By RICK NORTON
School safety and other education-related initiatives, all of which were supported by two local legislators, dominated much of the Tennessee General Assembly’s agenda over the past week.Also, the …
School safety and other education-related initiatives, all of which were supported by two local legislators, dominated much of the Tennessee General Assembly’s agenda over the past week.
Also, the state House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday took time to recognize the achievements of a group of student athletes from Cleveland High School who recently earned state championships in the 2018 Dual and Traditional Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association competitions.
Senate Joint Resolution 628 honored the CHS wrestlers not only for their state crowns, but for their leadership on and off the wrestling mat, according to a joint legislative summary provided by state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who represents the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), who represents District 22.
The education highlight of the week came with the announcement of Gov. Bill Haslam’s formation of a working group of law enforcement, education and mental health leaders whose task will be to enhance safety and security measures in schools across the state.
Other group members will include personnel from the state executive branch, as well as a handful of state legislators.
David Purkey, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, will chair the Governor’s School Safety Working Group, according to Haslam’s prior announcement.
Joining Purkey as members of the initiative will be:
• Greg Adams, chief operating officer of the Office of the Governor;
• State Sen. Paul Bailey, state Sen. Dolores Gresham, state Rep. David Byrd and state Rep. Ryan Williams;
• Sheriff John Fuson, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department;
• Mike Herrman, executive director, Conditions for Learning, Department of Education;
• Sgt. Jeff Hicks, SRO (School Resource Officer) supervisor, Blount County Sheriff’s Office;
• Lt. Gen. Keith Huber, U.S. Army (retired);
• Abbey Kidwell, teacher, South Clinton Elementary, Clinton City Schools;
• Candice McQueen, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education;
• Cindy Minnis, school psychologist, Metro Nashville Public Schools;
• Dr. Jack Parton, superintendent, Sevier County Schools;
• Dr. Altha Stewart, University of Tennessee, and incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association;
• Dr. Sonia Stewart, principal, Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School, Metro Nashville Public Schools; and
• Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The group began its work last week and is expected to provide a preliminary set of recommendations before the end of the current session of the General Assembly.
“While all schools in Tennessee currently have safety plans in place, the governor’s working group will review the policies, procedures and process of developing and implementing those plans,” Brooks said. “[Their work] will include other school safety measures, including communication and collaboration among law enforcement, educators and mental health professionals.”
Locally, efforts are already well underway to strengthen safety and security within the Cleveland City and Bradley County School systems.
On Tuesday, Cleveland City Schools will host a community meeting to discuss safety measures at its schools. The public gathering will kick off at 6 p.m. in the Cleveland High School commons area. It will include a variety of speakers, including law enforcement professionals from the Cleveland Police Department.
Last Thursday, the Bradley County Board of Education approved plans for increased security at Bradley Central and Walker Valley High schools that include guard shacks and other security structures. These plans are materializing in a partnership with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office that earlier in the week announced the security guard measures in a joint news release with Dr. Linda Cash, county schools director.
Also last week, the Education Committee of the Bradley County Commission recommended a funding plan in access of $500,000 for safety improvements at county schools. The measure is being forwarded to the county’s Finance Committee for further review.
Howell joined Brooks in supporting Haslam’s efforts to enhance safety in schools across Tennessee.
“The state House believes all children in Tennessee deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and this new safety working group plans to move quickly in making practical recommendations that can be implemented in the coming weeks and months to help increase the safety of children across the state,” Howell said.
Brooks added, “The review will be wide-ranging, but will include specific items, such as entry to and exit from schools, training and availability of school resource officers, and in-school mental health resources for students.”
to attract, retain
In another action aimed at strengthening education in the state, legislators passed an initiative designed to help Tennessee attract and retain “… the best and brightest educators,” Brooks and Howell explained.
“House Bill 1549 decreases regulatory burdens on highly qualified school teachers as they proceed from an initial three-year license issued by the state to their six-year license,” Brooks cited. “The overall goals of the measure are to streamline the licensure process for the state’s exceptional teachers while also enabling them to focus all of their efforts and energy on instructing Tennessee’s next generation of leaders.”
Howell praised the intent of House Bill 1549, but acknowledged more work needs to be done by state lawmakers.
“This [HB 1549] is the latest way legislators are working to support teachers and continue moving the needle in education,” the Georgetown lawmaker stressed. “We know work must continue to ensure that both educators and students have all the tools and resources they need in order to succeed.”
The legislative pair pointed to a couple of statistics showing Tennessee’s education gains over recent years.
“Tennessee students are the fastest improving in the country across math, reading and science,” Brooks said.
Howell took it another step, “Over the last several years, the state has gone from being ranked 49th out of 50 states to 35th in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) ratings. We hope to keep this statistic improving in the coming days.”
Tennessee also ranks in the Top 10 in percentage increases for K-12 state expenditures, outpacing the national average increase in teacher salaries, the legislative summary pointed out.
Brooks and Howell agreed the state Legislature “… has invested more into education over the past couple of years than at any point in state history.”
In actions on the House floor Thursday, legislators approved Senate Joint Resolution 628 that credited the athletic achievements of the Cleveland High School state champion wrestling team, but also praised their quality of character.
“… These young men epitomize all that is good in today’s student athletes, as they have achieved the highest level of success and shown the highest degree of character, both in and out of the athletic arena,” the resolution reads.
It added, “… We find it appropriate to acknowledge and applaud the members of the Cleveland High School wrestling team for serving as examples of the high quality of the youth of Tennessee.”
Joey Knox, head coach of the CHS wrestling team, was included in the resolution for his positive influence on the student athletes, who the resolution cited, “… benefited from the vast knowledge and steadfast leadership of their head coach.”
CHS wrestling team members were greeted in Nashville by Brooks, as well as state Sens. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga).
“We were thrilled to welcome these stellar athletes, and quality young men, to the state Capitol,” Brooks said.
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