After 34 years as a teacher and school system administrator, veteran Wilson County educator Mary Ann Sparks will officially retire at the end of this month.
Her long career as teacher, assistant principal and lastly Wilson County Schools Deputy Director of Human Resources was only interrupted for seven years when she took time off to stay at home with her two children.
"I just adored teaching," Sparks told The Wilson Post. "As assistant principal other skills were brought in."
Those skills grew with her responsibilities as Deputy Director, which was a position necessitated by the Wilson County school system's massive growth, she noted.
Sparks grew up in Sullivan County, Tenn. and attended The University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
"I slowly worked my way west," she said.
From 1975 to 1980 she taught in Blount County, and then she and her husband transferred to Nashville and moved to Wilson County in 1987.
"We just loved Wilson County, the people and the land," she noted.
She started her long career at Mt. Juliet Elementary School in the former building where the new Chamber of Commerce building now sits. She taught second grade and was them named assistant principal. She said one of the highlights of her career was enjoying the history and charm of the old Mt. Juliet Elementary and then moving to the new school in 2006.
Sparks was named supervisor of human resources at the Central Office and in 2013 applied for the Deputy Director position and snagged the job. She was at the helm with many others and saw the system grow to its current approximately 2,700 active employees.
"New challenges always arise as the system grows," she said.
Sparks said she loves to see former students who come to visit her and reminisce about classroom times. And, she would not single out a particular student who especially touched her heart through the years.
"All of them are special," she exclaimed. "As a momma of those students you can't single out one child!"
As she thinks about all her years in education, she said she did not know she was born to be a teacher, "until I was in the classroom."
"Then I knew I was," she said. "I come from a family of teachers; educators are in my family. When I got in the classroom that was the glove that fit. I loved my students and there was not one day I woke up and didn't want to go to work."
She's been Teacher of the Year twice. In her segue to administration, she said The Tennessee Association for School Personnel Administrators was outstandingly helpful and she now mentors "new young people coming in."
She and her husband Steve have two grandchildren and she hopes to now spend more time with them and "doing more in the community."
"I'm sure there will be something I'll latch on to," she laughed. "We will see what the next chapter holds."
Part of the chapter will be gardening and travel, as well as opportunities to take courses and "expand my knowledge," said Sparks.
She said she's blessed to be part of Wilson County and enjoys work with the Child Advocacy Center.
Sparks said she never stopped being a teacher, even when she wasn't in the classroom.
"Every decision I made was based on what is good for the kids," she said. "The rubber meets the road day to day in the classroom. I always looked through the lens for what was right for the children. This philosophy is prevalent in the Wilson County School System. It is not unique to me."