Rutherford County Schools

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August 13, 2018

Rutherford County Schools

The entrance to Blackman Middle School bothered Dr. Amy Connifey-Marlin.

As the new principal for the school, she felt the exterior walls and sidewalks weren’t as inviting or tidy as they should be, especially considering the school — which first opened in 2002 — is a relatively modern building.

“It was dirty and it was the first impression that people saw when they entered the building,” Connifey-Marlin said.

So over the summer, the principal and her assistant principals decided they would roll-up their sleeves, roll out the garden hoses, and do something about it. 

Connifey-Marlin and new Assistant Principal Jessica Jackson hauled out the ladders and used exterior cleaner to hose off the outside of the entrance, while Assistant Principal Seth Burt took a pressure-washer to the sidewalks and concrete. 

“You just do what needs to be done,” said Connifey-Marlin, explaining why she didn’t simply turn in a maintenance request. “It was important to me because I want students and parents to come back, see a change and have pride.”

The administration team at Blackman Middle isn’t the only crew that spent part of the summer break sprucing up their schools to prepare for students and the new school year. 

At McFadden School of Excellence, a K-5 magnet school in Murfreesboro, students returned last week to find new paint jobs in seven classrooms, four bathrooms, the main hallway and the front doors. One of those bathrooms features a new mural with the silhouette of a horse galloping, which symbolizes the school’s Mustang mascot. 

Principal Dr. Clark Blair says multiple teachers donated their time to assist him and Assistant Principal M’Lisa Miffleton with the projects, which included painting, scrubbing and trimming. 

“We’ve done power-washing to trimming bushes; whatever was needed,” Blair said. 

At Smyrna Primary, students were greeted with a colorful transformation throughout the building. 

It’s first evident at the front entrance, where the school staff has added a mural that reads “I Believe In Smyrna Primary.”

“We believe that first impressions are lasting impressions,” Principal Felicia James said of the new mural. “With that in mind, we want your first impression of SPS to be a great one.”

Max Larsen, the son of School Resource Officer Jeff DeGennero, renovated a courtyard at the school for his Eagle Scout project, and Hunter Pierce, a former wrestler of Assistant Principal Dr. Mark Gonyea, worked with Helping Hands Home Improvements to remove overgrown shrubs and stumps and then replaced them with new mulch, stones and flowers. 

Since James and Gonyea came aboard as the new administrators at the school last year, Smyrna Primary has implemented several strategies gleaned from the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. One of those initiatives is the “House” system, which involves separating teachers and students into four groups that work together and support each other throughout the school year. 

As part of that initiative, the principals and faculty worked last year to paint the crests for those houses on the interior hallways. Doing so added some much-needed color to the gray walls. 

But over the summer, they continued that concept and others got on board, James said. 

They’ve added colorful strips and shapes to the hallways and in the cafeteria. The art teacher outlined the design on the walls, and then staff members filled them in with bright oranges, yellows, greens and blues. 

“Last year, we heard from our staff that we need more colors on the walls,” James explained. “We wanted to brighten the place up and make it a place students want to come. 

“This summer a child of one of our faculty members was visiting with her mom,” James continued. “She said, ‘Mom, this is so cool, I want to go to school here.’  That is the goal, creating a place they want to come.”



Smyrna Primary Principal Felicia James and Dr. Mark Gonyea stand in front of the school’s new front entrance mural, which proudly states “I Believe in Smyrna Primary School.”



(1) Max Larsen, the son of School Resource Officer Jeff DeGennero, renovated a courtyard at Smyrna Primary School for his Eagle Scout project.

(2) Administrators and teachers at Smyrna Primary School painted the crests of each of the school's "Houses" in the hallways. 

(3) The hallways include yellow, green, orange and blue shapes that were designed by the art teacher and then painted by faculty members. 

(4) Hunter Pierce, a former wrestler of Assistant Principal Dr. Mark Gonyea at Smyrna Primary, worked with Helping Hands Home Improvements to remove overgrown shrubs and stumps and then replaced them with new mulch, stones and flowers. 

(5) The administration and faculty volunteers repainted the main hallway at McFadden School of Excellence including the motto "Excellent Effort."

(6) The silhouette of galloping horse, symbolizing the McFadden's Mustang mascot, was added to the common sink area of one set of bathrooms. 

(7) New Blackman Middle Principal Dr. Amy Connifey-Marlin uses exterior wash to clean the front walls of the entrance. 

(8) Assistant Principal Jessica Johnson uses a ladder to help wash the exterior of the school. 

(9) Assistant Principal Seth Burt pressure-washes the sidewalks and concrete areas outside the school's entrance.