bill haslam

Lipscomb dean will replace Huffman

Candice McQueen and Bill Haslam announced McQueen's new job at the state capitol.

A top official at one of Tennessee’s premier education schools will become Tennessee’s new education commissioner, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today.

Haslam’s pick, Candice McQueen, is the senior vice president at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

In a speech following Haslam’s announcement, McQueen stressed that she believes Tennessee is “heading in the right direction,” suggesting she won’t steer away from the path forged by outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman, which focuses on higher standards and increased accountability.

McQueen also emphasized that she will be an advocate for teachers, who have often complained of mistreatment by the Haslam administration.

Before becoming an administrator at Lipscomb, McQueen oversaw the growth of the university’s College of Education, highly ranked  by both the state and the National Council for Teacher Quality, an advocacy group often critical of traditional teacher training programs. The NCTQ commended Lipscomb’s rigorous application process for potential teachers.

“Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said in a press release. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach.”

She also helped found the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb. Prior to her work in higher education, she was an elementary and middle school teacher.

McQueen said that her experiences in the classroom at both the primary and university levels will serve her well as she continues Haslam’s and Huffman’s push to make sure Tennessee students will leave high school prepared for college or a career.

“I know first hand what college readiness looks like,” she said. “I also know the academic struggles, the financial implications, and the sense of failure that occurs when students come to college not prepared.”

In the first minute of her speech McQueen reminded those assembled that she was raised in Tennessee, although she didn’t dwell on that. A frequent criticism of Huffman was that he was a transplant unfamiliar with the people of the state.

Her background pleased Tennessee’s two large teacher professional organizations, who often opposed Huffman’s reforms, especially tying test score data to teacher evaluations.

“As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children,” Tennessee Education Association President, Barbara Gray said in a press release, referring to Tennessee’s funding for education.

“Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools,” read a Professional Educators of Tennessee press release. “She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns.”

McQueen gave little indication that she’d steer the state away from the path forged by Huffman, lauding teacher evaluations and “high standards,” although she said that whether the standards were Common Core or not was immaterial.

“I am a supporter of high standards, and the forms that they take is somewhat irrelevant,” she said. She said that the ongoing statewide review was one of her top priorities.

In the past, McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core. Last year, she testified in front of the General Assembly about its rigor. She is also a board member of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a nonprofit educational advocacy and research organization that has been vocal in its support for Common Core. But the private school associated with her university did not adopt the standards.

McQueen helped lead the education summit held by Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier this fall. At the summit, McQueen presented on accountability and assessments, both of which continue to be hot button issues leading up to Haslam’s second term.

The education summit has already proved to be influential: it was the basis for the review site of the state’s academic standards, as well as Gov. Haslam’s proposals for teacher support across the state.

As commissioner, McQueen faces several challenges. She will have to implement Huffman’s reforms without the benefit of Race to the Top money, and maintain support within the U.S. Department of Education to ensure Tennessee will get a waiver from the stringent No Child Left Behind Act, which would exempt Tennessee from punitive measures that strip funding from schools with low test scores.

Another challenge will be rekindling enthusiasm for Haslam’s education agenda among Tennessee lawmakers and educators.

McQueen will take over from Huffman on Jan. 20.

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.


From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!


From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.


From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.


From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!


From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.


From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!


From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.


From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.


From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”