Principal Self leaves many with broken hearts

Betsy PickleSouth Knox

The death of Mooreland Heights Elementary School principal Brandi Wilson Self on Sunday, Nov. 7, came as a shock to the school’s students and families as well as the Colonial Village neighborhood where she lived.

The news led to tributes from all across town on social media and an outpouring of love for the students she has led for five and a half years.

Brandi Self in 2015 (Photo by Betsy Pickle)

Flowers and mementos were placed in her honor in the front yard of the school, and faculty held an outdoor memorial service for her on Wednesday next to the iconic South High Rocket, which embellishes the schoolyard.

“She was well loved by not only her students but the whole Mooreland Heights community,” said County Commissioner Carson Dailey, who represents South Knoxville. “She will be missed, I know that.”

Self succeeded Roy Miller as principal when Miller left to take a position at Johnson University in January 2016. He recommended her highly to Knox County Schools.

“I loved her dearly,” Miller said on Thursday. “We were two peas in a pod.”

Self started as a fourth-grade teacher in 1998 at Mooreland Heights. Miller, who previously served as assistant principal at West Hills Elementary, arrived in 2004 after principal Robbie McGowan moved to Brickey-McCloud Elementary School. Miller recalled that Self was tapped to direct an arts-integration program, Arts 360, for the Tennessee Arts Commission in 2006, but she had her office at Mooreland Heights. She became assistant principal at MHES in 2012, but Miller said that during her time in arts integration, she was in many ways his assistant principal.

“She did so much with the arts program across the state and especially for Knox County,” he said.

Miller, now dean of the Templar School of Education at Johnson, admired her leadership and her knowledge.

“Brandi was the best curriculum coach and one to understand classroom pedagogy better than anyone,” he said. “That was her strength. Her strength was being able to take the teacher’s guide and bring it to life for the classroom teacher.”

Self’s funeral and visitation will be held Sunday, Nov. 14, but on Wednesday this week the school had its own recognition.

“It was precious,” said Miller, a 33-year veteran of Knox County Schools. “Her daughter was there. Her mom was there. I’ve been at the school twice this week. Just being around that faculty and hearing them speak yesterday, they knew that the center of Brandi’s life were the children she served. She’s going to be sorely missed.”

Self, 45, was the only principal most of the students have ever known.

“The kids are in shock right now, obviously,” Miller said. “There’s going to be a lot of broken hearts and a lot of tears.”

Betsy Pickle writes about  South Knoxville for KnoxTNToday.

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