Teacher issues aired

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Listening to Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin S. Huffman are, from left, Joe Boyd Liggett, Lyn Stacey, Danny Morgan, Tom Sumners, Jim Tracy, Janet Wiles, Dean Delk, Brandie Liggett, and Suzanne Ingram.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County educators had an open exchange of ideas, views and general information with Tennessee's education commissioner at the county system's central office on Thursday.

Preparing students for modern factory jobs and teacher evaluations - the latter being a subject that caught Gov. Bill Haslam's attention last fall - were two prominent topics for Commissioner Kevin S. Huffman.

"We had a good evaluation system," Forrest High School science teacher Elaine Huffines told Huffman, who indicated department leaders have spoken with thousands of teachers this year on evaluation systems.

"We'll make changes and tweaks to the evaluation system," he said.

Still, basic rules for evaluations are "good," Huffman continued. Change is "essential" because under the previous system, students scored well and more than half were not "at grade level."

Huffines, a former teacher evaluation team member, claimed that experience to drive home a point about the most recent teacher evaluation system. Administrators "don't even know what I'm doing," and "Just this year, we were able to figure out how to evaluate chemistry teachers..."

Standardized evaluation systems didn't work for teachers of various other studies such as physical education, art and other specialized studies and/or instruction.

"I want teachers evaluated," Huffines said. "But teachers are scared to death they're going to be fired."

Huffman acknowledged there'd been "push back" against new evaluation systems, said the system was tested "robustly" last year, and at some point it must be implemented.

Lyn Stacey, director of career and technical education programs in the county school system, quizzed Huffman about Career and Technical (CT) Education programs that prepare students for employment in high-tech factories.

Huffman's "unsure" about the state providing consultants for such programs, but it's clear he wants to "align CT and post secondary education and programs that lead to jobs."

It's a point repeatedly heard among economic development councils in Marshall County where leaders frequently explain that it's no longer enough to get a high school diploma and go to work for a pencil factory for decades.

With nearly 50 people present, Huffman advised, "We're not driven by ideology. We're driven by training that gets results."

Marshall County Commissioners Tom Sumners and Dean Delk attended saying, respectively, the state shouldn't rely more on local funding, and Huffman's visit goes a long way toward building relationships and understanding for the betterment of students.