Friends and colleagues,
It is with tremendous gratitude, excitement, and optimism that I accept the position of Superintendent of the Achievement School District beginning January 2016. I thank Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen for their confidence, Chris Barbic and our ASD team for their tireless work and steadfast commitment to our families, and the operators, educators and communities across Tennessee that partner with us to ensure the absolute best for every student we serve.
In the ASD, Chris Barbic created a tradition of “shout outs” at the beginning of every meeting for people doing an outstanding job. I want to shout out Chris today. Chris has been an outstanding leader and leaves big shoes to fill. His commitment to our students and schools is unparalleled. Under his visionary leadership, the Achievement School District has grown to 29 schools serving nearly 10,000 students across Tennessee, catalyzed local district intervention, and set a national example for a sustainable, statewide turnaround approach for schools and students that need it the most. Chris will be greatly missed, and we are grateful he will remain with us through the first of the new year to ensure a smooth transition.
When I think about the next few years, I look forward to working even more closely with Commissioner McQueen and the Department, local district leaders, school operators, and—most of all—the educators, students and families in communities we serve to create transformative change for the lowest performing schools in Tennessee.
Creating great neighborhood schools here is personal for me. My family helped lead the civil rights movement in Tennessee from the ‘50s through the ‘70s and demanding access to equitable, high quality education for all students was central to the movement. When my grandfather organized student sit-ins at downtown diners that wouldn’t serve black customers at the counter, when my aunt integrated her elementary school as a frightened 1st grader, and when my mother and her parents fought a suspension when her principal singled her out as the only black child in class who didn’t address him as “sir”, the fight for social justice through education became the lifeblood of my family’s experience in and love for Tennessee.
Today when less than 20% of students in our state are black, but over 90% of the students consigned to neighborhood schools that perform in the bottom 5% are black, we have to take a critical look at how we have let the blood, sweat and tears of freedom fighting generations past turn into today’s segregated and unequal systems of schools. We must stand up—each of us, from every background and every corner of Tennessee—to protect and nurture the promise to and in ALL of our students.
Our teachers, school operators, students, parents and communities work incredibly hard every day. I can’t thank them enough. After only three years, we’re excited to say that half of all Priority Schools in the state are now receiving some form of significant intervention. The bar for the bottom 5% has increased nearly 10 points—over a 50% increase—and students in Priority Schools are growing 4 times faster than their statewide peers
While there is much to celebrate, there is also much work ahead. We’ve learned a lot in the first few years of this work. We’ve learned that local district partnership, as we’ve seen in Memphis with Shelby County Schools, can really multiply the impact of this effort. We’ve seen rapid gains in math and science, but along with the rest of the state, know we need to ensure our students are growing in reading just as quickly. And we’ve learned that neighborhood-level conversations and parent and community engagement are critical to the success of our schools.
Going forward, we will continue to hold ourselves and our school operators accountable to the highest levels of student achievement and growth. We will continue to go where need is concentrated, ensuring every Priority School in Tennessee is improving because we believe that families and students in these schools deserve nothing but the best. And we will continue to ensure that the power in our district is placed in the hands of local parents, educators and leaders in the neighborhoods and communities we serve because they are the ones who best know how to serve our students. We will do so with even greater transparency and deeper levels of partnership than during the ASD’s initial years.
I am honored and excited to lead the ASD in taking on these challenges and in continuing this important work. I again want to thank Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen for this incredible opportunity to continue to serve the children and families of Tennessee.