Schools in Upper Cumberland are Equipping Students for the Next Level

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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 Overton and Fentress Counties on the Classroom Chronicles tour. 

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

Our overarching goal at the department is to empower teachers and schools so that they can prepare students for life after high school. Given that mission, one encouraging aspect of the Classroom Chronicles tour is seeing the ways in which districts are exploring creative strategies to prepare students for postsecondary, whether that be continuing onto a four-year university, two-year community college, or career training that will lead to a certificate or credential. These are all paths that will better equip our students to be successful in their lives.

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Bob Gore explains how his virtual class works.

The focus on this goal was modeled throughout the K-12 pipeline during a trip through the Upper Cumberland region. I saw a fantastic use of innovation at A.H. Roberts Elementary in Overton County, which is not only incorporating technology into the daily teaching and learning cycle, but the district is also using it to provide students with unique learning opportunities. One in particular was Bob Gore’s virtual math class, which he used to give high-performing students across the district access to advanced teaching and learning. In remote parts of the state, schools may not always have the time or resources available to help students who are ready to move more quickly in their learning. This model was a unique and creative solution to help more students have that opportunity to excel. Mr. Gore showed us how a handful of students who were in other schools would appear on a video conference, and thanks to technology, they would be able to work through an advanced lesson as if he was in their physical classroom.

Similarly, at the Alvin C. York Institute, I met with educators and saw school leadership that was working to create stronger pathways for students into the workforce. I talked with students who were part of a welding program that was on par with a real-world setting. Their teacher, Bret Patton, was focused on making sure his students would be successful in the workforce not only because they had the knowledge, but because they also had the soft skills that they would need, like promptness, attention to detail, and a focus on safety.

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Micki Phipps helps a student with her bell-ringer.

In Micki Phipps’ calculus class at York, she made an explicit connection to postsecondary by using a bell-ringer activity that came from the test a former student was taking in her first year of college. She was able to show students that what they were learning in her class is what is expected of them at the next level. She also said she stayed in touch with former students in part because she was eager to know if they were ready. This teacher’s focus on preparing students was incredibly encouraging, and I know her sentiments are shared by so many across the state.

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Commissioner McQueen talks with students at Pine Haven Elementary.

I got to close the day with visits to schools in Fentress County, where students told me often how their teachers were helping to support them to be successful. In Bethany Beaty’s third grade math class at Pine Haven Elementary School, students said they were learning more this year than ever before. They were able to give me clear examples about how their teacher helps them make connections and focus on specific areas where they need help, like with multiplication tables. Similarly, when I visited Leigh Ann Burgess’ algebra I class at Clarkrange High School, students said they weren’t worried about their future because they know their teacher is “going to teach us what we need to know.” Ms. Burgess also recognized the importance of personalized learning in supporting her students’ success, telling me that she has had to figure out how each of them learn and works from there to move the needle.

I once again saw students making strong career and life connections in Christine Garrett’s business management class at Clarkrange High School. The students were building their understanding on how management skills can help them lead by example. They were also unpacking how the components of management could play out in their daily lives, not only in the workplace, but also in their families and communities as well as the military. These are exactly the types of skills all of our students should be developing to be successful after they graduate. I even met a student in the class who himself was a small business owner and entrepreneur, working with cattle, a fireworks company, animal kennel, and a lawn mowing business.

The more our students are thinking about life after high school, the more likely they will be successful when they get there. Each step along a student’s K-12 journey offers moments for us to equip our students for the future, and I’m grateful to our educators for helping our students take advantage of each connection and opportunity along the way.