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TN Schools Get More Local Control with New Education Plan

Next month is the deadline for the Tennessee Department of Education to submit its plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. (Ryan Stanton/Flickr)
Next month is the deadline for the Tennessee Department of Education to submit its plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. (Ryan Stanton/Flickr)
January 27, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Improving a public school sometimes takes a very specific approach for the needs of a community. That's the philosophy guiding the Tennessee Department of Education as it finalizes a plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The state plan, due next month, will include guidelines for letting individual districts make their own improvements before the state gets involved.

"Under ESA, we have a lot more flexibility around how we focus turnaround efforts for our lowest-performing schools," said Hillary Knudson, special assistant to the Tennessee Commissioner of Education. "So, it's not about a prescriptive model, it's more of a - very much a - statewide approach, and then even more so, a district-wide approach."

The state currently designates the districts performing in the bottom 5 percent statewide as Achievement School Districts, which gives them access to state and federal tools to improve. But critics of ESA have said it doesn't move far enough away from the testing mandates seen under No Child Left Behind.

Sara Gast, the Tennessee Department of Education's deputy director of communications, said that because the state already has been taking a local approach in recent years, it is positioned to take full advantage of ESA.

"One of the most important things we've learned is key to really changing what is happening within the walls of a school is, it has to be about what is happening within the neighborhood around that community, and within the families of those kids."

Knudson said school districts will be able to address specific strengths and weaknesses under the new approach.

"This is tough work, and just like every student is unique, every school is unique," she said. "There's no 'one size fits all' approach to fixing a school. This is about, 'What does that school need?' "

State education officials still are accepting public comments on their plan at tn.gov.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN