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Press Releases

Harris Announces Appointment of 2 Memphians to State Boards

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; January 16, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris is proud to announce the appointments by Gov. Bill Haslam of two distinguished Memphians – William Evans and William Troutt – to serve on state boards.

“I want to congratulate Mr. Evans and Mr. Troutt on their selection by the governor to these boards, which make crucial decisions about education in Tennessee,” Sen. Harris said. “I want to thank Gov. Haslam for recognizing their expertise, and I know they will serve Tennessee well.”

Appointed to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, William Evans is the retired President and CEO of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He currently serves on the Board of Memphis Tomorrow until July 2014. During Evans’ te4nure as its CEO, St. Jude was ranked annually in the top 10 best places to work in academia by Scientist magazine and ranked the No. 1 children’s cancer hospital by Parents Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.

Appointed to the State Board of Education, William Troutt is in his third decade as a college president, currently serving as president of Rhodes College in Memphis. A nationally recognized leader in education, he has chaired the American Council on Education and National Association of Independent Colleges at Universities, as well as national Congressional committees on education.

Sen. Harris filed the Senate Resolution 0001 and Senate Joint Resolution 0035 for their respective appointments Thursday, and they now await approval by the General Assembly.

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Press Releases

State Names 250 Schools to List of Priority, Focus Schools

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Education; August 13, 2012

NASHVILLE — In accordance with Tennessee’s new accountability system, designed through the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind, the Tennessee Department of Education today released a list of Priority Schools and Focus Schools to the State Board of Education.

Priority Schools are the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, in terms of academic achievement. These 83 schools are eligible for inclusion in the Achievement School District or in district Innovation Zones. They may also plan and adopt turnaround models for school improvement.

Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. The department has named 167 schools as Focus Schools.

Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year. Rather, the Focus designation provides districts the opportunity to look closely at particular subgroups of students who may be underperforming and to provide specific support and intervention.

Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.

Tennessee strives for all students to improve every year, with students who are furthest behind improve at a faster rate. By naming Priority Schools and Focus Schools, the department of education enables districts to assist these schools and create improvement plans tailored to the areas they need to grow. Districts may also work with the state’s Centers for Regional Excellence (COREs) to share effective strategies for raising achievement levels and closing gaps.

“We want all schools to be intentional about improving student achievement, especially for students who are the furthest behind, and this year, we have been able to offer more nuanced measures of school accountability,” said Kevin Huffman, education commissioner. “We believe these measures will lead many schools to create effective intervention programs and ultimately address their needs for improvement.”

The Priority and Focus Schools lists, as well as an information sheet explaining the state’s new accountability system, can be found here. Schools identified as Priority and Focus will retain the designation and varied support for three years, from 2012-13 through 2014-15. The department will announce Reward Schools, the top-performing schools in the state, in the coming weeks.

Earlier in the summer, Tennessee named its 21 Exemplary Districts, which successfully raised student achievement and narrowed gaps under the new system. District accountability information can be found here.

For more information, contact Kelli Gauthier at (615) 532-7817 or Kelli.Gauthier@tn.gov.

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Education NewsTracker

Financial Disclosure Info Lacking on State Board of Education Members

Two state Board of Education members never filled out conflict-of-interest forms during their tenure, a review by the state comptroller’s office found, despite a board policy that requires disclosure to help guard against ethics lapses and ensure transparency.

In a review of disclosures submitted from 2006 through August 2009, auditors found that two members had not completed forms at all. One served for nine years without ever filling out a disclosure form.

The ethics forms are aimed at revealing whether board members or their families have financial stakes in companies licensed by the board or department.

The findings were detailed in a wide-ranging state audit of the state Board and Department of Education by the comptroller’s office. The audit criticized inspections of pre-K and other child care providers, poor handling of students’ identifying information that allowed some of it to be made public, and the process for verifying information submitted by local school districts.

In reviewing the board’s ethics forms, auditors found one form that was rendered useless because the signature was illegible, and there was no line on the form to print the filer’s name.

Auditors recommended the board require members and staff to complete the ethics forms on an annual basis and keep the forms on file for at least three years. In its response, the board agreed.

Other highlights:

  • In late 2008, a state contractor, Public Consulting Group, posted student data including dates of birth and Social Security numbers to a website that could be accessed via a Google search; in some cases, parents’ information was also made public. The data was removed about three months later, after a Metro Nashville Public Schools employee stumbled on the information. The audit says Public Consulting Group provided identity theft and credit monitoring services to the students and their parents, communicated the issue to the national credit bureaus, and implemented new policies to keep the problem from recurring. When news of the security breach broke in April 2009, a principal for the company expressed regret, telling WSMV Channel 4, “We take full responsibility for this incident, and we formally express our sincere apology to the students and parents of Metro Nashville Public Schools.”
  • Department staff were also faulted for poor control of personal information. Student names and Social Security numbers were included in two PowerPoint presentations available on the department website for about two years. Though one was removed immediately after auditors raised the issue, the second presentation was still available six months later. According to the audit, the department paid for credit monitoring services for the affected students and their families.
  • The department’s process for inspecting child care programs was weak, and recordkeeping was inconsistent, the audit found. Auditors became concerned after spot-checking files for three facilities kept at the central office in Nashville and finding that some inspection reports were missing in all three. They moved on to district offices, where they reviewed files for 110 programs and found inconsistencies in the forms and in the way they were filled out. Also puzzling were 10 annual inspection forms that were dated as completed on a weekend. According to the audit:

“The auditors questioned whether the inspections were as thorough as intended by the legislature. We also questioned certain activities in one field office. We referred our concerns to the appropriate staff at the Department of Education and submitted our work to the State Attorney General’s Office for further review.”

In its response, the department said it had developed new training and switched to an electronic system of inspections.

  • Auditors said the department should create a centralized system for verifying compliance information submitted by local school districts.
  • The board did not submit notices of vacancies to the Secretary of State for any of the seven board vacancies that occurred from 2006 to 2009, hindering the state from announcing open appointments, auditors found.
  • Auditors said the department should develop a formal plan to address teacher shortages. Even though the department responded to the criticism by producing a plan, staff later said that little had been done with it because of lack of funding. The plan apparently became obsolete before it could be used or implemented.