Haslam seems ready to ask Huffman back for a second term

Gov. Bill Haslam responds to journalists' questions about Education Commissioner Huffman

Gov. Bill Haslam hasn’t decided whether to invite Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman back if he wins a second term in November, but comments he made Thursday suggest that he will.

Haslam has been steadfast in his support of Huffman, even in the face of mounting criticism from the state’s largest teachers’ union, superintendents, and some legislators. The have complained about several reform efforts such as new teacher evaluations and charter school expansion.  The intensity of criticism increased after a delay in the release of TCAP scores last month, culminating in a letter from 15 Republican representatives asking Haslam for Huffman’s resignation.

Haslam  and Huffman spoke at the Pathways to Prosperity network conference at Vanderbilt University Thursday. Pathways to Prosperity is a network of leaders from nine states striving to link education to employment opportunities.

Echoing a common refrain of his and Huffman’s, Haslam attributed discontent with Huffman to the fact that “change is hard.”

“Anytime that you push to change the way that we’re doing things, which we’ve been doing with education in Tennessee, there are going to be people that are unhappy,” he said. “I think we’re on the right direction, but I also think it’s important to listen to folks with other views.”

Haslam said that he was focused on his campaign right now, and has not yet discussed his probable second term with any of his cabinet members. When he does, he said his main consideration will be if the commissioners are capable of positive outcomes for the state. He said Huffman’s results are “undeniable.”

“We’re the fastest improving state in the country,” Haslam said, referring to the Tennessee students’ often-touted improvement in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores (NAEP).

Later in the morning, Huffman echoed Haslam’s sentiments, repeating that “change is hard,” but then adding that he didn’t want to appear to be blowing off criticism.

“Obviously anytime you get critics like that you have to take it seriously,” he said, “but I’m doing my job and my focus is getting ready for the next school year.”

He said he hadn’t had time to consider whether or not to stay for a second term, but that his decision would be based on whether or not he thinks he can make a contribution to the state, not on criticism.

“The reality is, there’s a lot of people who feel good about how the work is doing,” he said.

And, he added jokingly, he’d miss the state’s journalists. Smiling he said, “You all would miss me, and I would miss you, too, of course.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.