Tuckers visit

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn dances with Tuckers Crossroads School students during a recent Kids Club program at the school. Schwinn discussed the importance of music education, as well as other topics when she visited the school.

The state’s top education official recently visited Tuckers Crossroads School and busted a few moves with students before discussing several aspects of the state’s education outlook.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn visited the school during a Kids Club program centered around music, which featured dancing and playing of instruments. Schwinn joined the students in several of the activities.

“I think we have to focus as much as possible on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics). Most of our students are going to go into application-based fields, so when you’re sitting in a cafeteria in the middle of summer with students who are being exposed to music, you see the joy. You see the excitement,” she said.

Schwinn, who took her position in February, also discussed the state’s recent decision to acquire Pearson as the TNReady assessment vendor. She said Pearson and existing vendor Questar were the only two vendors who met the minimum requirements to administer the assessment.

Pearson’s bid was “significantly under” according to Schwinn, who said the move would save about $17 million over the course of five years.

“I think we’re feeling really good about the amount of dollars we’re saving for the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee. I also think that Pearson has a history of strong test administration,” said Schwinn, who said another vendor would handle test development.

“I think any time you’re trying to set up a test vendor in three months, which has been kind of the continued concern year over year in Tennessee, there’s always going to be risk. The idea, though, is that by having a test vendor who has such a strong track record — both in the state and nationally — of being able to administer a test, we are going to be much better positioned than we have in the past.”

Schwinn also bragged about Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright during her visit.

“I love Donna. I think she is a fierce advocate for her kids,” Schwinn said. “I think she’s had, almost more than any other superintendent, has wanted to put in the time to want to build a relationship.”

Schwinn said Wright has been clear about the issues that are important to Wilson County parents and families and what is needed for the district to continue as a model for the state.

“I think any time I can talk to a superintendent and we’re talking about what’s best for kids is a good day, and it’s always a good day with her,” she said.

Schwinn also said she was impressed with how well students are prepared after they leave high school.

“I had the opportunity to have a focus group with about 20 high school students of varying grades ninth through 12th, and they knew what they wanted. They were ready to advocate for it. They clearly were empowered and very, very obviously had a high-quality education. I think if we could replicate that across the state, so that all kids have the same opportunity, I think we’ll be in good shape,” she said.

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