Hamblen County Sets Students up for Lifelong Success

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As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stop in Hamblen County on the Classroom Chronicles tour. 

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

The weather may be getting chilly, but I could hardly tell by the warm reception I received when visiting Hamblen County Schools.  Director of Schools, Dr. Dale Lynch, graciously showed off the exceptional work being done across this First Tennessee school district.  During my visit, I got to see the strong alignment between K-12 and the local workforce that extends far beyond the Hamblen County Schools district office. That partnership will strengthen the futures of their children and community.

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Students in Hamblen Co. practice manipulating the movement of robots.

This year, Hamblen County is pioneering an initiative allowing students to earn a Work Ethic Diploma through a Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) grant.  In order to earn this special diploma, students must meet criteria aligned to the expectations of employers. These expectations range from timeliness, to professionalism, to strong communication skills.  Once students have met the requirements to earn the Work Ethic Diploma, they are guaranteed an in-person interview with one of dozens of regional industry partners.

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Commissioner McQueen sat as a model while the teacher demonstrated the 3-D imaging technology.

During my visit, I got to see several students working on their Work Ethic Diploma in an electromechanics class.  These students were building robots and developing 3-D technology, as well as practicing skills such as problem-solving and collaboration.  In addition to learning valuable skills, these students will also receive a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certification upon completion of the course. We know that having opportunities such as these during high school will vastly increase the likelihood of these students not only enrolling in postsecondary education, but going on to earn their certificate, diploma, or degree.

In addition to the Work Ethic Diploma, Hamblen County has decided to focus on providing all students an opportunity to earn college credit in high school.  Through AP, dual-enrollment, and certification programs, students are graduating high school a step ahead of their peers and further prepared for the rigor of coursework in college.  At Morristown-Hamblen West High School, all students, not just the highest achieving, are encouraged to take dual-enrollment and AP classes. All students can benefit from the rigor of these types of classes, and it is clear the increased expectations does not deter students.

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Commissioner McQueen works one-on-one with a student at Fairview-Marguerite.

The impressive work being done in Hamblen County is not limited to the high school.  At Fairview-Marguerite Elementary School, they are working to improve outcomes for every student, every day.  Over the past 10 years, the student population has changed significantly, and as the number of English learners and economically disadvantaged students has grown, school leaders and teachers are working harder to provide the best resources and opportunities for all students. This school embodies the spirit of All Means All, a priority area of the department’s new strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds.  Fairview has exhibited a strong commitment to working with all students to guarantee they are successful by helping more teachers become English Language Learner certified and calling on community members for support.

I am thrilled to see that school leaders and teachers are opening up doors of opportunity for all students to pursue their passions. The future of our state depends on ensuring that all our children have the knowledge and skills they need, and Hamblen County is a great example of how we can empower learning through aligned partnerships that equip students to be our future leaders.

I am grateful to all of the educators who allowed me to visit their schools and classrooms as part of my 10,000 teacher tour.  Follow more of my travels here on Classroom Chronicles as my tour continues throughout the fall.