State Education chief Kevin Huffman defends actions from school directors' criticisms

NASHVILLE - State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today said he has not moved too quickly on school reforms despite a letter signed by some 60 local school superintendents calling for his boss, Gov. Bill Haslam, and state lawmakers to rein him in.

Huffman said he has yet to see a letter that more than 60 of the state's 136 school directors or superintendents have written to Haslam.

The local school chiefs charge Huffman's office "has no interest in a dialogue" with them and that policies, rules and legislation have sapped their attempts to improve schools due to low morale.

Huffman said he does communicate with local school leaders.

"But," he said, "we have to ground ourselves again and again in the question of what's right for kids."

Asked if he is moving too fast in implementing changes, Huffman told two reporters "absolutely not. We are committed to doing whats right for kids and we're going to continue to be committed to doing whats right for kids. It's important we talk to people, it's important we listen to people, it's important that people have input.

"But," Huffman said, "at the end of the day we're going to make decisions that are in the best interests of children in Tennessee."

Huffman acknowledged reading it in news accounts. He said he has communicated with local school leaders.

Asked whether he feels he knows more about what students need than local education officials, Huffman, a former top official with the nonprofit group Teach For America who himself had three years of classroom experience, said "it's not a question of who knows more about what children need.

"It's a question of, in my perch, I'm responsible for ensuring that the education outcomes of 970,000 students in Tennessee get better. So we can either decided that we're going to stay in the bottom ten states in the country in educational outcomes or we can decide that we're going to do the same things that will make Tennessee be a competitive state when it comes to educational results."

He said he speaks with the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents "all the time," and just did so at their meeting in Gatlinburg.

"I'm going to continue to do that, but it doesn't mean that people are going to agree with me all the time."

Asked whether he believes he still enjoys the confidence of Haslam, who personally recruited him to be education commissioner, Huffman said "absolutely."

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