Strong Communities Support Schools in Southwest Tennessee

teacher_tourAs 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 Collierville, Fayette County, and Hardeman County schools on the Classroom Chronicles tour. 

By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

Earlier this month, I reached my goal of connecting with 10,000 teachers on the Classroom Chronicles tour in an effort to learn how policy looks in classrooms across the Tennessee. I truly appreciate getting to spend time with so many outstanding educators in Tennessee, and it’s been a tremendous journey. While meeting this initial goal was an important moment on my path to connect with as many classroom teachers as I can, I’m excited that the journey continues. Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting three districts in Southwest Tennessee. There was a strong sense of community in each of these districts, and students and teachers were highly engaged in teaching and learning, even as excitement for summer builds. TaraPeeperstudents

At Crosswind Elementary in Collierville, I had the honor of reading and discussing one of my new favorite books, What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada, with Joan Donahue’s fifth graders. Down the hall in Tara Peeper’s fourth grade classroom, students were highly engaged as they worked in centers related to their study of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I enjoyed learning how Ms. Peeper and her colleagues have been incorporating literacy instruction using chapter books as anchors in other content areas, such as social studies. It was clear the students were invested in their learning; despite already donning their field day t-shirts in anticipation of festivities later that afternoon, they were enthusiastically collaborating with one another and eager to share their work with me. Crosswind’s strong sense of community, collaborative environment, and high expectations for all students is certainly a strong recipe for continued success.

CHSgroundbreakingThe students I met at Crosswind will also benefit from a new high school building, thanks to the significant investment of the Collierville community. Immediately following my visit to Crosswind, I was honored to join the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Collierville High School, to be opened in 2018. The community spirit there was infectious; district leaders, legislators, school board members, administrators, teachers, students, and other members of the community gathered to celebrate Collierville High School’s exciting future in a new state-of-the-art building. I was encouraged that the Collierville community isn’t simply building a newer, larger space; they are very intentionally building a facility with student learning in mind. The new building will be equipped with STEM and CTE spaces, as well as an infrastructure to support a 1:1 technology initiative. The large, enthusiastic crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony and the significant investment in this important undertaking is a testament to the community’s commitment to a high-quality education for all students.

OaklandA strong sense of community was also apparent in nearby Fayette County where I had the opportunity to meet with parents and teachers at Oakland Elementary.  I was encouraged to hear how they’ve worked together to strengthen the school culture and carry out the district’s strategic plan, which aligns to directly our strategic plan for the state, Tennessee Succeeds. I then visited several classrooms were students and teachers were making the most of their time left together before summer break. Students in Patti Williams’ second grade class were honing their investigative skills with a hands-on science experiment, and Dan Welch’s fourth graders were leading their own interactive, Hollywood Squares-style review game on the American Revolution.

I ended the day in Hardeman County with classroom visits at Bolivar Elementary, where I saw a keen focus on quality literacy instruction. Micca Sinclair’s students were engaged in a collaborative activity analyzing paragraph structure. Down the hall, April Pulliam’s students were evaluating and revising their writing pieces from earlier in the year. This provided students the opportunity to thinking critically about their own work and make improvements, as well as reflect on the year’s learning and the progress they had made.

Oakland2I appreciate the district and community leaders, teachers, parents, legislators, and students who welcomed me to these wonderful communities. With these schools’ strong commitment to literacy instruction and the support of dedicated parents and communities, I know these students will continue to experience great success in school and beyond.

Thank you to Rep. Curry Todd for joining us on the visits to Crosswind Elementary and the Collierville High School Groundbreaking and Sen. Delores Gresham for joining us on the visits to Oakland Elementary and Bolivar Elementary.