? No kidding.

Gomez: Commercial electrician. He’s a Spanish speaker.

Leahy: There you go. So he has a job offer. How long does it take you to sell your house?

Gomez: We didn’t own at the time. We were in limbo. We went home and packed.

Leahy: Went home and packed. Bought a house here?

Gomez: Yes.

Leahy: In Williamson County.

Gomez: Yes. We made an offer on a home in Spring Hill.

Leahy: So your husband has a job and you come here and you’re a teacher. What happens next?

Gomez: So at the time, I was homeschooling both of our children in California, and I intended to continue doing that when we moved here. We had to live in an extended-stay for a few weeks before we could close escrow.

And so in that time, we got connected to one of the local churches in Williamson County, and everyone started talking about the schools. They’re so amazing. They’re fantastic. It’s like a private school but without the tuition.

Leahy: This is what you were hearing?

Gomez: This is what people are telling me, yes. So I thought, you know, let’s give it a try. And, you know, I’ll put the kids in school and I can go back to work.

Leahy: So you apply for a job.

Gomez: So I put the kids in school and I started subbing in Williamson County Schools. Worked in elementary schools.

Leahy: This will be 2016.

Gomez: 2016.

Leahy: So you start subbing there.

Gomez: So I start subbing, and then I had to renew all of my certifications for teaching.

Leahy: Is that a lengthy process to go through?

Gomez: And expensive? Yes. I had a lot of tests I had to retake and a lot of practice tests. So I did all that.

Leahy: It’s starting to slide downhill, but keep rolling.

Gomez: I did all that and then started applying for jobs. And I was a really good fit for ESL – which is English as a second language – with my experience in California, working with second-language learners.

Leahy: So you get a job with Williamson County Schools. Do you teach out of an elementary school or which one do you teach out of?

Gomez: Usually you’re assigned to more than one school. So I originally was assigned to Chapman’s Retreat and Longview, and then that can change every year. So in my last year, I was at Longview and Oakview.

Leahy: And so now fast-forward to 2020. What happens?

Gomez: So COVID happens. I actually had COVID in August and recovered.

Leahy: So you had COVID in August 2020.

Gomez: That’s right. And I was getting frustrated with the masks and showing up to work and trying to do my job. It was very difficult.

Leahy: When did you have to start wearing masks in Williamson County Schools?

Gomez: When we went back in August.

Leahy: Oh, in August, yes. Okay.

Gomez: Yes.

Leahy: So you’re wearing a mask. You’ve had COVID already and had gotten over it. You’re wearing a mask. What happens next?

Gomez: I went back to the reopening plan that Williamson County Schools had for all of these restrictions and I realized that the masks were only going to go away and we were only going back to normal when there were zero cases in the community. And I thought “that’s ridiculous.”

Leahy: Or stupid – take your pick.

Gomez: Yes.

Leahy: Ridiculous. Stupid. Doesn’t make any sense.

Gomez: Wrong.

Leahy: You go back in August 22. Are you wearing a mask as you’re teaching?

Gomez: Well, yes. And I actually had permission from one of my principals to take my mask off in my office because it’s necessary for teaching English to young children.

Listen to the interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Aundrea Gomez” by Aundrea Gomez. Background Photo “Franklin, Tennessee Downtown” by Ichabod. CC BY-SA 3.0
























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