Greg Hammond has it covered
Story and photos by Sarah Knapp
“Do what you love, do it to the best of your abilities, and things will work out.”
For Greg Hammond (‘03), following his passion is exactly what led him to the Jackson Madison County School System (JMCSS) Central Office from his classroom at South Side High School. As the new JMCSS chief of staff and public information officer, Hammond is responsible for disseminating the latest news to the 12,500 families in the district, as well as internally to all faculty and staff.
While he recognizes the magnitude of his new responsibilities, Hammond says the two decades he spent working in the media and school system have prepared him to serve the community supporting JMCSS in an effective and transparent manner. As someone who grew up in the district and is active in local politics, Hammond knew this job was the perfect way to advocate for change in order to help students succeed.
“Everything on my plate suggested that I was ready to do something more than just be an educator and a parent. … It just kind of became obvious, that job is for you,” Hammond said. “I grew up in this town. I’ve been a teacher for 12 years, so I know the system. … The only reason for not taking the job would be fear.”
As JMCSS chief of staff, Hammond acts as the liaison between the 24 schools in the district and the superintendent, Dr. Marlon King, as well as the liaison between the school system and the community.
“I’m in a good place. I’m going to do my job, and my job is to communicate the district’s message not only to our community, but also the people internally. I was a teacher. I know the nature of teachers,” Hammond explains. “You can’t make everybody happy, but you want to treat people right and keep people informed.”
Hammond says the longer he works with King, the more he understands how administrators make decisions but always has his “teacher filter” on to ensure the teachers’ and the students’ best interests are kept in mind. In Hammond’s opinion, one of the highlights of his new position is being a part of the decision-making process for many issues within the school system that he didn’t always understand as a faculty member. Now, he can help bridge the gap between administrative decisions and the faculty and staff who are affected.
“I can’t help from bringing 12 years of classroom experience to the central office. I can’t help it. In this calendar year, I was in the classroom,” Hammond said. “I got pulled out at the school level and pulled up. … I still have my teacher filter, but now (my filter order is) chief of staff, teacher, media professional. That’s the order now, and that’s part of the learning process. You have to adapt.”
Being able to adapt to new situations is a quality Hammond has honed throughout his life that has helped him succeed whether that be anchoring a sports broadcast, teaching in a classroom or answering the media’s questions about the school district. From only knowing he preferred a career that involved more English than math when he graduated from high school, to graduating with a communications degree from UT Martin, to serving as both a sports anchor and educator, as well as running for county commissioner, Hammond has overcome many obstacles in his career, all while impacting those around him.
One of the biggest challenges Hammond is currently facing is the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely altered how JMCSS operates. Part of his daily routine is now answering questions teachers, students and families may have concerning the district’s policies on COVID-19 and how each school will function with in-person and hybrid classes. Ultimately, Hammond knows that while the school system cannot control the virus, it can do its best to protect students while ensuring they still receive a high-quality education.
“We have to do what we can do: wearing masks, keeping your distance, not shaking hands, washing your hands. It’s just a reminder that ultimately we can’t control everything,” Hammond said. “We’re here to serve the parents, we’re here to serve the community, we’re here to educate children. We’re already behind, so we have to be willing to adapt.”
Hammond realizes mistakes will be made during the process, but he has learned that through open communication and cooperation, the school district will overcome this challenge.
While in the midst of dealing with crises like COVID-19, Hammond credits UT Martin with preparing him to handle uncertainty as his faculty members pushed him to not just do well in his career but to be great in life.
“My UT Martin degree has served me well. … I remember the first experience I had working at a newspaper was at UT Martin. Experience in newspaper, taking photos, experience in radio, deepening my experience in TV production, those are things that happened at UT Martin,” said Hammond. “It’s the experience that benefited me, especially in terms of communications. I never felt like I was in a situation where I was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ Now, chief of staff? They don’t offer that degree at UT Martin, but you take the tools that you have, and you get the job done.”
Between his TV studio experience at WBBJ and his education at UTM, Hammond succeeded in his career as a sports broadcaster in Jackson and Lexington, Kentucky, before returning to his alma mater, South Side High School, to run their newly formed broadcast media program. Helping train the future generation of multimedia journalists and seeing students get excited about AV production is what Hammond loved the most about teaching.
“There wasn’t an AV production program at South Side when I was a kid. … But for me to go to college, learn this trade, and by God’s providence be sent back to teach what I’ve learned in a class that wasn’t there when
I was there, but it’s there now… is rewarding,” Hammond said.
Jordan Taylor, a senior communications major at UT Martin and graduate of South Side High School, says the mentorship he received from Hammond is what influenced his decision to not only go into broadcast communications, but also attend UT Martin. Because of Hammond’s original connection to the university, Taylor has had the opportunity to be a sports commentator his entire collegiate career, which led him to his current position as a sports color analyst for Froggy 99.3 FM radio station.
“With him being the media guy, he took me under his wing and was like ‘look, if this is what you really want to do, UT Martin is the best place to go for it,’” Taylor said. “He really had a big influence on my goals, and he was always telling me he wasn’t going to let me underachieve.”
“He was a mentor for me and still is,” Taylor continued. “He had a big influence on me for sure and he still does today. I plan to be in touch with him for the rest of the way, no matter what I’m doing.”
For Hammond, seeing students, like Taylor, have a successful career in the professional field he introduced them to is rewarding. Seeing the hard work and dedication he put into teaching pay off is what continues to inspire him to help better the school district he grew up in.
In this new position, Hammond has faced many challenges already, but he relies on his district’s support system and the knowledge he has learned throughout his career to continue furthering the system’s mission to educate students from backgrounds just like his, so they can one day thrive just as he has.
“I’m from Bemis, and for the people in your home community to see you do well, I mean, it feels good. So, hopefully that motivates the next kid coming out of Bemis or Denmark to say maybe I can do something, too,” Hammond said.
Ultimately, Hammond’s goal as an administrator, former teacher, media professional and Madison County native is to see the students become successful, productive citizens who know their community supports them fully.
“We want the district to improve, so these learning options can improve for our students. When they graduate from our high schools, not only do they have options and opportunities, but then they’ve also realized that by this time… that the district supports you, the community supports you and you have support as you work out the expectations for you to go do great things.”
Hammond considers it a blessing and an honor to have been named the chief of staff and public information officer for the Jackson Madison County School System and hopes the current administration will leave a lasting legacy of transparency and commitment to doing what is right for the school system.
He is a firm believer that “you do your job; you do the best you can; you treat people right, and things will work out.”