More than 60 Tennessee school board directors, including Mark Willoughby of DeKalb County, have endorsed a letter urging Governor Bill Haslam to reign in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.
The letter, which can be viewed in complete form at www.smithvillereview.com, claims Huffman and his department have “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.”
The letter further alleges that dizzying policy changes at the state level have sent teacher morale on a downward spiral.
“Our teachers and administration are working harder than they ever have,” Willoughby told the Review. “They are being held more accountable than they ever have, and I think they are less appreciated by they state than they ever have been.”
As to whether he agreed with the content of the letter, Willoughby said, “I have signed it once, and I would sign it 100 times if possible.
“We would like for the commissioner of Education to have a dialogue with the people who are in the trenches," Willoughby continued, "We would like for him to listen to us and take in what we are saying, not just give a canned speech back to us.”
Huffman, who joined Haslam's cabinet in 2011, has been criticized for calling for changes to the minimum teacher salary schedule for new teachers, reducing steps in salary increases from 21 to four, for eliminating incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master's training, and for proposing the tying of teacher licenses to student test data.
“It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile,” the letter reads.
“Today we feel that we are not respected or valued, and that the unique culture of our state is not valued,” it continues.
As of press time, 63 superintendents have signed the letter. There are 136 local education agencies in the state.
The letter reads as follows:
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.