A county and state partnership is a win for students

by Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

The Hamilton County Board of Education recently voted to move forward with a partnership that is a win for both our students and for the larger Hamilton County school community. It centers on the vision that every child deserves a neighborhood public school that prepares them for a successful future — and it recognizes the reality that for far too long, we have not achieved that.

For the first time, the state and the district are partnering in an innovative way that reminds us we’re all on the same team. This approach, which we call a Partnership Network, blends state support, transparency and accountability with local expertise and leadership so students learn in schools that are able to meet their diverse set of needs — both in and outside the classroom.

The history of Hamilton County’s lowest performing schools cannot be ignored: Many were deemed in need of improvement 16 years ago. Thousands of students spent their K-12 education in persistently underperforming schools, and thousands of students are enrolled there today. Despite a lot of hard work, too many students leave school unprepared, making it more likely they will struggle to find meaningful employment, make enough to support themselves and their families, or be well equipped to give their fullest potential to their community.

We want to change that trajectory, and we believe we are strongest when we work collaboratively to support every child. Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson and Hamilton County’s leadership shares our sense of urgency.

When the Partnership Network starts in fall 2018, five schools in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee will remain governed by the district, but there will be additional state oversight, public transparency and funding to improve performance. The Partnership Network will be within the Opportunity Zone — the district’s new approach for supporting its lowest performing schools — helping us to maximize the impact of this work. Through an agreement signed by the district and state, we have set specific and time-sensitive student outcomes we want to see from these schools, with the expectation that if they are not met, additional changes will need to be made.

To be clear, no structure is a silver bullet. The change comes when we center on what we know works: supporting our teachers to lead high-quality instruction and equipping them to handle the variety of needs that students have. The Partnership Network focuses on this theory of action with additional transparency and outcome-driven advisement from committed state, district and community leaders. Like anything in education, we know many of the achievements will take time to fully see, but we still expect that this coming school year, we’ll see more growth and more success from where we are today.

We have confidence in the principals and teachers at our network schools. We fully believe that if they have the knowledge and resources they need, they will help more of our students to be successful and ready for whatever pathway they choose after high school. We appreciate the new work of the leaders in the Opportunity Zone and see the potential for dynamic teaching and learning, more course options like Advanced Placement and career and technical education, and a well-rounded school environment. We see the potential for every student to be a high school graduate who is prepared both for college and to go into a high-paying job. And, we see the potential for community schools that serve every family in the neighborhood and where every parent is confident their child will be safe, nurtured, and well educated.

Thank you for partnering with us on this vision. I am excited to see what we can do together.

This originally ran as an op-ed in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 1, 2018.