Just a couple of weeks after joining other legislative Republicans in voting to scuttle teacher collective bargaining and otherwise restrict the Tennessee Education Association, soon-to-be-former state Sen. Jamie Woodson invited TEA President Gina Summerford to breakfast, reports Chas Sisk.
Woodson says she’s leaving the political life behind, and she wanted to show Summerford the two could be allies.
“She told me she was interested in meeting in a friendly manner in her new role,” Summerford said after the two met last Tuesday. “I think one of the strengths of SCORE has been its ability to bring some people together, and I think Jamie sees her role there as continuing that.”
The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which is better known by its initials SCORE, has helped set the stage for the efforts over the last two years to remake Tennessee’s schools. Now, SCORE wants to have a say in how those reforms are put into place.
In Woodson, the organization has named as its new president a political up-and-comer with a reputation for avoiding ideological battles. But Woodson’s profile has been battered by her party’s confrontation with the TEA, a conflict that Woodson is seen as having done little to defuse.
Repairing that damage could be the key to SCORE’s efforts to lead the effort to improve Tennessee’s struggling schools.
Woodson wants to move SCORE beyond its supporting role in the education reforms championed by Govs. Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam. She wants SCORE to be seen as a major source of independent expertise — a group that can help state and local officials turn the ideas debated in Nashville over the last two years into concrete results.
“I think it’s very important for us all to keep our eye on the ball, and that’s improving student achievement,” Woodson said. “Sometimes those conversations get a little bit uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to ensure that you’re keeping your priorities and moving forward.”
…..Woodson beat out 16 candidates for the position. Woodson was the only politician considered for the job, but her selection was based on her reputation as a bridge-builder, said (SCORE founder Bill) Frist.
“She has an ability to listen very carefully to both sides,” he said. “It is not the political skills as much as the leadership skills.”
That reputation has taken a hit during the most recent legislative session. TEA officials had hoped Woodson would be a moderating force in Republican efforts to overturn the 1978 law that gave teachers the ability to form unions and negotiate contracts with school boards.
But Woodson cast important votes for the legislation, backing even the versions that the TEA saw as the most extreme.
Those votes, combined with SCORE’s ties to Frist, place doubt on the group’s neutrality, said Jerry Winters, TEA’s manager of government relations.
“Jamie Woodson is going to have to separate herself from some of the Republicans in the legislature and what they’ve done this year,” he said. “SCORE has credibility, but they’re only going to maintain that credibility … in so far that they show they’re not an arm of the Republican reform movement.”