From the Statehouse

Johnston exhorts Harvard grads on “the right to know”

Sen. Mike Johnston, sounding more like a preacher than a politician, on Wednesday exhorted graduates of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education “to finish the work that has been started” to ensure that every child achieves the American promise “that all are created equal.”

Johnston, a 2000 graduate of the school, made no direct references to the students and alumni who had protested his selection as commencement speaker because they feel he “embraces a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers, a vision that we believe ultimately harms students and communities.”

Instead, the Denver Democrat repeatedly asserted what he called “the fundamental right to know … how we’re doing” in education.

Without using education jargon like “data,” “accountability” or “evaluation” Johnston argued that students and parents should have the “fundamental right” to know early and often … how they compare to kids around the corner and around the world.”

Johnston continued, “We have to defend fundamentally the right to know … how we’re doing.”

Fear of change is “not a reason to stop. Take the information and make decisions about it.”

In another oblique reference to criticism, Johnston noted, “What we have to do is realize that we share the same goal and that we only differ on how to reach it.” Rather than debate among each other, he said educators need to face “the real enemies of injustice and inequality that continue to run rampant,” he said, adding, “Reach out first to those who disagree with you.”

And those who objected to Johnston’s presence at the ceremony, if they attended, were quiet and respectful. No visible protests were held around the commencement and Johnston received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

Johnston wove the 30-minute speech around the stories of three young people he and his wife know – Raquel, a student from a poor family who made it to Stanford; Flavio, an undocumented student who joined the Army, and Jerome, a homeless youth who ultimately went to prison.

“The right to know, the power to decide and the will to love” are the message those three “would share back to you,” he said.

“You must lead us out of a world of compliance and into a world of creation,” he told the 644 graduates. “In this world clear standards and clear expectations are not constraints, they’re invitations.”

Johnston, a state senator since 2009, has been a leading figure in legislation on teacher evaluation, early literacy and resident tuition eligibility for undocumented students. He also authored a massive 2013 rewrite of state school finance law that remains on the shelf because voters rejected the tax increase needed to pay for it.

He’s a familiar figure on the education reform circuit, traveling frequently to give speeches and attend conferences.

Additional reporting provided by Michela Dimond.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.