By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
I met my favorite teacher during my first week as a new fourth grader at Burt Elementary School in Clarksville, Tennessee.
As a student and later as an educator and mother, the first weeks of the school year have always provided a moment to take stock of where I am and give me a sense of optimism about how I will grow in the year ahead. This year, as education commissioner, I feel the same way.
That may be a surprise given our experience in the 2015-16 year, when we had to cancel state testing for grades 3-8. But thanks to the hard work of our principals and teachers to ensure the school year ended on a high note, and thanks to their efforts over the summer to reflect on their practice and prepare for the year ahead, we are resetting the conversation on what the focus should be in Tennessee’s schools: strong teaching and learning, with multiple opportunities for students to flourish and with assessments serving as one key check to make sure students are ready for the next step.
We have kept our goals – for every child to be successful and for teachers and parents to get better information about how their students are doing – but now we have a stronger partner with a proven track record, a testing program that is hours shorter, and streamlined logistics so the assessment will fit better into the school day and year. And that’s what I want parents, teachers, and students to know: We are continuously improving based on your feedback, and we are ready for the 2016-17 year. It won’t be perfect, but I believe in being a lifelong learner, and we will continue to listen and adjust where needed.
Our teachers are already showing their positivity, teamwork, and resilience. The results from our annual Tennessee Educator Survey show that the vast majority of educators across all grade levels feel good about the climate in their schools, saying that they serve students alongside colleagues who share their goals and high expectations, and school leaders who value the importance of instructional time. Even better: Those numbers have risen over the past couple of years.
Our teachers’ optimism mirrors my optimism, as well. While we have many opportunities for improvement, we all – from state to district to classroom leadership – are aligning our work and making strategic decisions to help all students successfully take advantage of their promise. This goal has never before been so tangible and real for many of our students as it is now with Tennessee Promise, which removes financial barriers and supports our students’ dreams. Ensuring annual growth for all students – from kindergarten to 12th grade – on their pathway to fulfilling their dreams is the best way to make sure these promises are kept.
Our teachers, just like Mrs. Martin, know how to help their students grow and flourish. They know how to tailor their high-quality instruction to the character of every child and provide students with opportunities to show progress in a variety of ways. They are and will continue to be key to each child’s realization of their promise and ultimately Tennessee’s success. It is their work that will make this school year a great one.