When Dr. Theowauna Hatchett takes a moment to examine her life — personally and professionally — she immediately thinks about the people who influenced her the most.
Teachers and coaches.
"I've always been in prayer," Hatchett said, "and asking the Lord to guide me."
She added, "I look at where I'm at and it's because of those teachers and coaches who actually invested in me, who drove me home after school every day, who made sure I was still on the basketball team, and when things might not have been going right at home, they made sure that I was taken care of.
"And I think that's what has helped me to be so successful."
Hatchett, who grew up in Rutherford County and attended Roy Waldron, LaVergne Primary and LaVergne High School, was recently named the new principal at Smyrna Middle School.
A week earlier, she and Dr. Mark Gonyea were named to a one-year fellowship as part of the Tennessee Governor's Academy of School Leadership.
Hatchett and Gonyea are two of the 20-25 administrators from throughout the state who will participate in the program.
Gonyea is an assistant principal for Smyrna Primary School.
Hatchett was an assistant principal for Stewarts Creek High School, at the time she applied for the fellowship, but was named to her new position afterward. She still plans to participate in the Governor's Academy.
"It's a great honor," Hatchett said, "and I'm excited to be part of it."
In addition to meeting once a month as a group with all the fellows, Hatchett will spend three days a month at Blackman High School working with her mentor, Dr. Leisa Justus.
Gonyea will spend three days a month at Thurman Francis Arts Academy working with Jeff McCann.
"I (am) very excited just for the opportunity to be able to get to be developed through this program," Gonyea said, "and also get to collaborate and interact with other administrators across the state."
He later added, "I'm constantly trying to get better at what I do and so this is an opportunity for me … to interact with a network and collaborate with other administrators across the state, get cutting-edge information on how to be an effective school leader."
Gonyea admitted that as recent as five years ago, he had no desire to become an administrator.
He got into teaching because he wanted to make an impact in the classroom.
That all changed when he began teaching math at the newly opened Stewarts Creek High School. Gonyea was named department chair and, for the first time as an educator, he found himself in a leadership role.
"It dawned on me," he recalled, "I can make an impact on teachers who make an impact on students, so I get a bigger, broader scope of making an impact in the school."
As a former wrestling coach, Gonyea sees his administrative style as "a teacher's teacher."
"Somebody to help them become the most effective teacher they can be," he explained.
"I'm also very engaged with our students. Every morning I'm talking with students as they walk in and shaking their hands and greeting them. I walk through the cafeteria frequently to make sure they see me. I love being around kids and love working with students."
The same holds true for Hatchett.
"I love people and I want to help," Hatchett said. "I want people to be great and I think with me being their leader, I'm able to kind of create that environment to make sure that students get what's best for them and educating all their needs, not just academically. Obviously, we want to address that, but there are so many other things that kids are dealing with and I want a staff that (relates to them)."
In her role as an assistant principal at Stewarts Creeks, Hatchett oversaw the special education program, career and technical education and math department. She was also the safety coordinator and the textbook coordinator. She oversaw any task related to opening — mentoring program, freshmen orientation and anything related to handbooks — and closing each school year.
She also teamed up with the school counselor and worked together with a section of at-risk students.
"We have a great intervention team," Hatchett said, "just kind of identifying weaknesses, looking at grades, data and just making sure we're doing what's best for that student."
Hatchett will bring that same approach to Smyrna Middle.
And much like Gonyea, she is looking forward to collaborating with administrators from throughout the state.
"I can get a different perspective of how a school is ran," Hatchett said. "It's always good to have another way or see how things are done differently."
"It's neat that I've gotten to see education from kindergarten all the way up to (advanced placement) calculus as a senior for students," said Gonyea, who knew he was going to pursue teaching before he ever reached high school.
He concluded, "Not just relying on my own knowledge but to constantly be looking for more and more ways to get better and better and not me to get better for me, but for me to get better for my students because ultimately I want my students to be the best they can be."
- Keith Ryan Cartwright
Main photo: Dr. Theowauna Hatchett with a student; Second photo: Dr. Mark Gonyea