Tennessee Continues Search for Statewide Turnaround Superintendent

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Published July 8, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

The Tennessee Department of Education is preparing its third search to find a statewide turnaround Superintendent. The announcement was made on Tuesday, July 6. 

This position is the first of its kind and overlooks all the turnaround schools in the state. The state’s Achievement School District is the initiative for turning around underperforming schools. The ASD includes 27 schools and over 9,000 students from Memphis and Nashville. 

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

The first search had to be paused because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the second search ended in January of this year. At the time, Department of Education spokeswoman Victoria Robinson said the third search would pick up in August once they had established a more clear path forward. 

“While we had a strong candidate pool, we will not be filling this position at this time due to budget and other uncertainties,” Robinson said in January. 

“We are entering new budget and legislative sessions, and we need to have a clearer understanding of the budgetary or legislative impacts,” she said. “This is a big decision. We want to get this right.”

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The developments to find a turnaround Superintendent come at the same time that the state is implementing phonics-based learning and other initiatives to combat pandemic-related learning loss. 

“School turnaround work is difficult and arduous, and no time is more critical than any other,” state spokesman Brian Blackley said during Tuesday’s announcement. 

The Achievement School District was created in 2011 as part of Tennessee’s plan to turn around schools that were consistently underperforming. Last year, state officials acknowledged that the ASD had not given them the results they hoped for after a decade. However, they want to reboot the plan with a turnaround superintendent and a revised model. 

One of the new superintendent’s jobs will be deciding how to start returning these schools and students to their home districts. In recent months, Governor Bill Lee’s administration created a plan that gave schools several pathways for leaving the ASD. 

“I think most of us are disappointed in the results that we’ve had with the ASD,” Senator Ferrell Haile said. However, he does not think schools that have improved should be returned to their original districts. 

Senator Brian Kelsey, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said, “It would be outrageous to take our successful schools in the Achievement School District and send them back to an environment in which they could quickly turn into failures.”

One pathway laid out in Lee’s plan would allow for some better-performing schools to apply to the Tennessee Public Charter Commission, another state-run district. Lower-performing schools will also have the option to return to their home district, and another option lets schools stay in the ASD. 

The Department of Education will be going through an outside firm to search for superintendent candidates across the country. According to Blackley, the current plan is to hold interviews in the fall and have someone hired by the end of the year. 

The turnaround superintendent will also be tasked with creating more community engagement as a way to improve the Achievement School District. 

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About the Author:

Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative 

Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen and the Crossville Chronicle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com

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