Embattled Tennessee education commissioner responds to school leaders' critical petition

Associated Press • Sep 13, 2013 at 4:46 PM

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman didn't offer any apologies in his first comments about a petition signed by more than 60 school superintendents that is critical of his leadership at the department.

Media reported that Huffman disputed many assertions in the letter, which says his office "has no interest in a dialogue" with local school leaders, and adds that superintendents' efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level.

"It has become obvious to the signees that our efforts to acquire a voice within this administration is futile," according to the petition.

The petition is being circulated among the state's 137 school districts and has signatures from at least 63 superintendents.

Huffman commented about the petition on Thursday after making a project request to the State Building Commission.

Although he initially told reporters he hadn't seen the letter, he later said he'd seen an unofficial copy of it.

"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 educational outcomes of 970,000 students in Tennessee get better. So we can either decide that we're going to stay in the bottom 10 states in the country in education outcomes, or we can decide that we're going to do the things that will make Tennessee be a competitive state when it comes to education results.

"I've been tasked by that with the governor and I'm going to pursue the policies that will get us to that place and I'm going to do it talking to people, visiting with people, in collaboration with people. I talk to TOSS (Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents) all the time. I'm going to continue to do that but it doesn't mean that people are going to agree with me all the time."

Gov. Bill Haslam's press spokesman, David Smith, said his office hasn't received the petition.

"The governor supports the commissioner, and the data shows the state is making real progress."

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