Tennessee’s education commissioner kicks off ‘Accelerating TN tour’ in the Tri-Cities

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn spent the day touring summer camp programs across the region.

“Learning is supposed to be fun and what we’ve heard from teachers is they’ve taught the standard set of materials and what they’re able to do as well as expand on that and increase the level of joy and rigor together,” said Schwinn. “We want to make sure that summer camps…kids love coming, they feel engaged and they love school because we want all of our students to love school.”

She started the morning in Mountain City before traveling to Fairmount Elementary in Bristol and Miller Perry Elementary in Sullivan County. Schwinn finished off the day with a roundtable discussion about postsecondary education in Kingsport and a visit to Jonesborough Elementary School in Washington County.

“As they make decisions, they being the commissioner and others on her team at the state level as well as her interacting with our legislators to keep grounded and keep things in focus and in context,” said Washington County Director of Schools Jerry Boyd. “Having the chance to see the work actually happening in a classroom is absolutely important.”

Schwinn had the chance to get a first-hand look at how districts in northeast Tennessee are not only filling the gaps but also accelerating into the next school year through the summer camps.

“This has allowed us to really focus on students and hone in exactly on what the students need to get ready for next year,” said Jamie Whitinger, an administrator for the summer program at Miller Perry Elementary.” By the state supporting us and providing what we need through funding and then showing how important it is by coming and visiting by seeing what we’re doing- that just helps build the excitement.”

School leaders say allowing students back into the classroom gives more than just educational benefits.

“That’s kind of helping bridge not only the curriculum but also helping students socially or emotionally if they’ve been home a lot this past year,” said Alesia Dinsmore, another administrator for the program at Miller Perry.

The increased funding from the state and the federal government has allowed for not only more opportunities but also for increased capacity.

“Transportation, that’s really big in this district, we heard the principal [of Jonesborough Elementary School] say- they’ve almost had two and a half times the enrollment this summer as last summer because they had an additional allotment for transportation,” Schwinn explained.

While Schwinn’s visit focused heavily on elementary and middle school programs- she also met with state lawmakers and business leaders to discuss innovative high school experiences and post-secondary opportunities.

“It doesn’t have to be six periods, sitting at a desk and learning in a classroom. That classroom can be in a workforce. We can have TCATs and workforce and industry come to schools,” Schwinn said. “We can think differently about how students spend their time but it really needs to be about preparing our students when they graduate for the careers of their choice, whether that’s going to TCAT to career, college to career, etc.”

Leaders from the First Tennessee Development District, Chambers of Commerce and corporations like Domtar and Eastman participated.

“For her to hear that what I’m saying is in alignment with what the community has identified as well, I think carries a lot of power from the rest of the people that were in the room,” said Kingsport City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Moorhouse.

Schwinn says these summer programs will set the tone for the upcoming school year and future camps.

“It really is about the community and about kids and seeing how creative and interesting the programs are and how different they are,” said Schwinn. “Every single school has been about what is best for this child in front of me.”

Most summer camps around the region end at the end of the month. The summer bus tour is going for three more weeks as Commissioner Schwinn will visit 50 districts across the state, including Greene County on Tuesday.

She plans to resume her regular district visits this upcoming school year and plans to be back in the region in August or September.

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