It came as a surprise to many when Kongsouly Jones, Peabody Elementary’s popular principal for the past seven years, announced in late June that she had taken a job with the district as the instructional leadership director for the Northwest region of the newly merged Shelby County Schools.
But with a new school year quickly approaching, the district had to execute a speedy application and interview process which nonetheless brought in numerous strong candidates, according to district officials, for the highly desirable position as Peabody’s new principal.
Melanie Nelson, formerly principal of Hawkins Mill Elementary, was announced as Ms. Jones’ successor in mid-July and was at the school building just days later to start getting to know her facility and staff.
“I’m excited to be a part of Peabody Elementary and the Cooper-Young community,” Nelson said. “Peabody Elementary has a lot of rich academics and culture to offer, and I want to be a part of enhancing these fundamentals for our students.”
Nelson is a native Memphian and attended Spring Hill Elementary and Trezevant High School before going on to college at the University of Tennessee-Martin and graduate school at Freed-Hardeman University. She worked in the Memphis City Schools system for 17 years, as a teacher, an instructional facilitator, an assistant principal, and most recently the principal of Hawkins Mill Elementary. Nelson is married and has a 10-year-old son, who will remain at his current elementary school near their home.
When asked about what she sees as some of Peabody’s current strengths, Nelson mentioned the International Studies curriculum, the community garden and the school’s commitment to the Responsive Classroom program.
“Through the Responsive Classroom approach, everyone will see students taking more ownership of their learning goals and behavior expectations because students will be a part of the decision-making process,” said Nelson who was one of the district’s original Responsive Classroom trainers. “I have seen school cultures change just by implementing (Responsive Classroom) practices.”
Jones, the former principal, had overseen a number of changes at Peabody, including the influx of a growing number of Cooper-Young families and the increased community involvement that brought.
“There are a lot of things we’ll all miss about Principal Jones,” said Peabody PTA president Chris Kelley. “For one, the way she stood at the front door nearly every morning, smiling and welcoming our kids as they entered school. She really embraced the Cooper-Young community, allowing neighborhood parents to play an active role in the education of their children. She also was driven to improve the outcomes of all teachers and children. The promotion she received is a testament to all of these qualities, and I am thankful her new leadership role within the Shelby County system will allow her to share best practices with other administrators.”
While Nelson was quick to point out that she didn’t plan to make any drastic changes immediately, as she wants to get to know the school better first, some things Nelson hopes to focus on in her first year at Peabody are ensuring that all students are strong readers, as well as enhancing the aftercare program with a wider array of offerings, like athletic and music opportunities.
Her request of the community? “Please continue to support the school with your involvement through this transition.” She stressed that she has an open-door policy and is always open to hearing the views of the community.
– By Ginger Spickler
A few fun facts about Principal Nelson:
Favorite vacation spot: The Bahamas
Favorite movie: The Notebook
Book she’s currently reading: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Favorite children’s authors: Eric Carle, Margaret Wise, Arnold Lobel
Favorite sports team: She’s a hometown girl — the Grizzlies and Titans