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MJ grad recognized by Pres. Obama

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Barclay Randall & his former McGavock student Sara Santiago

Mt. Juliet High School graduate Barclay Randall said he was surprised when President Barack Obama mentioned him this past week in a speech at Nashville’s McGavock Comprehensive High School, where Randall teaches digital design and communications.

The president had been talking about the importance of all children receiving a quality education when he told the crowd he wanted to introduce a McGavock graduate to illustrate his point.

“Now, the other day, I heard the story of a recent graduate here named Sara Santiago,” Obama said. “Where is Sara? There’s Sara right here.”

The President then explained that he was going to tell Sara’s story, and introduced the teacher she said had changed her life: Barclay Randall.

“When Sara was in Mr. Randall’s class, he helped her discover this passion for filmmaking,” Obama told the audience.  “And pretty soon, Sara’s grades started to improve. She won the school’s ‘best editing’ award. Then she got an internship with Country Music Television.”

And finally, when Sara was accepted at Savannah College of Art and Design, she gave the credit to her teacher, Obama continued.  

“She says, ‘Mr. Randall gave me a second chance. He saw things I never saw in myself.  He’s the person who helped me change,’” the President concluded.

That declaration by Sara of the role Randall had played in her life and education was part of what surprised her teacher. He knew that Sara was being recognized, he said. “But I didn’t know what she’d said about me. I was honored and blown away.”

He added that while he had taught Sara for three years, other teachers within the team for her career academy were equally responsible for helping her to succeed.

“There are teams of teachers who work with the students,” Randall explained. “For example, when Sara got to me, she didn’t know the study skills she needed to succeed. I’d been in the entertainment business, and I didn’t have the teaching skills to teach her that. But other team members did.”

He talked about how different the approach at McGavock is from the way things were done when he was growing up in Mt. Juliet.

“Back then at Mt. Juliet High School, we had vo-tech kids who went off separate. Now they are all incorporated, all together,” he said.

The “academy” system in use at McGavock starts all freshmen out on basics, then divides them according to interests in 10th grade. There are five academies or interest groups in the school, according to Randall.

The academy Randall works in is called Digital Design and Communication, or DDC for short. Each academy is “interdisciplinary,” he said, which means all subjects from English and math to science, film studies, and history all focus on the same things.

His example was that last year, the team chose to study the Battle of Stones River during the Civil War.
“Students learned the history of the battle. They studied the literature of the time,” Randall said. “In chemistry, they studied gun powder and the composition of the limestone rock formations there. Math classes studied trajectories of cannon shots, and my class made videos about it all.”

After graduating in 1978 from Mt. Juliet High, where he was president of the Future Farmers of America, Randall went on to MTSU, where he found the two loves of his life. One was a girl from Chicago named Catherine whom he made his wife. The other was broadcasting, the field in which he has worked for 30 years.

He said he’s done a little of everything during his career in television. He was the head writer and co-producer for “Primetime Country,” for instance.

“I also did a lot of production work for people like Bob Hope and Dick Clark,” Randall said. “I worked on “Saturday Night Live,” too.”

Then about five years ago, a friend forwarded an email saying: “Just for your information, they are looking for a TV teacher at McGavock.”

What followed was another surprise for Randall. “I thought I could do this for a while, so I emailed them my resume at 7 p.m. on a Thursday.”

The next day at 7 a.m., the phone rang. “Nobody in television calls you at 7 a.m.,” Randall said with a chuckle.

“It was Robbin Wall, the principal at McGavock. He said he wanted to talk to me that day, and he hired me that afternoon.”

The Mt. Juliet native, who now lives in Old Hickory, said that after five years, he loves his new job, and he still writes for television, too.

“I tell people I write to subsidize my teaching habit,” Randall said.

The pat on the back from the President isn’t the only honor he has earned, either. Two years ago, he was named Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year for Nashville Metro Public Schools.

So it might not have been a total surprise to anyone other than Randall himself when the President of the United States praised him at McGavock High, or “Big Mac” as Obama called the school, referring to its nickname.

“There’s Mr. Randall right back there,” the president said after describing Randall’s success at teaching and mentoring Sara Santiago. “Go ahead and wave, Mr. Randall. That’s Mr. Randall.”

The President waited for the enthusiastic applause to subside, then explained that even at that very moment, Barclay Randall was at work – teaching and inspiring students.

“Mr. Randall is over there with the press right now because some of his students are covering this event, they’re doing some reporting,” Obama noted.

It seems Mt. Juliet has good cause to be proud of its native son, Class of ’78.

Connie Esh may be contacted at

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