Schwinn gives Science Hill high marks

Dr. Penny Schwinn (right), education commissioner for the state of Tennessee walks with Johnson City Schools superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett (center) and Johnson City Board of Education member Kathy Hall (far left) during a tour of Science Hill last week. PHOTO BY COLLIN BROOKS

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

Dr. Penny Schwinn, the education commissioner for the state of Tennessee, took some time last Thursday to tour Science Hill High School. What she discovered during her time in the school’s College, Technical and Education center was one of Gov. Bill Lee’s top legislative priorities already being put into action.

Back in Feb. 5, Lee announced plans to create a statewide vocational and technical training program that would use funding from the Tennessee Lottery to increase opportunities for roughly 11,000 students across the state. While the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Act is still just a proposal, Schwinn was excited to see tangible evidence of the benefits of a strong CTE program.

“I think first and foremost, I think when we talk about excellent CTE in this state, we’re talking about things that are happening in this high school,” Schwinn said following her tour. “It’s about having excellent programs and excellent instructors in every class, but it’s also about linking that to real life for students. I hear that across the state.

“This is the first time I have really seen it in a way that we would want to see it for every single student in the state. So it was pretty incredible.”

During her tour, Schwinn was able to get a first-hand look at the work being done by students in the classroom, and she also had a chance to sit down and talk with students and instructors. Schwinn was impressed that the students she talked to had clear goals beyond high school and had a road map how to achieve those goals.

“All of those students were able to articulate very clearly what they were going to do after high school and exactly what they needed to do in order to achieve whatever their goal was,” she said. “That is very impressive. It is not common, and it’s something we need to figure out how to do for every single student in the state.”

During his State of the State address on March 4, Lee talked about the need to make sure that all students in the state are ready to join the workforce, including the four out of 10 who do not plan to attend college. He noted that several high-profile tech companies no longer require a college degree for many high-skilled jobs and said the process of teaching students marketable skills needs to start early, a sentiment Schwinn echoed last Thursday.

“I think we want to start at the youngest grades and make sure that students have access to be able to figure out what do I like, what do I not like, what do I want to do, and then know exactly what they need to do to be able to get there,” she said.

As the state begins to draft a strategic plan for education, Schwinn said a major goal will be to find ways to attract folks who have found success in the private sector to the teaching profession. Science Hill has several teachers who have worked in the private sector and know what it takes to prepare students to make a seamless transition to the workforce, and Schwinn would like to see more of that across the state.

“How do we ensure that anyone in the state who has a passion for education can be lucky enough to be a teacher in our state?” Schwinn asked. “And then how do we remove barriers to make it easier? So you will see that being rolled out in our strategic plan. We’re going to be looking for feedback on exactly what we needed to do to make sure we have high quality instruction in every classroom, and we encourage people come into the field of education.

“It is a very, very tough job, but it is the most rewarding job that you can do.”


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