Former educator and education reform advocate John Little is a Metro Nashville Schools District 4 school board member.
Little landed the seat Nov. 3 in a special school board election, unseating temporary incumbent Berthena Nabaa-McKinney, to represent the Donelson, Hermitage and Old Hickory areas.
The seat was up for grabs after the untimely death of Anna Shepherd in June. In July, the Metro Nashville City Council appointed Nabaa-McKinney until the Nov. 3 election.
Little will serve the district the remaining less than two years of Shepherd’s term, and in 2022, the seat will again be on the ballot.
According to the Metro Nashville Election Commission, Little won the seat with 9,660 votes, with Nabaa-McKinney in second with 8,413 votes. Steve Chauncy, a former longtime principal, came in third with 7,684 votes, and retired teacher Pam Swoner finished with 4,550 votes.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Little said. “I humbly say I was not surprised I won the vote. I had worked so hard and talked with so many people during my campaign. I got so many encouraging messages, thumbs up from whites and Blacks and a diverse group of people. In my heart, I knew I was winning.”
Little lives on Central Pike in Hermitage. He’s married to Brittany, and they have an 11-year-old son, John.
“We have a son on the way due in April,” Little said.
Little, 37, made a name for himself in education reform as a political consultant and former educator.
Little grew up in East Nashville and graduated from Tennessee State University, has hours toward a master’s degree and has a flourishing career. But, the road to this pinnacle to represent District 4 was far from smooth. He was candid about his journey and hopes his story might give others hope.
“Always in primary and secondary school, I asked questions and was eager to learn,” said Little. “I got suspended for fighting and was sent to the school’s counselor. I failed the seventh grade.”
During his childhood, his mother, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, fought and beat breast cancer.”
Her cancer returned as stage 4 during Little’s high school years at Stratford High School. He was open to say he got expelled from Stratford for bringing a knife to school. Little then attended alternative high school at the Institute for Learning.
“As a senior, we had seventh- and eighth-grade books,” he said.
“My mother loved me unconditionally,” he said. “She took me to church, put me in Boy Scouts, made sure there were men in my life. She did this knowing she was dying and was trying to set me up in a good position.”
A counselor at Institute for Learning said, “John I will help you.”
He said his class went on a trip to Tennessee State University.
“I saw what it was like, people going to college,” Little said. “They were still having fun, cutting up and learning at the same time. On the way back, I mentioned to my friends I wanted to go, and they say ‘why?’”
His counselor overheard the conversation and showed support. She got him a private tutor and thus the road to success began.
“Upon reflection, there was a lot of things going on,” Little said. “I was expelled April 4, 1999 and lost my mom Dec. 22, 2000. Basically, she worked herself to death.”
It was a vow to himself to get on the right track for her.
He made it into Tennessee State and majored in business administration, with minors in management and marketing. He worked his way through at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Regal Cinema. He attended from 2001-2006.
“I took a year off to internship in Gov. Phil Bredeson’s office,” Little said.
It proved to foreshadow his love of public service. He was Bredesen’s regional field director and then worked to find mentors for foster children.
“It was so rewarding,” he said. “I realized those kids weren’t ready for the real world.”
He also worked toward his master’s degree.
Little began teaching at Nashville Preparatory School, a district-approved charter school. He was a middle school reading specialist, family engagement specialist and dean of students for three years.
Little’s next journey was on the road across the country as a political consultant. Then, he and nine other parents founded Parents Requiring Our Public Education system to Lead.
“We organize and develop powerful parent leaders to ignite a movement that demands equitable education policies and practice in Nashville public education,” he said.
Basically, the group educates and equips parents with the knowledge and tools to demand radical systemic change. He works there full time.
While always interested in school board-related topics, Little said things changed.
“I’ve always paid attention to education, and when Anna passed away, I became more so,” he said. “I always admired her. She represented the voice in the community.”
He said he started scouting around to support someone to replace her large shoes.
“Then, I thought, why not me?” he said. “In July, I put my hat in the ring.”
His platform was simple.
“My No. 1 priority is making sure our kids are college, career and community ready,” he said.
He wants to make sure vocation education is robust, as well as academic achievement.
“If we can fly a man to the moon, we can do a better job in education,” Little said.
He said while the Metro Nashville district has vocation studies in each school, it “needs to be broader.”
“It is still school specific,” he said. “We need to make it district specific.”
He said, as a district representative, any discussions he comes up with will be for the stakeholders.
“I thank my district for believing in my message and giving me this opportunity,” Little said. “I urge anyone to please reach out to me.”
His number is 615-375-6464.