#MNPSVoices: Mary Holland

#MNPSVoices: Dr. Mary Holland, Assistant Principal, Stratton Elementary
Posted on 05/06/2021
Mary Holland
Mary Holland has a long trajectory of developing and implementing innovative ways of reaching out and empowering students and families.

She owes her success as an educator to a number of factors, including her broad life perspectives accrued through her resilient upbringing, education, and living in a foreign country. Mary Holland

“I often describe my childhood as being a ‘kid from a hard place.’ I grew up in a big family with all brothers. I lost both of my parents in my childhood,” Holland said.

“Because we were a big family of siblings, we were all separated when my parents died. As a child, life consisted of stress, loss, grief, foster homes, feelings of not belonging, and low academics resulting from lack of opportunities. However, because of loving relationships though a foster home and a couple of teachers, I succeeded in being the first to graduate from high school in my family and go to college.”

Holland and her husband moved with their very small children to Brazil as an opportunity to work overseas. They lived there for 10 years. Their children spoke no Portuguese when they entered their neighborhood school for kindergarten and preschool.

“My husband and I spent the first year learning Portuguese. We made many mistakes in the language, used our children as translators at the doctor or a school function, and couldn’t help our kids with their homework because it was too hard for us; yet we were committed to making this country, Brazil, our home. Starting over in a culture outside of what you’ve always known is difficult, but we decided to stay there because of their people and the amazing community we came to know as our lifeline, our family.”

Holland taught in an international American School the last 4 years while in Brazil. The school was very diverse, with students from all over the world.

“When we resettled in Nashville in 2001, I was pleasantly surprised to see Nashville with students from all over the world,” she said. “I moved to Brazil with the essentials I needed and opportunities to embrace a new culture and language. Many of our EL families come from hard places lacking resources, opportunities, and often the essentials needed to be successful. I was eager to create a supportive community through our local school that would make a difference for all students.”

Holland started her career in MNPS as a 5th grade teacher coaching soccer and track. She moved to an elementary school to teach fourth grade and then became a family involvement specialist for her school and did several trainings in MNPS and other venues for several years.

“Partnering with the entire family in education has been a focus of my work. I believe all parents want their children to be educated and have opportunities of happiness and fulfillment,” Holland said. “When I created opportunities for parents to be involved, whether that was a family event, health clinic, adult English classes, student celebration, family TCAP nights, sports event, or even cooking classes, we never lacked for participation. I wanted our school to be the hub of learning for all, parents and students.”

Now, as an administrator, Holland understands fully how community positively impacts school culture, student growth and achievement, student behavior, and even mobility rate.

“Many times, people say school cannot do everything, and this is probably true,” she said. “But we can be a hub for lifeline connections that make education meaningful, life-changing, and a community of partnerships for our students and their families.

“I always thought my life was different than most people. When I entered public education, I found my life was very relatable to the students whom I serve. MNPS’s mantra of Every Student Known is essential for student success, especially because many of our students are children from hard places who lack opportunities but can be encouraged by positive relationships. I’m a walking testament.”

When asked to what extent the pandemic has impacted her personal and/or professional life, Holland said, “The pandemic forced me to communicate and connect with families on different levels. At our school, we had to be strategic in making intentional connections. We had to learn how our families best communicated. I learned how to leverage our social media accounts to communicate, connect, and celebrate student learning. For me, this will continue to be a practice.”

Holland also sees the pandemic as a reminder that we are all vulnerable and of how important relationships are for our social and emotional well-being.

“At times in this pandemic, I felt overwhelmed as I taught my own 5th grade son while working full-time. How was it for families of multiple children; families who did not speak English as a first language; families who did not have tech support or lost their jobs; families who had loved ones sick? I learned to listen better. When I called home about students who were absent, I started with, ‘Are you OK, and how can I help?’ ”

“Schools are comprised of many students and represent many diverse backgrounds. My challenge for our leaders, teachers, community partners is to help ensure that every child is known, and that our students and families can learn in safe environments and have the ability to make lifeline connections – in your school – be the hub of the community. Let’s work together to be one of the best parts of our students’ story.”

Outside of her busy work schedule, Holland loves spending time with her children and grandchildren. She enjoys reading and writing and being outside - when it is warm, that is. She loves taking photos that are worth 1,000 words and enjoys helping people and serving her community.

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