Editorial: Teacher Cabinet valuable asset in shaping policy – Knoxville News Sentinel

Eighteen Tennessee teachers, including several from East Tennessee, will have the opportunity to influence state education policy over the next two years as they serve on the first Governor’s Teacher Cabinet.

At a time when education in Tennessee is undergoing important changes, some of which are controversial, the idea for an educator-based cabinet is a sound one. Debates and discussions about education in the legislative halls over the last few years have lacked, for the most part, the point of view of those who work with students every day.

Gov. Bill Haslam announced the plan last December as one of several initiatives to involve teachers in the governmental process. The aim was to form an advisory group to improve teacher communication and collaboration. Directors of schools were asked to nominate one teacher from each district.

The teachers were chosen on the basis of their focus on student achievement, encouraging collaboration among colleagues, demonstrating leadership, being solutions oriented and pursuing excellence.

The teachers from the Knoxville area fit the criteria. They are Wanda Lacy, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher at Farragut High School and the 2013-14 Tennessee Teacher of the Year; Elisabeth McArthur Bellah of Sam Houston Elementary School in Blount County; Melissa Bennett of Prospect Elementary School, also in Blount County; Cathy Ginel of Oak Ridge City Schools; and Abbey Kidwell of the Clinton City School District.

Beginning next month, the cabinet will meet quarterly with the governor and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Members will share information from the teachers’ perspective, give advice on policy and provide a line of communication to schools and local communities.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with teachers in a variety of settings,” Haslam said in a news release, “and this is another way to receive direct feedback from teachers who are in front of a class every day.”

Haslam added that as the state continues to build on its recent success in education, “We want to hear from teachers about what is working and what needs improvement.”

Tennessee is not the only state to adopt a Governor’s Teacher Cabinet — Virginia has put forth a similar plan. Nevertheless, Tennessee is running at the head of the pack on the idea. It is a farsighted effort to allow teachers to have some say in the debates, discussions and laws that affect their jobs and the students they teach.

And while the cabinet gives teachers a voice, this should be a valuable asset also for the governor, the Legislature and the state of Tennessee as issues such as testing, evaluations, salaries and school budgets again become part of the discussion in Nashville. Facing June 30 deadlines, some county governments are still in discussion over school budget issues.

For years, Tennesseans have been getting much more than their money’s worth from the state’s public school teachers. It is time to listen to them when they speak about their jobs, and the first Teacher Cabinet meeting next month is a good place to begin.

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