Bradley County school board questions private meeting with Gov. Haslam

photo Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam leads a discussion during a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee at the National Governors Association convention on Saturday, July 12, 2014, in Nashville.
photo Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A private meeting this week involving Gov. Bill Haslam, state education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and educators from five area school systems has come under scrutiny by members of the Bradley County Board of Education.

On Monday evening, Bradley school board members were informed by email that the school system's administrative office had hosted the meeting in accordance with a request by Haslam that board members and media not be advised of it.

That's not sitting well with some board members.

"It's unfortunate that the governor's office chose not to include the people elected by the citizens of Bradley County to represent them regarding our education system," said Vicky Beaty, chairwoman of the county school board.

The experiences of teachers and administrators with implementing Common Core educational standards were discussed at the meeting, said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools.

"There was no preset agenda," said McDaniel, describing the event as an open dialogue with representatives from the Bradley, Cleveland, Hamilton, Meigs and Rhea school systems.

Nat Akiona, principal of North Lee Elementary, and Amber Caldwell, who teaches algebra and calculus at Walker Valley High School, were Bradley County's two representatives.

Caldwell was chosen by the Tennessee Department of Education as a Common Core coach in the 2013-14 school year.

The governor said Monday that similar meetings are being held around the state and "it's really no different from what I've done all along. Since I've been in office I've met with teachers, superintendents, principals and groups.

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"We're doing a tour focused really on listening to teachers. That's the idea," Haslam said. "So we thought about whether we should invite school board members, should we invite legislators. But we thought at the end of the day the conversation will be different than just letting us have a chance to listen to teachers and have them tell us what's on their mind."

Haslam said the meetings are "really not" about trying to build support for Huffman or the Common Core curriculum.

"If we were trying to sway a lot of people, we'd have big meetings and open it up and have PowerPoints and all that," he said.

Haslam said the main concern state officials have is that teachers have been put in a "very unfair" position on assessments.

"We're evaluating them by what students are learning, but the assessment vehicle doesn't match what we're asking teachers to teach, and that's not fair," the governor said.

Huffman said officials are holding the meetings because "we think it's a good time. We're implementing a bunch of new initiatives. ... I think it's a good time for everybody to step back and say we implemented all these things. What's good and what are some things we need to think about doing better?"

Monday's meeting was one of 12 planned across the state, according to Bradley County Schools officials.

Chris Turner, a member of the Bradley County Board of Education, expressed skepticism about the purpose and conduct of the meeting.

"I don't understand why Governor Haslam has involved himself in education matters in such a granular fashion," Turner said. "This kind of feedback has been shared and collected at regional and state-level gatherings. The governor does not involve himself at such a level with other departments."

Regardless of what was discussed at the meeting, Turner wondered why it was blanketed in secrecy.

"If there's nothing to hide, why hide it?" he said.

Staff writer Andy Sher contributed to this story.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at

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