MNPS Voices: Sandy Irwin

MNPS Voices: Sandy Irwin, Numeracy Coach, Bellevue Middle School
Posted on 05/23/2024
Sandy Irwin

Sandy Irwin

Sandy Irwin will retire as a numeracy coach from Bellevue Middle School this year after serving MNPS for 35 years, and she hopes to leave behind a culture of advocacy and support for teachers. Sandy Irwin in class with students

Irwin began her path toward teacher support as a sixth-grade math teacher 23 years ago, when she was asked to fill a math teacher vacancy at Bellevue Middle. She was surprised to fall in love with math after previously teaching language arts and pre-K.

Despite the challenges of integrated math, Irwin and her students excelled. In 2016, she was named MNPS Teacher of the Year and Mid Cumberland regional teacher of the year and was nominated for Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Her accolades earned her a Tennessee Educator Fellowship with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

It was during this professional development activity that she learned about education policy, research, and how to advocate for the policies, practices, and systems that affect student achievement and educator effectiveness.

Irwin could foresee a teacher shortage looming in the district and decided her advocacy focus should be on how to attract highly qualified, diverse teachers.

“My platform is how to recruit at the collegiate level to get candidates interested in MNPS,” Irwin says. “We needed to start in early education programs in colleges and find a way to get graduates to come to Metro.”

Irwin champions helping those new teachers with a bombardment of support to get them through the early days. She implemented a volunteer mentoring program with rookie teachers and veteran teachers meeting once a month. The group's outcome was a learning experience for everyone.

“I brought coffee and bagels and called it Coffee & Conversations, which I stole from (former Bellevue Middle principal) Dr. Barbara Maultsby- Springer,” Irwin explained. “We mainly shared experiences and strategies. Sometimes the veteran teachers would do a short presentation on something they do in their classroom. New teachers learned that veteran teachers struggle, too.”

Always Learning, Always Helping

Irwin credits her advocacy training as the path that prepared her to be a numeracy coach. She recalls that the transition was not easy, and it required the type of support she champions.

“I am still learning, it is a constant learning process - the art of coaching and how to approach, because teachers are just like students that you teach,” she explained. “Teachers have different goals, ambitions, passions, and different tools in their toolbox. The MNPS math department does an excellent job of mentorship and continued professional development.”

As the school year ends, Irwin reflects that working with students is what she will miss most, especially her work with the National Junior Honor Society and the school talent show.

Having spent more than 20 years at one school, Irwin hopes she is leaving a legacy of “care.” She wants to be remembered as a teacher and coach who helped people become the best version of themselves.

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