We’d like to take a minute to get to know our Executive Director here at High Hopes, Gail Powell! We sat down with Gail to pick her brain about herself, her job, and her involvement with High Hopes.
Gail has been with High Hopes for several years. She lives in Franklin with her husband Ben, and together they have three children: two sons Cary and Cayce, and one daughter Kimberly. With 9 grandchildren to boot, they have a large family. Gail loves it, she says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Gail and Ben are active in their church, where Gail served on the preschool board for about ten years, and both have really grown roots in the Franklin community.
Gail is originally from Amarillo, Texas. She studied near her hometown, and lived and worked there for many years. Then one day she got a letter from Battleground Academy, informing her they were seeking a new Lower School principal.
She was surprised, to say the least. “I went, ‘What in the world?’ I called Battleground Academy and said, ‘We’re not interested in moving to Tennessee.’ But God had other plans.”
Attending West Texas A&M University, Gail received her undergraduate degree in Education, as well as a special endorsement in early childhood. She later went on to complete a Masters in Administration, with an additional certification in supervision.
Before coming to High Hopes, Gail was a principal for 19 years. For 10 years, she was principal of a public school that had a large number of children who were in special ed. She “loved it! I did about 100 IEP meetings a year. We had two preschool classrooms for children who had… complex needs… We had a wonderful staff who embraced these children."
Gail was also a teacher. She taught kindergarten, as well as 1st, 5th, and 6th grades in public school in Texas. For a time, she also worked at the school administration building. During that time, she was the kindergarten coordinator for the entire district, and she worked with curriculum, and with teachers who taught language arts and reading.
Once in Tennessee, Gail spent 9 years as the Lower School principal at BGA. “It was very different being in a private school, but it was good to have that experience.” She says those 9 years also exposed her to a lot of people in the Franklin community.
After explaining this impressive resume, Gail adds, “I feel like all of it has been pointing to where I am now. It’s all pointed to this place. Kids have been my life. And this is the cherry on top of my career, getting to do this… This is a big deal, to work with these kids and families.”
Gail began her career at High Hopes on June 11, 2007. That’s a little over 10 years to her credit. “High Hopes has changed a little bit,” she says with a laugh.
When it comes to her role here, Gail explains that she is the High Hopes Board’s only employee. All other employees fall under her authority.
“Everything day-to-day is my responsibility. Strategic planning – strategic vision – for the organization really rests right here.” She helps with fundraising. She manages and develops the budget. The directors within the High Hopes organization report to her, along with a few other departments.
She’s very involved in the community. “I feel that sharing High Hopes in the community is crucial,” she says.
Because of that conviction, Gail serves on the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce Board. In fact, she is the Secretary for the chamber, Williamson, Inc. She was the first non-profit business leader on the Board for Williamson, Inc.
Gail is also on the board of Youth Leadership Franklin, a non-profit for high school student leaders to learn more about our community, and to gain experience serving and being leaders in that community. She’s been on that board for about ten years.
A typical day could be anything from leading tours of the facility to talking with donors, “just building those relationships.” A typical day could also involve conducting interviews, responding to unexpected situations, or any number of things.
But Gail says that the primary thing, besides just running the business, is simple: “I help the board keep this mission intact. And that is the most important thing.”
Gail strives to make sure that any decision that is made by anyone at High Hopes is made to advance our mission. “That’s what sets us apart. There are other clinics, there are other preschools. But if they’re a for-profit business, their bottom line is the dollar. Our bottom line is the mission. Which is the children. And making sure that as we grow and develop, that we don’t lose track of that mission.”
Since her arrival, Gail has been instrumental in the changing and development of High Hopes as a company. “Really from the beginning, my vision was: we’ve got to have our own building, a building that is designed for what we do, to invest in ourselves for the future.”
A recent count revealed that every day, there are conservatively 450 people in and out the doors of that very building she envisioned.
And the business isn’t just getting bigger. It’s getting better. “We’ve put so many things in place, the last few years, to make our finances really top of the line.” And that is a very important thing. When Gail first began in her position at High Hopes, the budget was a little over a million dollars a year, and now it is 3.5 million a year. When our expansion is finished, it will quickly increase again.
But she is humble. “The truth is: I’ve just gotten to watch it. God has transformed it. There’s no question in my mind.”
In addition to all this, Gail’s involvement with High Hopes goes deeper. She has two granddaughters enrolled in the High Hopes Preschool, one age two, and one age four. So what is it like having your grandchildren attending preschool where you work?
Well, three of her grandchildren attended BGA Lower School while she was the principal, so they grew up with their Nana there, too. But this new school with new grandchildren is “another blessing, to have the two girls here, and get to see them. Sometimes it’s like a two-minute visit during the day, but I love being able to be with them. There are memories we’ve built and connections we’ve made that you can’t get any other way.”
When asked what she has seen the preschool do for her granddaughters, Gail tells a story about her younger granddaughter Emmie. She asked two-year-old Emmie not long ago what letter her name started with. Rather than simply answering that question, Emmie spelled out her entire first name. When Gail asked her daughter Kimberly if that was something they’d been working on at home, she discovered that Emmie had learned that in her class at High Hopes.
“They’re just such a great example of what the preschool does for the children who don’t have special needs. Besides the obvious things – that they make friends with all types of children, and they learn perseverance, and they learn courage, and all that from their friends. But it is not a watered-down curriculum.”
Gail points out that the teachers at High Hopes are very good at modifying that curriculum for all students. She tells another story of the older granddaughter Kennedy, planning a pretend birthday party. As Kennedy listed off all the friends she wanted to invite, Gail noticed that the list included all of her friends from her class. “They are all her friends,” Gail says. “We cannot pay for that. That’s a blessing she will always have. And Emmie too.”
As she goes on, Gail admits that selfishly, she loves seeing the girls every day, but really she’s glad for what they are learning here. The affectionate grandmother adds, “I can’t give a greater endorsement to the preschool, than to have those two little girls here.”
So how does our fearless leader like to spend her time outside of High Hopes? Well, she tells us of a cabin in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, one that’s been in their family since 1962. “It’s addictive,” she enthuses. “Part of it is that bright blue sky.”
But it’s more than that. “There is something very spiritual about it to me, and it’s very renewing. For some people, that spiritual place is the beach. And for me, it’s the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico.”
She loves to spend her time there reading, hiking, and four-wheeling. The cabin provides a home away from home that remains constant for her family no matter where they may find themselves.
But she loves Tennessee, too. Her birthday is the 17th of October, so she loves the fall. “That’s my favorite time of year.” Spring holds a high second place with her, but it’s the fall that wins her love. “I think the fall is magical here, in Middle Tennessee.”
When she is asked to say what her favorite thing is about working at High Hopes, she does not hesitate to answer. “Probably my greatest joy in what I get to do, is watching what God does with the children. They are the courageous ones. They are the ones who are literally taking steps and hitting milestones that some might have thought would never happen. These are God’s little angels.”
She is dedicated to serving these “little angels.” Gail has received two consecutive Williamson County Impact Awards while serving as the Executive Director of High Hopes Development Center, as well as receiving a Women of Influence award in February of last year. Under her leadership, High Hopes has opened its own unique facility and is undergoing an expansion. High Hopes was also designated a Top Workplace of Tennessee in 2017 while under her management.
We could not be more grateful to have Gail’s continuing influence and strong leadership at the helm as we move forward into this new year of High Hopes for kids!