NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday named a top education official at Lipscomb University to be the next Education Department commissioner.
The Republican governor announced Wednesday that Candice McQueen will replace Kevin Huffman, who was heavily criticized during an overhaul of the state's education system. He announced last month that he was leaving for the private sector.
Haslam had said he wanted the new commissioner to already be familiar with Tennessee.
"I want somebody who believes that every child can learn, and someone who understands that what we do in K-12 education ... is critical to the future of Tennessee; to making sure that we're preparing students and giving them every opportunity to compete in a very difficult international economy," Haslam said.
McQueen, who has taught in elementary and middle school, was appointed senior vice president of Lipscomb's College of Education in January. She was credited with overseeing the rise of one of the nation's top education programs. She also serves as dean.
McQueen was recently elected to the board of directors for the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Preparations, to the executive council for the American Association of Independent and Liberal Arts Colleges of Teacher Education, and is frequently asked to speak on teacher preparation issues, according to Lipscomb's website.
She is also seen as having a strong grasp of Common Core academic standards, which have been phased into Tennessee's classrooms over the past four years.
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a statement that McQueen's "most important asset is the time she spent in the classroom."
"While we may disagree with Dr. McQueen on occasion, we look forward to finding common ground on community schools, increasing parental involvement and fulfilling the governor's promise to make Tennessee teachers' salaries the fastest improving in the nation," Fitzhugh said.
Huffman's departure comes amid heavy criticism from Democrats, teachers and other education groups who were upset with the implementation of Common Core standards and changes to teacher tenure rules.
A petition signed by nearly half of the state's superintendents last year said Huffman had "no interest in a dialogue" with local school leaders as he made policy changes.
The Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said in a news release that it hopes McQueen's leadership style will be different.
"We hope she will listen to veteran educators in the state when making important policy decisions," said TEA president Barbara Gray. "The people who work with children in the classroom every day are the real experts and should have a significant voice in decision-making at the state level."
McQueen said she plans to listen to teachers and other education advocates. She made it clear that she supports higher academic standards, and that the public review process the governor created to get feedback on the standards is utilized.
"I'm in favor of high standards," she said. "I look forward to the challenge of making sure our standards' review process is ... well done so we can be very confident that at the end of it, we have high standards that are going to move us forward."