Education commissioner visits Kingsport for student roundtable

Rick Wagner • Feb 22, 2019 at 5:00 PM

KINGSPORT — New Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn visited two local schools Thursday, including Dobyns-Bennett, to get feedback from students during roundtable meetings.

“I hear the same things said differently and framed differently” across the state, Schwinn said of students wanting to be happy, healthy and safe.

She said the 20 D-B students at the event, closed to the media and public, specifically suggested better transitions from middle to high school and from high school to careers.

Schwinn, named education commissioner by then Gov.-elect  Bill Lee on Jan. 17, visited Anderson Elementary in Bristol earlier Thursday and will be in Carter County at Unaka High School Friday. Schwinn said she hopes eventually to spend one day a week visiting schools throughout the state and to visit all districts by this time next year “to see classrooms and see students.”

Lee is emphasizing career technical, or vocational, education, and Schwinn said getting students work ready in “careers of their choosing” is just as important for some as preparing other students for four years of college.

So far, she’s visited more than 58 classrooms in 14 districts. She said she was aware of the flooding and road collapse issues in Hawkins County and the closure at Rogersville City School due to flu.

“I’ll be back,” she said. “I will never intrude.”

On other matters, she said the Department of Education is working on a new vendor for the TNReady testing to be in place by the end of June. She also said that schools need to do a better job of encouraging students to consider careers as teachers, especially in areas such as science, and close achievement gaps.

“Our goal is excellence,” Schwinn said.

Schwinn most recently served as the chief deputy commissioner of education at the Texas Education Agency. In this role, according to the Lee administration, she pursued a series of reforms including the transformation of a failing state assessment program. She also implemented the expansion of statewide externships and pathway development for improving students’ career readiness upon graduation.

In addition, Schwinn oversaw the development of open-source instructional materials to empower teachers with high-quality resources for teaching. Prior to serving in the Texas Education Agency, Schwinn was the chief accountability and performance officer for the Delaware Department of Education, where she led efforts to conduct a testing audit, which resulted in a decrease in student testing time of almost 20 percent.

A former teacher, Schwinn taught with Teach for America (TFA) from 2004 to 2007, with work in Baltimore City Public Schools and Los Angeles. She is also the founder of Capitol Collegiate Academy, a charter school that serves low-income students in south Sacramento.

However, Schwinn said her focus in Tennessee is on the state’s public schools and its nearly 1 million students, adding that her daughters will be in public schools in the greater Nashville area. She said the idea of using publicly funded vouchers for private schools would be up to state lawmakers.

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