photo by John Shearer
Of all the jobs at Girls Preparatory School and McCallie School, perhaps none is more unique than the one held by Beth Gaffney. That is because she works for both independent preparatory schools as the director of the coordinate program.
While her title might make her sound like she has a typical desk job, it is anything but that. It is actually a position that requires the energy of a teenager but the wisdom of a top administrator in helping coordinate and be on site for all kinds of activities the two schools do jointly. That includes everything from dances, to watching sporting events, to choir and theatrical performances and more.
But for the 61-year-old former high school cheerleader, such a job fits her gregarious and energetic personality perfectly.
“I’m a big kid,” she said with a laugh while reminiscing recently from her GPS office about her nearly 15-year stint. “I love to work hard and play hard. It helps to keep me young. They (the students) are full of energy. It’s a great job to have.”
Mrs. Gaffney began her stint in 2008 and was well prepared for the joint work after having worked from two perspectives in various other settings. The former Beth Flint attended GPS before graduating in 1979, and during that time was a cheerleader at Baylor School – yes, that Baylor – when Baylor was still all boys.
As a resident of Georgia, she later attended the University of Georgia, but was also and still is a big Tennessee Vols sports fan.
And then when she and her husband, Kevin, moved back to Chattanooga with their three children in 2006 after she had worked for Loonam Computer Products and HBO/Cinemax and lived in such places as Minneapolis, Atlanta and Houston, the dual examination came up again.
They were looking at both public and private schools for their children, but after oldest daughter Ellie started in the sixth grade at GPS after they had also tried to get her in Normal Park, Beth decided to go back to work.
That eventually led to finding out about the GPS-McCallie coordinate program director position two years later, when her son, Brendan, was getting ready to enter the sixth grade at McCallie.
Although it had formerly been a fulltime job and dated to 1985, when Baylor went coed and GPS and McCallie began a stronger alliance with each other, it was part-time when Ms. Gaffney assumed the position. It eventually became a 30-hour-a-week job with health benefits for her, but she often works 40 or more hours when school is in session. The work has also had additional benefits of the emotional kind.
That includes the fact that she has gotten to work with the two schools where her three children, including younger daughter Hollis from the GPS class of 2018, attended.
“When your kids go to the same school you work at, it makes it worthwhile,” she said, while jokingly adding that their daughters were fine with seeing their mother at the various social activities they attended, while it was a little more of an adjustment for her son.
Her job includes working with both staff and a group of about 80 student volunteers – called the coordinate crew -- who plan and carry out a variety of activities. That includes students from both schools sitting together at football games and working in a spirit theme, the fifth-quarter social activities after football games, seasonal dances and proms, and coed theatrical, talent, and musical productions at each school. The latter involves the popular Candlelight Christmas and winter holiday concert.
There are also field days of activities or other informal activities, all designed to help the 510 girls at GPS and the 979 boys at McCallie (including 322 boarders) experience some coed activities along with their growth in same-sex education they enjoy during normal school hours.
“My job is to provide coed activities that get kids participating, and hopefully they walk away with having had a good time,” she said. “And it paves the way for what we hope are lifelong friendships.”
And not only does she help plan or facilitate the activities along with others, she also is on site when they are taking place and often keeps the hours of the teenagers on Friday or Saturday nights. But she enjoys getting to know as many students as possible by name and might occasionally get out and dance at one of the dances, while she also helps make sure everyone behaves appropriately and that each event is safe.
She does this while also taking a leadership position with her Sunday school class at First-Centenary United Methodist Church, a position that also often involves teaching after a full weekend of work activities.
Mrs. Gaffney also stays busy with other activities, including taking regular morning swims. She is also a lifeguard and bus driver for both schools.
She learned how to be active and hold leadership positions from her late mother, Jeanne Wyckoff Flint Rahlfs, who was the first employee of Chattanooga Cable Co. (later Comcast) and went on to hold various management positions. She was also involved in several civic groups as a volunteer.
Although Mrs. Gaffney has learned how to coordinate efficiently all the various activities between the two schools after nearly 15 years on the job, she did say the programs and school relationships are always evolving.
For example, second-year GPS head of school Megan Cover and McCallie headmaster Lee Burns are trying to tighten the relationships and programs between the two schools even more, she said. The two schools have also started having coordinate elective classes after school that provide half credit and give a pass-fail grade.
Also, shared busing services have increased this year, and McCallie is building a joint athletic field that GPS will use. It is replacing the two soccer fields at Hixson Pike and Lupton Drive that GPS recently sold.
The two also share the fairly new crew/rowing boathouse by the Tennessee River and next to GPS’ track and varsity soccer field.
But through all the evolutions, Mrs. Gaffney said she has never stopped enjoying the work.
“I really enjoy my job,” she said. “I get my energy from people. And working with the kids is probably my favorite thing.”
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photo by John Shearer