UPDATE, 9:41 a.m.: MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register has signed the petition, according to Tullahoma superintendent Lawson, as have Williamson County Superintendent Mike Looney and Franklin Special School District Director of Schools David Snowden. Lawson denied requests to share the full list of signatures, saying the list is incomplete. "I expect added signatures and I expect some to want to remove their names from the letter" within the next week, he said.
Almost half of the state’s superintendents have signed a petition criticizing the Tennessee Department of Education for having “no interest” in working with school district leaders.
Tullahoma School District superintendent Dan Lawson circulated the letter and began collecting signatures at the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents' fall conference this week that concluded yesterday. He says, however, that it is not a product of TOSS.
“This is not a vote of no-confidence. This is not a statement to any litigation or anything like that. This is a letter of concern,” says Lawson, who points to recent changes in teacher licensure, the state fining Metro Nashville Public Schools for denying Great Hearts Charter School, and the fast pace the department is pushing change as reasons for his petition.
The message, which he said he will leave open until next week for other superintendents to sign, says district leaders’ “efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile” and that they feel Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman “considers school teachers, principals and superintendents impediments to school improvement rather than partners.”
TOSS Executive Director Wayne Miller says he understands the the group’s discontent with the administration, but he has been in constant conversation with Huffman while changes to the state’s education system have been made.
“Certainly, frustrations are high any time you implement a lot of change, as we have done in the state,” says Miller, a former Lenoir City School superintendent who added he did not know whether he would have signed the petition had he still been running a school district.
This petition follows another petition drive pushed on Facebook over the summer seeking Huffman’s removal from the administration.
A spokeswoman for Huffman says the commissioner has not received this latest letter.
“His sole focus is on student achievement and improving education in Tennessee, and will continue, as he has in the past, to seek input and feedback from Tennessee educators,” says spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier.
Below, a copy of the letter:
September 9, 2013.
The superintendents who have chosen to sign this document have enjoyed hundreds of years of experience and have led schools in the state of Tennessee to accomplish tremendous outcomes. Each signee aspires to accomplish more and utilize state and community resources to continue with the challenging task of comprehensive and sustained school improvement. The schools we are working to improve are in the communities where we live and serve our children.
As leaders, we have participated in some of the most comprehensive reform efforts in our nation. Our participation has been intentional with a goal of providing a brighter future for the children in our charge while improving increased economic, educational and social opportunities in our state.
During the last year, the signees have developed a belief that the office of the Commissioner of Education in this administration has no interest in a dialogue with those of us providing leadership for school systems. We have begun to feel that the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education considers school teachers, principals and superintendents impediments to school improvement rather than partners. While no superintendent will have all the answers, we are confident that many of the efforts underway by our state would be enhanced by our active voice and genuine participation in the decision development process.
Superintendents have attempted to accomplish participation in the decision making process through the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, through the Superintendents Study Council and through more informal measures. Instead of a receptive ear, our overtures have been met with scripted messages and little interest in accomplishing great change by changing culture.
It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile. We have been patient, professional and focused on the needs of each of our communities but the expertise we have and the passion we feel must become a part of the efforts to improve Tennessee education.
The superintendents signed hereto have been willing to take this extraordinary step not as an act of resistance rather as a plea out of a sense of responsibility for each of the communities we serve. Today we feel that we are not respected or valued and that the unique culture of our state is not valued. Today we feel that we are unable to lead many improvement efforts due to our charge of attempting to address morale issues of many of our employees who feel voiceless and powerless.
We are not content with the current leadership and feel that we are not best serving our state in this manner. We request that Governor Haslam and members of the Tennessee General Assembly consider carefully and prayerfully the future of free public education in our state and address our concerns and the concerns of many of our parents, teachers and principals