Mel Brown talks career, retirement

Xavier Smith • Mar 6, 2018 at 5:26 PM

Mt. Juliet High School principal Mel Brown is set to retire June 30, and he reflected Tuesday on his path through education and his plans for retirement.

Brown’s 45-year career features numerous roles, resulting in several personal and school awards and recognition.


First block: Early life and education

Brown said his path to education was not unexpected coming from a family of educators and school directors.

“My dad, Carmon Brown, was my high school principal. He died young. He became the director of schools. He died in office, and my mother, Frankie, finished out his time in office. She was one of the first female directors of schools in the state of Tennessee,” said Brown, who said his children and grandchildren have also focused on careers in education.

“Of course, all of this time, you’re being told not to go into education, and the next thing you know, you’re in education. My brother is retired director of schools in the state of Tennessee. I had a great-uncle who was a director of schools,” he said.

Brown graduated Celina High School, followed by a year at Castle Heights Military Academy before he attended Lipscomb University on a baseball scholarship. He received a master’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University and an educational specialist degree from Tennessee State University.

What did you learn from that year at Castle Heights?

“Self-discipline,” said Brown, who said he learned he had to quickly gather knowledge and behave to succeed and receive awards, such as a visit to the movie theatre on Sunday nights.

 “You met a lot of guys you’d never have met otherwise, because at that time, they came from all over the world. It was a good experience,” he said.

When did you decide to get into education?

“It was probably sophomore year in college. You take a class that kind of piques your interest, and I think we need to find our niche. I think in finding that, you just build on it. I loved playing sports. I thought I wanted to coach, and I did. I loved the classroom.”

Second block: From educator to principal

Brown started his education career at Two Rivers High School in 1966. In 1972, he moved to McGavock High School, where he also served as assistant football coach and head baseball coach, after several Metro Nashville schools closed.

As head baseball coach, he amassed 582 wins, three Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championships, three TSSAA state runner-ups, seven “coach of the year” honors and averaged 29 wins per season. The McGavock High School baseball field is named “Mel Brown Field” in his honor.

He was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 1999. He is also a member of the Clay County High School, Lipscomb and Tennessee baseball halls of fame.

Brown served as assistant principal at Hillsboro High School from 1992-96 and Lebanon High School during the 2003-2004 school year before he was appointed principal at Mt. Juliet High School.

What did you take from your experience at McGavock?

“It was an open zone. You come together with folks who have never been together. You’re going to have a lot of learning that needs to take place. I ended up as faculty advisor to student activities. I started out as an American history teacher, but it became apparent that we needed to learn how to live with each other. This was at a time when we needed to understand each other,” he said.

What do you think of your success as the baseball coach?

“We had 136 seniors put up with me all the way through their four years. Of that 136, 127 signed college scholarships. The 128th went to the University of Tennessee to play football, 129th went to Lipscomb University to play basketball and 131st through 135th went and got scholarships for being statisticians, scorekeepers, announcers or managers,” Brown said. “I’m proud of that. I’ve always been very proud of that, because opportunity after all is the name of the game, from my standpoint. I’ve tried to carry that through as a principal.”

Third block: Mt. Juliet High School principal

Brown is regarded as one of the state’s best high school principals. During his tenure, Mt. Juliet High School received state recognition and championships in athletics and the fine arts.

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education named Mt. Juliet the No. 1 academic school in the state. Brown followed up the recognition with several Reward School recognitions by the Tennessee Department of Education, as well as a “principal of the year” award by the Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals.

How has coaching mentality carried over to principal?

“Anytime you’re working, you’re building a team. You work with your teachers, staff members, assistant principals, support team and students to build working relationships. I don’t need for you to take someone out for supper, but in a professional learning community, we need to hear each other’s thoughts and not turn off a good idea because I don’t agree with something,” Brown said.

What’s the most memorable award you’ve received?

“They’ve all been important. I don’t know. It’s very humbling,” he said.

Does winning awards and getting recognition become normal?

“No. It’s humbling, I tell you,” Brown said. “It’ll bring you to your knees. You just say, ‘praise the Lord.’”

Is it bigger than education for you?

“Yes. I want our student to be leaders. I tell them that. I expect them to be leaders. When they walk out of Mt. Juliet High School, I expect them to be able to voice their thoughts – whatever it is. Whether I agree or not is not the point. Lead in a positive way to help our fellow man, not send us right or left to a point where we can’t survive,” he said.

Troy Allen talks about his principal

Mt. Juliet boys’ basketball coach Troy Allen became familiar with Brown when his David Lipscomb High School baseball teams faced Brown’s McGavock teams. Brown was an assistant principal at Hillsboro when Allen broke into teaching before hiring him at Mt. Juliet in 2005. Allen said he was upset upon hearing he news of the impending retirement of a mentor.

“I can’t say enough good about him the way he’s treated me at both jobs … at Hillsboro, which was a culture shock,” Allen said Sunday. “He helped me grow as a teacher and coach. He helped me grow up and become a man.”

“He calls after every one of my games on my way home. It’s never anything bad, always positive. I know that’s not going to happen anymore. He is the best principal I could ever imagine having.”

Mt. Juliet athletics have excelled across the board and Brown’s background as a hall-of-fame coach had much to do with that.

“He knows what it takes to be a coach,” Allen said. “When you’re working at it like we do, 95 percent of the issues that have come up with me have been squelched before I have to deal with them.

“He knows people he believes in and trusts. He lets them do their jobs and expects them to do their jobs. When he interviews a coach he knows what a coach is because he was one.”

But his interests in a school aren’t limited to academics.

“When he became a principal, he still had a team, it’s just bigger, but it’s still a team,” Allen said. “When the band wins a competition, he’s just as proud as when we win the district. Everybody feels it. Nobody fells shortchanged.

“What he’s done to Mt. Juliet academically is amazing… He’s not afraid to take a chance on what other people aren’t doing.”

Fourth block: Life after education

“I’ve always said, ‘if I could get to my back porch.’ That’s kind of my enjoyable place. They ask if I’m going to travel, what I’ll do and so on. I don’t know, but I know one thing, if I get all my ‘honey do’ jobs done, and I get to the back porch, I’m going to have a good day. I’m really just waiting for what the Lord’s got for me out there,” Brown said.

What made now the right time to retire?

“I think all of us, there’ll come a time in your life when it’s time to make a decision,” Brown said. “We have grandchildren, and I want to see them do their things. We have a great-grandchild on the way.”

Brown said his wife, Carroll, has been his biggest supporter. He said he informed Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright of his intentions last year.

“I’ve always enjoyed it, wherever I’ve been. You hope you’re making a difference in life. I’ve always tried to be a servant leader. I think that’s what the good Lord wants us to do.”

What would you tell the person who will eventually take your place?

“I would say you’re coming into a supportive community, a supportive district and a growing community, which changes your clientele, as far as backgrounds. They’ll have to be themselves,” Brown said. “Be up for the challenge. Do your school. Be a principal. Be a leader.”

Democrat sports editor Andy Reed contributed to this report.

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