Continuing our round robin of High Hopes’s esteemed directors, the spotlight now shines on the last of these fearless leaders: Melanie Anderson, our Director of Educational Services.
This very day, as we publish this spotlight, Melanie celebrates six years of employment with High Hopes, having served the vast majority of that time in her current role.
Our Director of Educational Services hitting the six-year anniversary milestone is important not only for Melanie, but for High Hopes overall. Melanie has remained the Director of Educational Services longer than any other who held the position in the last 15 years.
During her time as Director, Melanie has implemented many new programs and protocols to enhance the preschool, fostered a supportive and fun-filled working environment, and completed a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management at Lipscomb University without ever missing a day.
Born and raised in Middle Tennessee, Melanie makes her home in Smyrna with her husband Darryl. Together they have two sons, Ben and Eric, both now grown. Ben and Eric both work in management like their mom, and they now live in Indianapolis and Murfreesboro respectively.
Melanie has lived in Middle Tennessee her whole life, but she headed over to the eastern edge of Middle Tennessee to obtain her undergraduate degree. She attended Tennessee Technological University, and graduated with a dual track degree in English and Journalism, with a view towards Print Media.
After receiving her degree, Melanie worked as the managing editor for a small weekly newspaper. Recounting how everything was still very hands-on then, with newspapers still laid out by hand, Melanie says that working in that field fostered an interest in printed graphics.
So she moved on from journalism to work in the publishing industry for a time, and then, building from her experience in graphics, she ventured into graphic design. She began work for an architectural sign company, in the art department.
She tackled several different projects in that field, and after working into something of a marketing role with that company, Melanie reached what she called a crossroads in her career. She could keep her job and move to Manhattan, or she could find a new job.
Melanie decided she would rather not relocate, and began a new journey which would eventually lead to a quite successful career in the printing industry. “And then one day, I had what my husband refers to as the funniest midlife crisis ever, and I walked away from all of it.”
And that’s when Melanie began the education career that would eventually lead her to High Hopes. After leaving the printing industry, Melanie began work as a preschool teacher.
She worked for three years as a preschool teacher at Smyrna Christian School, and then spent four years at Woodmont Christian Preschool in Nashville. It was during her time at Woodmont Christian that Melanie made the transition into an administrative role on the education staff. She then spent nine years involved in higher education, working for Nations University, an online university that trains people all over the world for a career in ministry.
Melanie says she’ll never forget receiving a phone call from her friend Karen Bradfield on Valentine’s Day in 2012. Karen jumped right to the point, saying she was the Director of Educational Services at High Hopes, and she wanted Melanie to come work for her.
“She enticed me to visit,” Melanie says. “She brought me to High Hopes, and we all know what that looks like. I was done 45 seconds in. I walked in the door, and I was like, ‘Where do I sign?’”
That memorable visit was sometime in March of 2012, and Melanie began work on April 23rd, not long afterward. She began on the High Hopes administrative staff as Karen Bradfield’s assistant. Then, after Karen’s time as director came to a close, Melanie took over the position, beginning on the first day of the school year for 2012-2013.
Over the years, much has changed about High Hopes as an organization, and Melanie’s job description has changed along with it. “Visions are fluid. Visions evolve over time as the organization grows and changes.” She says her job as director is mainly to make sure that we are keeping up, and that we keep doing the right things for the right reasons. “We all share a vision for this school, and I want to make sure we keep focused on that vision, and focused on how we see it through.”
As Director for Educational Services, Melanie is responsible for the day-to-day management and leadership of the preschool, and she has brought much stability and organization into the preschool’s operations.
The management side of things mainly involves the administrative tasks that come with any childcare organization. This includes, but is not limited to licensing regulations, hiring and coordinating staff, and researching and providing training for staff, in addition to overseeing enrollment and admissions for the preschool, arranging classroom rosters, and serving as the face of the preschool in the community.
On the leadership side of things, Melanie serves as a resource and a coach for her preschool teaching team. She does her best to make sure that the children have all they need, that the teachers have all they need to provide everything the children need, and that the parents have all they need to leave their children in our hands with confidence and peace every day.
A typical day for Melanie can begin as early as 5 AM, the moment she wakes up. “You know, there are many days that I’ve had three or four phone calls and answered multiple text messages between 5 and 6 AM. And it just keeps going.”
Ultimately, it’s Melanie’s responsibility to ensure that all classrooms will have full coverage of staff-to-student ratios by the time children begin to arrive at 7 AM. “But also, it’s just being available,” Melanie adds, taking a sip of her ever-present mug of tea. “If a staff member needs me, or if a parent needs me, I’m going to be available to them whenever I can. We’re in this to support families.”
Beyond that constant communication, Melanie says a typical day is often prioritizing and re-prioritizing, hour by hour. She says there is plenty to do on any given day, so much so that the question is never, What can I do today?, but always, What can wait until another day?
Still, Melanie always finds a way to spend time in the classrooms, not only when ratios dictate a need for her, but also because she believes she cannot be effective if she doesn’t understand what’s happening in the classrooms firsthand.
And in no small part, it’s also because she wants the children to know her. “When I walk into a classroom, whether or not the children know I’m the director doesn’t matter. Whether or not they know who I am, they know my name, and they know that I care about them – that’s what I want them to feel.”
And she’s not afraid to be silly about it. Able to play the harmonica, Irish penny whistle, auto-harp, and dulcimer, Melanie is a very musical person, and she says if she’s walking through the hallway and sees a dance party going on, she’ll go right in and dance! There’s not a child in the preschool who doesn’t know “Ms. Nie!”
It’s this balance between the administrative world and the hands-on world that typifies the average day for the preschool director.
Away from High Hopes, Melanie is a self-described sports nut. Her favorite color on the Wednesday we had this interview was blue, “...but you know on the weekends, it’s orange!” She’s an avid Tennessee Volunteers fan, a Nashville Predators fan, and a Titans fan.
Melanie is also a movie buff, and often speaks in movie references and quotes. She loves historical fiction in movies, TV, and books alike, and even admits, “I’m probably one of the biggest Masterpiece Theater nerds you’ll ever meet.” But truly, she loves all movies across genres, and loves to spend her downtime taking in all kinds of films.
Also a fan of travelling, Melanie says the beach is an important getaway. Charleston is a favorite destination in the Anderson family, but she adds the caveat, “I never met a beach I didn’t love.” They are making plans to travel to Europe in the near future, too, with Italy and Scotland being top of the docket there.
Nevertheless, time at home is an important aspect of her life. Melanie emphasizes that she loves spending time with her family at home -- it's a favorite pastime for her.
But, Melanie says she also loves being here at High Hopes, even though it’s not without its challenges. She goes on to address the biggest challenge for her, which is simply the size of the wait list for the preschool. “There’s a finite number. DHS tells me how many children we can have, and that number doesn’t change. And when the waitlist grows, and grows and grows, there’s nothing I can do.”
But she says she battles that challenge by thinking of how much more we will be able to do when the expansion is complete, and also by keeping her eye on those we are able to serve. And she has a lot to say about those children and families.
“They’re amazing children. It’s just seeing what they accomplish, every day. And amazing families, families who are so committed to their children, and to their development and their education.” She says knowing that she is a very small piece of something that is so much bigger than herself is a gift, and her goal is give back every day.
That wonderful gift is what makes it easy for her to stick around. “I’m not gonna say there’s never been difficulty. But wow, the things I’ve seen, the miracles that I’ve witnessed, the fun that I’ve had in these last 6 years – there’s nothing that compares to that in my 30-plus-year career.”
Melanie’s leadership and management are crucial as we prepare to add three classrooms to our inclusive preschool, bringing more families and staff than ever before into the High Hopes community!
We are thankful to have her steady hand and purposeful leadership as we work together toward our shared vision.