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‘Competitiveness Never Goes Away’

August 22, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

As a young girl, Kay (Francis) Martin would gather all of her stuffed animals into one area and then arrange them as if they were kids in a classroom.

Of course, she played the role of teacher.

Years later, pretend became a reality.

Dr. Kay Martin has been an educator for the past 18 years, including 11 in administration.

Earlier this summer, Martin was named the secondary coordinator for Rutherford County Schools. In her new role, Martin works with the county’s high schools to help serve their educational needs, while advocating on their behalf at the central office.

She also serves as the adult education principal, oversees online course and the credit recovery program as well as helping with the selection of textbooks.

“I’ve always had that passion of wanting to be a teacher ever since I can remember,” said Martin, who taught Language Arts at Walter J. Baird School before joining Siegel Middle and later LaVergne Middle.

Martin also served as an assistant principal at LaVergne Middle before becoming principal at Walter Hill Elementary and later an assistant principal at Central Magnet for the past four years.

She added, “I definitely want to be in the schools and in the classrooms as much as possible. As an instructional leader that’s my responsibility. How can I make instructional decisions for the school (if) I’m not in the classroom?” 

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Martin is the younger of two daughters.

Her parents, Bobby and Brenda Francis, taught her the value of hard work at a young age. Bobby was a lineman for Murfreesboro Electric, while Brenda, who was part of the first ever nursing school graduates at Middle Tennessee State University, was a nurse.

Both daughters – Kay and her older sister Kim – saw their parents work hard for everything they had.

Nothing was a given, especially when it came to the competitiveness of siblings.

They would compete to be the first in everything at home and in sports. They would constantly see who could make the most jump shots in 30 seconds. Never mind the toughness they displayed playing against one another in one-on-one drills.

“I don’t know that, that competitiveness ever goes away,” Kay said.

She brought that grit, determination and disciplined work ethic to the classroom as a student and later as an educator.

In the classroom, teachers and administrators were among the most influential people in her life.

In fact, it’s because of people like Cheryl Craig, Judy Sides, Jennifer Grandstaff and others who cemented Martin’s childhood dream of pursuing her own career in education. Along the way Lewis Bivens and current school board members Jeff Jordan and Jim Estes also made an impact on Martin’s life.

“I have been so blessed,” said Martin, of the teachers, administrators, coaches and adults who have positively impacted her life.

When talking about Craig and Sides, Martin said, “They left impressions on our hearts.”

“Ms. Craig made an impression on me that, now as a 40-year-old, still goes with me every day,” Martin continued. “I hope she knows the impact she’s made. I’ve tried to tell her.”

They both attend North Boulevard Church of Christ.

Periodically Martin will introduce her two children – McLane and Reese – to Craig, a now retired educator who taught at Reeves Rogers Elementary, as “the best teacher there ever was.”

“She is why I am an educator,” Martin pointedly said.

Martin felt the same way about Sides, who taught at Oakland High School.

“I knew that she cared about me,” Martin said. “Teachers and the impact they have on their students cannot be measured.”

Martin attended Reeves Rogers and Central Middle School, where she met Jordan who is currently chairman of the school board. She volunteered to keep stats for him when he called the play-by-play for area basketball games on WGNS.

At Oakland, Martin excelled academically and hustled to earn a spot in the starting lineup for the girl’s varsity basketball team. Her coach, Grandstaff, made a life-long impression on her.

“Coach Grandstaff had high expectations for every player on the team,” Martin said. “She demanded that each player give her best both in practice and in games.

“She reinforced the idea that nothing can replace hard work.”

Martin wasn’t the tallest or the strongest player on the team.

She wasn’t the most athletic either.

But, like her parents, she employed a work ethic that was second to none. Martin said, “No one was going to work harder than me.”

That’s how she eventually earned a spot on the women’s basketball team as a walk-on at MTSU.

Midway through her freshman season with the Lady Raiders, Bivens offered her full scholarship even though she was redshirting and wouldn’t play until the following season. It was a scholarship-heavy roster loaded with seniors and Martin said Bivens could have easily used that scholarship toward his next recruiting class.

Instead he rewarded Martin for her hard work.

“That’s the type of man he is,” said Martin, of Bivens, whom she is still in contact with. “It feels really good to be rewarded for your hard work—that he saw it, acknowledged it and saw value in me enough to give me a scholarship.”

Martin, who then played two seasons and was named to the Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll both years, added, “Sports teach you a lot. They humble you when you get knocked down, but you have to make a choice. Are you going to stay down or are you going to get back up?”

Martin missed her senior season after having knee surgery.

Basketball may have ended, but the work ethic didn’t.

In fact, over the past 18 years, she’s combined her determination to work hard with the love and affection she felt from her own teachers – “they leave an impression wherever their students go” – in fostering her own career in education.

Martin brought those impressions with her to Rutherford County Schools — first as a teacher and then as an administrator.

“It’s not just about teaching skills,” said Martin, who described her time in the classroom as an opportunity to give back to her hometown community. “You have to reach a student before you can teach them. They have to know you support them. Sometimes they need a mom, a nurse, an advocate or a cheerleader.

“It truly takes a village to raise a child.”

Coincidentally Martin described schools as “miniature cities.”

Martin isn’t the only educator in her family.

Her husband Brad is a physical education teacher at Brown’s Chapel Elementary School and helps coach the middle school boys basketball team at Central Magnet, while Kim and husband Floyd Walker are also teaching in Rutherford County Schools.

However, it was LaVergne principal Dirk Ash who encouraged Martin to pursue administrative positives and ultimately earn her Doctorate of Education in Leading Organizations and Strategic Change from Lipscomb University.

“When you first leave the classroom you worry about missing the children,” Martin admitted. “For 18 years I’ve interacted with children all day long. They’re really the highlight of my day. … I can always go sit down with a kid for 10 minutes and the world is put back into perspective.”

She added, “I gave birth to two kids and then I’ve had thousands of other kids during my 18 years (in education).”

PRIMARY PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
SECONDARY PHOTOS / PROVIDED