Tennessee’s new education commissioner named a ‘chief for change’ by national group

Penny Schwinn, who became Tennessee’s education commissioner in February, is among the newest members of Chiefs for Change, a high-profile national network of education leaders who advocate for policies and practices to advance student achievement.

Schwinn was named to the elite 37-member group on Thursday and joins her predecessor, Candice McQueen, as the only two current members from Tennessee. Malika Anderson, former superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, is an alumna of the organization.

Schwinn said she was honored to build on their legacy to improve student outcomes in Tennessee.

“There is so much to learn from the great work happening across this network, and I know Tennessee will continue to be a state to watch for innovative ideas,” she said in a statement.

Schwinn was already affiliated with the group, having been named a “future chief” in 2018. That program is considered a springboard to push emerging education leaders into top jobs, and Schwinn was hired as Tennessee’s education chief less than a year later.

When tapped for the job by Gov. Bill Lee, the former Teach for America corps member was chief deputy commissioner of academics for the Texas Education Agency. Prior to that, Schwinn was an assistant education secretary in Delaware and previously served as an assistant superintendent in Sacramento, California, where she grew up and founded a charter school.

Chiefs for Change was founded in 2010 by former Florida governor Jeb Bush but broke away from his Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2015 and has taken a bipartisan turn. The nonprofit group says all of its members share a commitment to excellence and equity and have worked to advance initiatives such expanding school choice, establishing strong accountability systems, and promoting the use of high-quality instructional materials.

Schwinn is among seven members of the group who are state education chiefs. Twenty are superintendents of large school systems.

After four years as Tennessee education commissioner, McQueen stepped down at the beginning of the year and is now the CEO of the nonprofit National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. She continues to be based in Nashville.

“As the Chiefs for Change community grows, we continue to see the importance of sustained leadership,” said John White, superintendent of education for Louisiana and chairman of the board for Chiefs for Change. “Outcomes improve and students win when highly effective leaders build off each other’s progress and strengthen efforts that are already underway.”