Renata Soto, co-founder and executive director of Conexión Américas, will receive the Nelson C. Andrews Distinguished Service Award at the Nashville Public Education Foundation’s 12th annual Public Schools Hall of Fame luncheon on Oct. 17. In addition, three prominent Metro Nashville Public Schools alumni – Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., Joe Steakley and the Rev. Dr. Becca Stevens – will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award.
The event at the Omni Nashville Hotel will feature a performance by GRAMMY award-winning artist Vince Gill and will honor community leaders who demonstrate commitment and service to improving the quality of education in MNPS. With a new mayor, director of schools and School Board leadership, the event will also be an opportunity for the city to come together and turn the page for a new, accelerated path for our schools.
Soto will receive NPEF’s highest honor for her visionary leadership around a host of public education causes and her advocacy for English-language learners and immigrant families.
“It’s hard to imagine where our great city would be without Renata Soto. She is the perfect example of what a game-changer looks like,” said Shannon Hunt, NPEF president and CEO. “Her quiet leadership and steadfast commitment to the children and families of this community are unparalleled and, indeed, have spurred significant change. At the root of it all, she has created a space for equal access for all children. She embodies the core of what drives significant change in our community – leadership, expertise and volunteerism.”
Soto’s leadership demonstrates a commitment to accelerating public school excellence. She has been a leading force on efforts that have helped solidify Nashville’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive city. Her nationally recognized programs support ELL parent engagement by teaching them to support their children’s school success and path to college, and become an integral part of Nashville’s social, cultural and economic vitality.
As the driving force behind Conexión Américas, she was instrumental in creating Casa Azafrán, South Nashville’s hub for adult education, after-school programming for children and youth, and community organizing.
Soto’s community involvement extends beyond her commitment to Latino and immigrant families. As a co-chairwoman of Mayor Karl Dean’s Task Force on Children and Youth in 2010, she helped create the Child and Youth Master Plan, which is now a blueprint for efforts to ensure the well-being of every young person from birth to adulthood. She played a leadership role in the search that brought us Dr. Shawn Joseph, Nashville’s new director of schools. And, she was a key player in the NPEF’s Project RESET, the citywide education conversation to promote cooperation and innovation to improve our public schools. As a result, the city is working toward the Foundation’s four priorities – early literacy, teacher talent and principal leadership, school turnaround, and postsecondary success.
“Everyone, no matter their language or ZIP code, should have equal access to the highest quality of education. I’m so honored to be chosen by the community to be recognized for championing this important issue,” Soto said. “Nashville must have excellent public schools to sustain our growth and success, but getting there requires each and every one of us to do our part. I hope the Public Schools Hall of Fame will be a way for the city to redouble its efforts and make the kind of commitment necessary to carry us forward as a city.”
Soto is also an MNPS parent of two.
The Nashville Public Education Foundation launched its Hall of Fame in 2005 and honors those who have made an impact on the city’s public school system and community. This year’s distinguished honorees are no exception. Honorees are selected from community nominations. This year, more than 100 civic and community leaders were nominated.
Crenshaw, a Federal District judge of the Middle District of Tennessee, was nominated as a judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee by President Barack Obama and has been recognized for his professional achievements by more than a dozen organizations. He is a graduate of McGavock High School.
Steakley is the senior vice president of Internal Audit and Risk Services at HCA. He is an avid community leader and volunteer, serving as a board member of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Nashville Public Library Foundation. He is also an executive board member of the Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, in addition to many other organizations. He is a graduate of Maplewood High School.
Stevens is best known as the founder and president of Thistle Farms. She was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House for her work against domestic violence and was recently named a 2016 CNN Hero. She is also an ordained Episcopal priest, serving as chaplain at St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt University. She regularly keynotes at national events and universities and colleges across the country, inspiring young adults to live into their ideals. She is a graduate of Overton High School.
“Each inductee is committed to greatness in our city,” said Ralph Davis, NPEF chairman. “All three honorees are shining examples of the successes great public schools can produce. We are proud to honor them as MNPS graduates and recognize them for their personal and professional success.”
In addition, this year a new award is being launched – the Inspiring Innovation Award. The winner will be announced at the event and will receive a $10,000 grant to scale up a promising innovation.
This year’s recipients join 50 other Nashvillians in the NPEF Hall of Fame.
Event chairs are Gail and David Williams, Mayor Megan Barry and Dr. Shawn Joseph are honorary co-chairs, and Ralph and Suann Davis will serve as table host chairs. NewsChannel 5’s Vicki Yates will emcee.
Sponsors of this year’s event include BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Community Trust, Bryan, Pendleton, Swats & McAllister, LLC, Cat Financial, Crosslin & Associates, P.C., CCA, Dollar General Corporation, Education Networks of America, First Tennessee Foundation, HCA/TriStar Health, H.G. Hill Realty Company, Ingram Industries Inc., KraftCPAs PLLC, Lightning 100, Lipman Brothers and the R.S. Lipman Company, Lipscomb University, Nashville Lifestyles, Nissan North America, Inc., Rogers Group, Inc., Ryman Hospitality Properties Foundation, SunTrust, UBS, Vanderbilt University, and Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP.
To purchase tickets, visit nashvillepef.org/hall-of-fame or call 615-727-1515. All proceeds go to the mission of making the four priorities a reality and bettering our public schools.