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In her first weeks on the job, Tennessee’s new Education Commissioner, Dr. Penny Schwinn, has already visited dozens of classrooms across the state. She is listening to students and teachers to better understand what’s working. On Friday, she visited East Side Elementary in Elizabethton, Tenn. among four schools in northeast Tennessee.
“During my visit I saw children who were happy, cared for, and excited to learn,” said Schwinn. “Together, we need to make sure that our students come to school every day to environments where they receive an excellent education and are empowered as individuals, beginning in elementary school. When they head home at the end of the day, we want them to be able to say that they learned more and that there was someone who cared about them and made them feel important. I saw that in East Side Elementary and believe that’s what every Tennessee child deserves.”
By being in the classroom and getting involved with lessons, Schwinn is developing a clear, personal understanding of the achievements and needs in schools across the state. She hopes this perspective will provide guidance for state decisions that empower teachers and enable students to succeed.
East Side teachers said they appreciated her enthusiasm and hands-on approach. “She did not just stand back and observe but walked right in and engaged in conversations with the students,” said first grade teacher Teresa Dugger.
At East Side, Schwinn participated in group discussions and interactive read alouds, as well as a question-and-answer session with fifth graders. Students asked about her hobbies, her family, and her favorite parts of her job. She explained what her job entails – like educator advocacy and supervising the state education department – andsaid her favorite part is getting to spend time with students and teachers.
First grade teacher Sara Dunford said she appreciated the way Schwinn quickly integrated into the classroom, sitting with students on the rug and getting involved in the Read to be Ready lesson. “I feel that her interest in visiting and speaking with teachers and students makes us realize that she is willing to open the lines of communication and work along with us to make Tennessee’s education system the absolute best it can be,” she said.
Her visit was well-timed, since many students are studying Tennessee in their Read to be Ready segment. They said having a visitor of her caliber traveling all the way from the capital was an honor, and it made them feel important.
“A lot of my students were very eager to share with her what they were learning and the knowledge they had about the particular topic we were discussing,” said first grade teacher Lara Beth Fair. “Dr. Schwinn was very supportive and motivating to meet. She was truly engaged in what was going on in our school building and in our classroom. She saw many of the wonderful things that go on in our school building on a daily basis. My students are already asking when the visitors are coming back again!”