Kate Ezell of Ezell Consulting grew up in New Orleans, where she still has strong ties. Spending summers in North Louisiana, where her uncle and his family worked and lived on a plantation, she was afforded an up-close-and-personal look at racial disparities in the South, which eventually set her on her career trajectory. A graduate of both the University of Virginia and the Darden School of Business, her experiences led her to recognize that schools are one of the places where systemic oppression still takes place, and she was inspired to pursue a career as a consultant in educational reform. She has worked with such notable companies as Teach For America, the Tennessee Charter School Incubator and TestRocker (a small organization devoted to SAT and ACT tutors), and she serves as chairman of the Middle Tennessee Jefferson Scholars Foundation. Please welcome empowering educational consultant Kate Ezell of Ezell Consulting.
What led you to consulting and opening your own firm?
I was in the restaurant business in New Orleans following graduation from college, then went to business school. After several years in the New York investment banking world, we moved to Nashville with our first child. I volunteered in the arts and education spaces, and that continued as all three of my children were growing up. Once they were “launched,” I stepped back to see where the critical issues were for Nashvillians and Tennesseans. About that time, Tennessee received $500 million in Race to the Top funds to improve education outcomes for Tennessee students. That allowed Governor Haslam to attract some of the best talents in the education space to our state and Nashville. I wanted to play whatever role I could in that success. Ezell Consulting was created to use my community network to connect Tennesseans to education issues and opportunities.
Tell us about your firm and an overview of what you consult on.
We serve organizations that increase access to good schools for families, organizations that improve teachers in our classrooms, and companies that create tools to support teachers and students. We inform parents, create options for families, talk about quality schools, and raise awareness (and sometimes funds) for organizations that educate and support students. We also create strategic plans for education organizations and schools that do good work for students, and we heighten awareness of the disparity between students and families in private schools through what I call “empathy tools.”
The theme among all of my clients is that they work in quality schools for quality schools. The kids drive them because sometimes, we adults make decisions for our benefit rather than theirs. The educational space can be very discouraging. It used to be that a third of the kids don’t read at grade level, and it has gotten worse with COVID.
What are your passion projects?
There are several. I love our libraries, and I serve on both the Nashville Public Library and the Nashville Public Library Foundation boards. I also serve on The Educators’ Cooperative board; they build community and support teachers from all kinds of schools — public, magnet, public charter, choice, private and parochial — so that they do their best work. My most important and fulfilling connection to the University of Virginia has been through managing the Jefferson Scholars Foundation interview process in Middle Tennessee for the past 18 years or so. Working with area Virginia alums, we interview nominees from all 56 area high schools, looking for the best leader, scholar and citizen. I just finished this year’s work, and the strength of these students makes them a privilege to know and work with.
I’ve also taken advantage of COVID to take online art classes at the Art Students League of New York, hoping to discover and develop some of my amazing mother’s artistic talents.
What do you view as your greatest success?
Besides raising three happy and healthy children, for which I am grateful every day, it’s my greatest joy to facilitate connections between and among people that are mutually beneficial in both work and play. I love win-wins.
How are you helping businesses during the pandemic, and how has it affected your own business?
Much of the work that I was doing when COVID started involved what I call “empathy tools” for community leaders, students and church groups. The pandemic shut down the best work that I was doing, which was poverty simulations for large groups. COVID precludes group work, so the current focus is on advocacy with an eye on a world filled with vaccinated Nashvillians!
You spend the bulk of your time helping others; what do you do to maintain a sense of balance in your personal and professional life?
I am most productive when I get up early and do one of two things: practice yoga or take a walk while reading. My husband and I practice Iyengar yoga three early mornings a week; it’s magic for mental and physical well-being. During COVID, on a non-yoga day, a four-mile walk has become a tonic. I’ve also read more books during this year than I have in years … thank you, Audible and NPL’s Libby app.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Two come to mind. At the rehearsal dinner on the night before [my husband and I] were married, my father-in-law suggested these words as the key to a good relationship: “acceptance, involvement and understanding.” Begin with accepting another person’s action, and become involved in the “why,” which leads to your understanding of the action. For a long time, I argued with the word order. It took me a long time to accept the advice, thinking that you begin with understanding first. This notion applies to many aspects of my life, and I mentally return to the words regularly. The second is “Women can ‘do it all,’ they just can’t always ‘do it all’ at the same time.”
Outside of faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Café Du Monde coffee (with chicory, of course) for breakfast, dirty martinis (or sometimes Sazeracs) before dinner, and dark chocolate-covered ginger for dessert!
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kate! And thanks to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for the images.
Are you ready for even more inspiration from women in our community? Check out our other Nashville FACES.