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 stops in Dayton City, Monroe County, and Bradley County on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
Opportunities for students to develop solid academic foundations, use technology, and explore career pathways are critical to a strong future — and those opportunities are expanding across Tennessee. That was on full display during visits with educators in Dayton City, Monroe County, and Bradley County last week, as I continued the 2016 leg of the Classroom Chronicles tour.
I started the day at Dayton City School, where it was immediately apparent that this K-8 school has a cohesive vision for technology that has been sustained and supported by the community for decades. From the digital sign and world-class security system on the outside and what I saw on the inside – including multiple forms of technology in every classroom and state-of-the-art computer labs – it is clear that Dayton City has made the crucial choice to invest in their children’s future and open up the world to them through modern-day tools. Throughout the classrooms I visited, teachers were seamlessly using technology as part of the everyday teaching and learning cycle to enhance their instruction.
I also had a chance to visit with classes to specifically discuss a big upcoming moment for our state: the spring launch of TNReady, the new TCAP test in math and English language arts. In Ms. Connally’s fourth grade class, I asked students if they like using a computer to take a test, and the overwhelming response was yes. Luke said he liked the highlighter tool, and Andrew said he could read easier on a screen. Even more encouraging, I asked students what they liked about their teacher, and their comments were insightful and impressive. Cara said she liked that Ms. Connally broke down concepts so she could understand it easier; Joshua said he liked that she came up with creative ways for them to learn, like jingles; and many students added that she was nice and helpful. It is educators like these that are truly inspiring – not just to their students, but also to me.
To finish my visit to Dayton City, Principal Linda Abel and Matt Marcus, the school’s technology director, showed me their computer labs, where dozens of students could access modern equipment to engage in learning. The school leaders and several board members who joined us said that they had been investing into technology for decades, knowing how important it is to equip our students to be prepared for real-world demands, and these computer labs were a natural outgrowth of that vision. While we were there, a third-grade class was taking a TNReady practice test on the online MIST platform, and I had the opportunity to get some feedback from their teacher on the experience she had with her kids so far. I appreciate how so many educators I meet – despite the challenges that may arise from using new tools and a new platform – are staying calm and working through issues during this transition time to support our students. That is the most important aspect for a successful first year of TNReady – and for healthy, dynamic classroom environments.
My second stop was at Sequoyah High School in Monroe County, which also immediately demonstrated its long-standing commitment to providing students with real-world skills and exposure to different career and education pathways, including through dual enrollment opportunities. I saw how teachers engaged students in disciplines ranging from carpentry and physical science to math and biology. I also had the chance to speak with seniors about their upcoming transition after high school and how their teachers were going above and beyond to prepare them to be successful in their next move, whether that be to Cleveland State Community College, Duke, the University of Tennessee, or a skilled position in the workforce. Equipping students to be successful in life after high school is absolutely critical for both students’ futures and our state’s, and I was glad to see how Sequoyah High School has created partnerships and programs that do just that.
We know that graduating high school prepared for postsecondary success is a path that starts early – even well before a student enters kindergarten. That’s why I was glad to come full circle and finish this day in Bradley County, where I could both share about the importance of early learning in long-term academic and life success and learn how the community is kick-starting efforts to make sure our youngest learners develop literacy skills. Through Bradley County School’s Read 20 program, school leaders are strengthening their efforts and encouraging community partners to get involved by reading to children for 20 minutes a day, which is critical to building early foundations in literacy that our children will build on for the rest of their lives.
Our state has been struggling for years to improve reading scores, and I believe developing the abilities to read and comprehend in our youngest learners is key to changing that outcome. The more children who enter kindergarten on grade level, the more we can focus on growing from that strong start – versus constantly working to catch them up. Next month, we will share more about our statewide efforts to build on what districts like Bradley County Schools are doing, so ultimately all of our students are on paths to be successful throughout their K-12 journey and beyond.
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.