Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Tina Francis Hodges
The greatest deeds often take place when no one’s looking.
For 2023 Putnam County Principal of the Year and Influential Person Tina Francis Hodges, the most important triumphs have happened in the shadows.
No onlookers, no fanfare, just selfless living.
Tina serves at Jere Whitson, a school with an English Second Language (ESL) population of more than 85%. Practically, this creates challenges as most Jere Whitson parents are first or second-generation immigrants, many of whom weren’t afforded the educational luxuries in their home countries that we experience here. The simplest communication can prove difficult, but to Tina, the bigger the obstacle, the more powerful the opportunity.
She beamed with pride discussing her students, parents, teachers, and staff.
“Teaching in itself is challenging. It’s hard dealing with children living in poverty. They haven’t had the experience or sometimes even the nutrition that other children have been given. Then there is often a language barrier. Working here is harder than being in a regular American classroom because our kids’ needs are so great.” She continued, “Many of the things we face can’t be fixed by money. It takes hard work, dedication, and love for these kids. Our teachers love our students well. They give them the tools they need to close their educational gaps and push them to take their learning and maximize it.”
Tina’s methods and passion quickly proved effective as in just her second year as principal, the school moved from one of the 10 most at-risk in Tennessee to being named a Reward School. This distinction means that Jere Whitson was in the top 10 for educational growth amongst all public schools across the entire state in 2022.
Bottom-10 to top-10, in one year.
An achievement like this is only accomplished through a unified effort between faculty, staff, parents, and students. It’s a staggering victory born of genuine care for reimagining futures and opening doors for this generation of Jere Whitson children.
“We had to change our mindset to believe that they CAN reach these goals. We had to have a shared, focused belief to reach what, at that point, seemed almost impossible goals.” She elaborated, “We decided to commit to one year of pushing more than we ever had here before. We were challenging the students to give their very best. Our teachers got behind it and attacked the educational gaps with ferocity, unity, and resilience. That year, we became a Tennessee Reward school.”
Tina has a heart ablaze for the children at Jere Whitson.
If you give this amazing woman, who has dedicated an entire 35-year career to the students of Cookeville, just five minutes, you’ll hear it in her voice and see it in tear-filled eyes as she talks about ways to better love the often overlooked, marginalized, and underserved children and parents within her reach.
Like them, Tina has spent most of her life living, giving, and doing good without accolades or attention.
One short article can’t possibly hope to even the score, but, with everything in us, Cookeville Lifestyle celebrates all that is the incredible, influential Tina Francis Hodges.
– by Andrew Buckner, photos by Cris Stroud