Press Releases

Dropout Prevention Director Wins Second Term With Alternative Education Assoc.

State of Tennessee Press Release; Mar. 7, 2011:

NASHVILLE, TN— James V. Witty, current Director of the Center for Dropout Prevention with the Tennessee Department of Education, will share his expertise in alternative education on a national stage. For a second term, Witty has been re-elected as Vice President of the National Alternative Education Association (NAEA).

“Alternative education provides options to suspension, expulsion, and dropping out of school,” said Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith. “James’ work contributes to our overarching mission of helping students continue their education, graduate from high school, and become productive citizens.”

Witty has over ten years experience working with at-risk students as a teacher, district administrator, and state director. In his role with the department, he specializes in the areas of alternative and nontraditional education, as well as dropout prevention, intervention, and recovery. He has previously been noted for authoring the first national standards for alternative education entitled, Exemplary Practices in Alternative Education: Indicators of Quality Programming. In his continued leadership with the association, he will develop and implement a national evaluation instrument to measure effective and high-quality alternative schools and programs.

“We congratulate James on all of his hard work and contributions to our office and alternative education,” said Mike Hermann, Tennessee Executive Director of the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools. “The ultimate goal is to raise the quality of alternative schools and programs and give students a real opportunity to learn in a non-traditional setting.”

Tennessee’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools was established to assist schools in their efforts to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for all students ensuring for optimal learning. A particular focus is placed upon building partnerships with all stakeholders to improve the conditions for learning for all of Tennessee’s students. To learn more about the office, visit their website at

The National Alternative Education Association (NAEA), created in 2002, is a volunteer organization dedicated to information sharing and professional development, best practice, public policy, and advocacy for alternative learning and teaching. Learn more about NAEA at

Press Releases

‘TELL Tennessee’ Seeks Teachers’ Input on Improving Education

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Feb. 10, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education want to ensure all educators have a supportive environment to help students achieve. The TELL Tennessee (Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning) Survey is the first statewide opportunity for teachers and licensed staff in Tennessee to provide input on their learning environment. The survey launches February 14 through March 11, 2011.

“A successful school has a great principal leading it and great teachers in the classroom,” said Governor Bill Haslam. “We want to ensure that every Tennessee principal and educator has the tools and supportive environment necessary to be effective in the classroom and in their schools.”

All school-based licensed educators are strongly encouraged to anonymously and voluntarily share their perceptions of the teaching and learning environment in their school, which research has shown to be critical to student achievement and teacher retention. As part of Tennessee’s First to the Top reform initiative, the survey will provide additional data for school and district improvements and results are expected to inform state policy.

The TELL Tennessee survey is supported by a Coalition of Partners that include Governor Haslam, Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith, Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee Principals Study Council, Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education, Tennessee School Boards Association, Tennessee Association of School Superintendents, and Tennessee Charter Schools Association.

Educators across the state can access the survey online with their individual, anonymous code from any Internet location to provide insight about key day-to-day factors such as:

  • Time during the day for collaborative instructional planning
  • School and teacher leadership
  • Facilities and resources
  • Professional development opportunities

“TELL Tennessee Survey data gives a voice to our teachers and licensed staff,” said Acting Commissioner Smith. “In turn, policy makers and education leaders are encouraged to make informed decisions. Identifying areas of improvement and guiding strategic interventions will help shape the future of our schools and support academic success for our students.”

Participation in the survey is encouraged and Tennessee SCORE is providing $1000 to five schools each that reach a 90 percent participation rate or higher.

Help Desk assistance is available for all survey takers at, or by calling toll-free at 1-888-280-7903 Monday through Friday between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM local time. Educators can access instant help from the website by visiting Survey results will be available online mid-April 2011.

For more information or to view the real time response rates for Tennessee schools, visit

Education Featured News

Memphis Charter Schools Face Uncharted Waters

Amid the uncertainties surrounding the proposed merger of the Memphis and Shelby County school systems is the question of what would happen to the city’s 25 charter schools.

The answer changes depending on who you talk to.

It would be up to the county school board to decide the future of those charter schools contracted with Memphis City Schools, Shelby County Schools Superintendent John Aitken said.

“Our understanding of the laws as they exist today is if the city school board goes out of business due to the referendum … then that would become a decision of our board, the existing Shelby County School Board, and they would have to make that determination in terms of the charter schools,” he told TNReport.

But Sen. Reginald Tate, a Memphis Democrat and the Senate Education Committee’s vice-chairman, struck a more hopeful note — saying that in the event of a merger, there’s a chance nothing would dramatically change with existing charter schools.

Those schools would likely have to meet with Shelby County officials and may have to tweak some terms of their contracts with the school district, but the issue of their continued operations shouldn’t automatically or necessarily be jeopardized, he said.

According to Tennessee state law, a charter school can be discontinued for only three reasons: violating the conditions, standards or procedures of the charter agreement; failing to meet adequate yearly progress towards achievement; or failing to meet financial standards of operation.

While the language suggests the charter schools would continue to function, the Tennessee Department of Education wouldn’t comment on whether those guidelines mean that Shelby County Schools would have to accept the schools in the event Memphis ultimately hands over the school system.

“The state wants to ensure the least amount of disruption for students and staff,” Department of Education spokeswoman Amanda Maynord Anderson said in an e-mailed statement. “Obviously, we are anticipating the plan forthcoming from Shelby and Memphis. It is our hope the plan will lay out the best course of action for all involved.”

Voters in Memphis will go to the polls March 8 to decide whether the 103,000-student Memphis City Schools will merge with Shelby County Schools, home to 47,000 students.

The already touchy issue heated up this week when Gov. Bill Haslam and Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith directed local schools officials to submit a plan for the merger’s transition and for how teachers would be affected.

Charter school backers say the schools would remain intact regardless of any changes to the district structure, but have noticed that nervous parents and teachers are already considering applying to new schools.

“It’s difficult enough to run these schools in these environments without having these politics chasing them around,” said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Tennessee Charter School Association. “These schools need to not focus on politics but on academics.”

Sen. Mark Norris, who is spearheading an effort to delay the potential takeover by two and a half years with a piece of legislation that zipped through the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, said he isn’t sure exactly that the future holds for the charter schools.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Norris. “I mean, in the final analysis, there may be some need to renegotiate the contracts given some of the financial realities, but I don’t know enough about the contracts or how they interact to really say.”

The drama surrounding the merger began late last year when the Memphis City School Board decided to dissolve the school district in hopes to merge with Shelby County. Since then, the situation has been in constant flux and is now heading to Memphis voters in a referendum.

Norris’ bill calls for the two school districts to develop a comprehensive transition plan with the help of a state-appointed commission before the actual merger could take place. Under the plan, the districts could merge no earlier than 2013.

Some Democrats are criticizing the plan, saying it represents an unwanted state government attempt to butt in on a local issue. The transition plan and its timeline should be left to the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, they say.

“It seems to me that I’ve listened for the last several years to people complaining about Washington controlling us. And here we are, Nashville, trying to control Memphis. That’s a serious issue,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, just moments before a party-line 6-3 vote of Republicans approving the legislation.

The measure will go before the House Education Committee Thursday and is expected to be voted on in the House and Senate chambers Monday.

Education Featured NewsTracker

Haslam Requests Transition Plans from Memphis, Shelby County Schools

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he was requiring Memphis and Shelby County schools officials to submit plans outlining how a merger of the districts would be implemented and how teachers will be affected.

At the morning press conference, Haslam was careful to avoid any statement on the question of merger itself and said his administration had been monitoring the debate but letting “local issues be local issues.” He said his administration was also focused on keeping the process within the bounds of the law and acting in the best interests of schoolchildren.

“It makes sense if you’re talking about the largest school system in the state to be going out of business that there be a plan for how that’s going to happen, everything from school bus contracts to how lunch will get served the next day,” Haslam said.

In his letter to leaders of the city and county school districts, Acting Education Commissioner Patrick Smith set a deadline of Feb. 15 for the personnel plan, March 1 for the more comprehensive transition plan. City voters are set to decide in a March 8 referendum whether to dissolve the city’s school system, with those students absorbed by the county schools.

Read more:

Memphis Flyer

Commercial Appeal

Press Releases

Tennessee Gov. Haslam Announces Cabinet Positions for Transition Period

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Jan. 14, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Governor-elect Bill Haslam today completed his cabinet appointments for the transition period.

The 20 positions that are filled include seven females, five minorities and geographical representation from across the state.

Candidates for cabinet appointments in Education and Health remain under consideration with decisions expected in the near future. In the interim, Commissioner of Health Susan Cooper will continue to serve indefinitely and Patrick Smith, who is the executive director of the Race to the Top Oversight Team, will be acting Commissioner of Education.

“I am pleased that during the transition we have been able to attract a strong, diverse team to lead the departments,” Gov.-elect Haslam said. “Experienced men and women from across Tennessee will provide the leadership for great customer service and efficient operations.”

Gov.-elect Haslam said his commitment to education reform has led to a nationwide search to identify the most qualified person to lead the state’s efforts for educational excellence. “We are talking to several top candidates and will take the appropriate time to select the right choice to lead our reform efforts,” he said.

While the search continues for a Health commissioner, Gov-elect Haslam announced the formation of a new Tennessee Commission on Health and Wellness. Dr. John W. Lacy, chief medical officer for the University of Tennessee Health Center in Knoxville, will lead the commission.

Commissioners announced on Friday included Labor and Workforce Development, Human Resources, General Services, and Environment and Conservation.

For more information, please visit


Steve Cates – Commissioner of General Services: Cates just completed serving as Chairman of the National Home Builders Association Political Action Committee, having previously served as Fundraising Chair.

Karla Davis – Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development: Since 2006, Davis has been Director of Urban Strategies Memphis Hope, managing and overseeing the Community and Supportive Services Program for three U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOPE VI public housing redevelopment projects and two HUD ROSS Grant projects in Memphis.

Mark Emkes– Commissioner of Finance and Administration: Emkes spent his entire professional career at Bridgestone, working his way up from a trainee to chairman, CEO and president before retiring in February, 2010 after 33 years at the company.

Bill Gibbons– Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security: Gibbons has served as Shelby County District Attorney General since November 1996.

Greg Gonzales– Commissioner of Financial Institutions: Gonzales has served as Commissioner since 2007 serving as the state’s chief regulatory officer of all state-chartered depository and licensed non-depository financial institutions.

COL Many-Bears Grinder – Commissioner of Veterans Affairs: She is a Bronze Star Medal recipient, and she is an Operation Enduring Freedom combat veteran.

Bill Hagerty – Commissioner of Economic and Community Development: He served as a National Finance Chairman for Romney for President in 2007-2008.

Major Gen. Max Haston – Adjutant General of the Tennessee Military Department: In May 2005, he mobilized and deployed as the Chief of Reserve Components, Multi-National Corps Iraq (XVIII Airborne Corps).

Raquel Hatter– Commissioner of Human Services: Devoting her life to social work, Hatter served the last three years as the President and CEO of Family & Children’s Service, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of families, children and individuals.

Jim Henry– Commissioner of Intellectual Disabilities: For the past 13 years, Henry has been the President and CEO of Omni Visions, Inc., a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis.

Rebecca Hunter – Commissioner of Human Resources:Hunter was Director of Human Resources for Hamilton County, serving there for the past six years.

Julius Johnson– Commissioner of Agriculture: Johnson has been the Chief Administrative Officer for the Tennessee Farm Bureau for the past 15 years.

Robert Martineau – Commissioner of Environment and Conservation: Martineau is a partner at Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis, PLLC, practicing in the area of environmental and regulatory law.

Julie Mix McPeak – Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance: . She has more than 12 years of legal and administrative experience in state government, recently serving as Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance (KOI).

Kathryn “Kate” O’Day– Commissioner of Children’s Services: She began her career as a youth counselor with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

Richard Roberts – Commissioner of Department of Revenue:Roberts currently serves as a director of Miller Industries, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of towing and recovery vehicles.

Derrick Schofield – Commissioner of Department of Corrections:Schofield was named Georgia Assistant Commissioner of Corrections in 2009 and has 19 years total experience in the field working his way up and gaining more and more responsibility in Georgia Corrections as his career progressed.

John Schroer– Commissioner of Transportation: Schroer was sworn in as Franklin Mayor in 2007, and is a member of the Middle Tennessee Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Regional Transit Authority.

Susan Whitaker– Commissioner of Tourist Development: A former Vice President for Marketing for Dollywood, Whitaker is a Chicago native and a direct descendant of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier.

Doug Varney – Commissioner of Mental Health:Varney has spent his professional career with Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, a community mental health center serving families and individuals affected by behavioral health, substance abuse and intellectual deficit issues.