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Looney signs statewide petition, superintendents critical of state leadership

Dr. Mike Looney sent a letter last night to all Williamson County Schools employees, more than 5,000 men and women, letting them know that he has signed on to a petition asking for a change in leadership at the state’s Department of Education.

The letter, sent to Gov. Bill Haslam and members of the Tennessee General Assembly, was circulated during the annual meeting of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendent’s held this week in Gatlinburg.

In a telephone interview this morning, Looney described the tone of the statewide meeting as “one of frustration in [Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s] leadership.”

Looney was one of about 60 members to sign the letter, which states in part “The superintendents who have chosen to sign this document have enjoyed hundreds of years of experience and have led schools in the state of Tennessee to accomplish tremendous outcomes.”

It continues. “As leaders we have participated in some of the most comprehensive reform efforts in our nation. Our participation has been intentional with a goal of providing a brighter future for the children in our charge while improving increased economic, education, and social opportunities in our state.”

The superintendents’ collective positive feelings about efforts were in sharp contrast to their opinion of the state’s role in the reform effort. They explain the impetus for their declaration toward the end of the letter.

“The superintendents signed hereto have been willing to take this extraordinary step not as an act of resistance rather as a plea out of a sense of responsibility for each of the communities we serve.

Today we feel that we are not respected or valued and that the unique culture of our state is not valued. Today we feel that we are unable to lead many improvement efforts due to our charge of attempting to address morale issues of many of our employees who feel voiceless and powerless.

We are not content with the current leadership and feel that we are not best serving our state in this manner. We request that Governor Haslam and members of the Tennessee General Assembly consider carefully and prayerfully the future of free public education in our state and address our concerns and the concerns of many of our parents, teachers and principals.”
The tipping point, which led to Looney’s decision to sign the petition stems from a hastily made decision by Huffman and the state board of education to redesign the requirements for teacher licensure with very little input from local leaders.

Notably, he said, the decision was made by the act of holding a telephone conference call in August. While the telephone meeting was considered a public meeting, and open for participation, the practical ability to discuss the matter was obscured by dealing with dozens of people participating by telephone.

He added that the conversation was difficult to follow and at one point he could hear dogs barking in the background.

“The state board with the Commissioner’s endorsement had a telephone call board meeting which was honestly one of the most bizarre meetings I have ever witnessed in my career. And they changed the teacher licensure policy in spite of significant concerns from the superintendents of schools.”

That meeting has resulted in many new requirements for teachers, one of the most controversial being that licensure will now be tied directly to student achievement scores.

“Honestly, it was ridiculous,” Looney said of how the government body deliberated on the matter which impacts thousands and thousands of teachers statewide.

When asked if he had shared his concerns with Williamson County’s delegation to the General Assembly. Looney had this to say.

“I will be discussing it with them, but this is not something new to our discussions. I have expressed my concerns to them in the past.”

“I am particularly proud of the results we have realized, but I might argue that those results are in spite of the [state] leadership rather than because of it,” Looney said.

Check back with the Herald for future devlopments.

Posted on: 9/12/2013


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