Longtime educator Dr. Tonja Williams believed a doctorate was crucial to succeeding as a school administrator, and she was confident that Trevecca was the right place to earn her degree. In hindsight, after two decades thriving as a leader in education, it’s clear that she was accurate on both counts.
Williams began her career at the Nashville School of Arts (NSA), where she taught for eight years and served as an administrator for another seven. During that span, she earned a master’s, became an assistant principal and then turned to Trevecca to pursue a Doctor of Education degree.
“I knew I wanted to go somewhere Christ-centered, and Trevecca had an outstanding reputation,” Williams said.
The cohort model of the Doctorate of Education in leadership (Ed.D.) program set Williams up for continued success and opened the door to lifelong friendships.
“The cohort model was great. We supported one another and got to learn from a lot of different perspectives,” Williams said. “It was really a community and we all took care of one another. I'm still very close with some of the friends I met there. In fact, I made plans to travel to Greece with one of them this summer.”
The subject of Williams’ doctoral dissertation was professional learning communities––groups that help teachers connect and work collaboratively. Having studied the topic extensively, she wanted to put professional learning communities into practice in her job.
“I was still at Nashville School of the Arts at the time, and we had not done anything like this before,” Williams said. “But I had the opportunity to implement my dissertation effectively for teachers.”
She eventually moved on to Glencliff High School as the academic and curriculum principal, and a year later served as executive principal at Head Middle Magnet School. In June 2022, she moved into her current role as head of school at New Hope Academy in Franklin, Tenn.
“New Hope is a small, private Christian independent school. So I get to pray all the time. We have school-wide devotions on Mondays and Fridays,” Williams said. “It reminds me of Trevecca.”
The role of head of school differs from principal in multiple ways. In addition to the day-to-day supervision of school activities, she oversees fundraising, marketing, academics and curriculum.
“I have to really be shepherding the school,” Williams said. “I have to make sure I am taking care of the flock and doing everything to make sure we are improving and thriving.”
For Williams, it is more than a job; it’s a calling. And that calling is one that Trevecca helped her discern during her time in the Ed.D. program. She continues to apply the skills she learned on a daily basis.
“At Trevecca, I had to come up with my mission in life,” she said. “I learned that mine is to teach, lead and empower others in the realm of faith, education and leadership.”
At New Hope, she’s able to bring all of those aspirations together for one purpose.
”For me, education is a ministry. I always think about Frederick Douglass, who said, ‘it's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,’” Williams said. “The more that I see what's happening in the world, the more I know that is true.”