As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post the commissioner recaps her recent stops in Maury County and Lewis County on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
I had the privilege of visiting both Maury and Lewis Counties on Sept. 11, a day of remembrance and patriotism. In fact, I was honored to sing the National Anthem with the students at Lewis County Elementary at noon as part of The American Public Education Foundation’s gathering of thousands of students across Tennessee who did the same. Dr. Chris Marczak, Director of Schools for Maury County, and Benny Pace, Director of Schools for Lewis County, provided extraordinary opportunities for me to connect with educators and to witness the inspiring work happening in their districts.
The day began in Spring Hill where I was quickly struck by the community support for education. Every school I visited in Maury County boasted the phrase, “The grass is greener where you water it”. School officials were eager to share that this motto represents an unprecedented campaign that began this past summer. Through this campaign, the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance, in partnership with Maury County Public Schools, aim at making educational achievement the community’s focal point. During my visit I saw that this commitment is more than just a motto, but a full pledge by the community to support all students in achieving at high levels.
This focus on achievement for all students was tangible as I toured Northfield Academy. Principal Diane Kirk glowed with pride, for good reason, as she showed us around the three-year old school. Northfield Academy is unique in that it offers high school students age 17+ who have a desire to graduate the opportunity to work towards their diploma at their own pace. One Northfield student, DJ, shared with me how important this school was in getting him back on track to graduate so he can pursue his dreams of studying marketing in college. Talking to him further emphasized the importance of schools like Northfield that seek to educate all of our students, regardless of background or situation. I left Maury County inspired and excited about the opportunities being provided to students in Tennessee.
This positive momentum continued as I entered the classrooms of talented pre-K teachers in Lewis County. Ten years after beginning this program, Lewis County has four classes of pre-K preparing students for the academic and social expectations of kindergarten. In Ms. Alaina’s classroom, I got to see students practicing letter recognition and sounds while working on life skills like sharing and respect. Lewis County pre-K teachers are constantly looking at new ways to encourage all students to grow and have even begun a reading “club” for the highest performing students.
This commitment to literacy does not end in the classroom, however. Recently, the Lewis County pre-K program was awarded a grant to implement the Ready for Kindergarten series. Through a set of three classes, parents will learn how to support early learning for their children ensuring school readiness and success. As a child’s first teacher, it is important for all of our parents to feel empowered and equipped to instill in their children a love of learning and reading from a very early age. I applaud Lewis County for all that they are doing to support these efforts in their community and am optimistic about the outcomes for children we will see as a result.
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. I especially want to thank Rep. Shelia Butt, Sen. Joey Hensley, and Rep. David Byrd for taking time out of their schedules to experience the exciting and inspirational work being done in classrooms across our state. Follow more of my travels here on the Classroom Chronicles blog as my tour continues throughout the fall.