Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson announced today that she will resign her state Senate seat to become president and CEO of an education reform organization founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Republican Woodson, who has served 12 years as a legislator from Knoxville, said her resignation as a senator will be effective on July 1 or at the adjournment of the current legislative session, whichever comes first. Legislative leaders have a goal of adjourning by May 25.
Under state law, the Knox County Commission will chose an temporary successor in the Senate District 7 seat, who will serve until a special election is scheduled by the governor. That could be timed to coincide with Knoxville city elections on Sept. 27.
Woodson said she would not support anyone to succeed her, “either publicly or privately.”
Frist said Woodson was chosen to lead the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) after a nationwide search for the most qualified person.
“Improving public education has been the hallmark of Jamie Woodson’s career in public service and her commitment to student achievement and growth has been remarkable,” said Frist in a statement.
“As SCORE’s president and CEO, Jamie will not only lead one of the nation’s most innovative education reform organizations, but will have the unique opportunity to continue bringing about meaningful change for Tennessee’s children by working with educators, policymakers, philanthropists, business leaders and parents,” said Frist, who is SCORE chairman.
Woodson, 38, was elected a state representative in 1998 and re-elected to new terms until 2004, when she ran for and was elected a senator. She was reelected to a new four-year term 2008.
She has focused on education issues as a legislator, serving four years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee until designated in 2009 as speaker pro tempore. She has been point person in passage of major legislation, including bills that changed the system for funding public education in Tennessee and set the rules for charter schools.
Woodson currently chairs the First to the Top Advisory Council, a panel of education experts that works to aid implementation of Race to the Top reforms to education financed by a $500 million grant awarded to the state by the federal government.
She has been active this year in supporting Gov. Bill Haslam’s education initiatives. In a signing ceremony Tuesday, Haslam credited Woodson and former House Education Chairman Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, with teaching him about education issues for years, “even before I started this thing about running for governor.”
“As a legislator, supporting and improving public education in Tennessee has truly been my passion,” said Woodson in a statement. “There is no higher priority for parents, school systems and our state.
“While I will miss my work in the Legislature, this new opportunity is a natural continuation of the work in which I have already been engaged and gives me the opportunity to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to improving education in our state,” she said.
Woodson’s first task at SCORE was described by Frist as leading a strategic planning process to charter the future of the organization, established in 2009. She has served on SCORE’s steering committee since shortly after the organization was launched.
The planning work will be supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and involve activities such as advocacy, policy, research and technical assistant, according to a news release.
“Looking ahead, we want to make sure the organization is properly position to support the work of state government and our local school systems. No one is better suited for this role than Jamie Woodson,” Frist said.
Woodson sent a formal letter of resignation to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the state Senate, with copies to Haslam and Mike Hammond, chairman of the Knox County Commission.
She also wrote a letter for distribution to constituents, declaring herself “grateful beyond words for the trust and confidence you place in me” while announcing her plans to take the SCORE position “after much consideration” and with “the important goal of ensuring that every Tennessee child graduates high school prepared for college or work.”
“On a personal note – although my new duties will require that I spend a good deal of time traveling across the state – my husband, Bill, and I will continue to have our primary residence in Knoxville,” she wrote.
“While I will sincerely miss representing you as your state senator, I believe that this is a natural continuation of the work in which I have been engaged and gives me the opportunity to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to improving education in our state,” she said.