The $15 million renovation of the state Capitol building, now underway, has inspired former state Rep. Robert Booker to do a bit of research and to reminiscence. A couple of excerpts from the resulting op-ed piece:
The “Tennessee Blue Book 1967-1968” says, “Prison labor was used for most of the stone cutting and for a large part of the actual construction work.” The book goes on to describe renovations to the building that began in January 1956, when it received “a new copper roof, new windows, and 90,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone to restore the steps and terraces.”
The Capitol was started during the administration of Gov. James Chamberlain Jones, a farmer of Wilson County who had been elected to the Legislature in 1837 and again in 1839. He served as governor from 1841 to 1845, and was the first native Tennessean to hold that office.
According to G.R. McGee in his book, “A History of Tennessee,” published in 1839, Jones was called “Lean Jimmy” because “he was six feet two inches high, and weighed only one hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
…I was a member of the Legislature in 1968 when it was decided that we needed new furniture in the House and Senate chambers.
Each legislator had the opportunity to buy his or her desk and chair for $65. They came with a list of the men and women who had occupied them through the years.
For 44 years now I have used that cherry wood desk and chair in the office at my house.
Legislators beset with complaints about the state’s new teacher evaluation system were urged by Knox County School Superintendent Jim McIntyre Wednesday to make no changes in the “courageous and visionary” law.
McIntyre and Knoxville Central High School teacher Byron Booker, recently named the state’s “teacher of the year,” spent more than two hours before House Education Committee.
Most of that time was spent fielding questions based on complaints that the process and its “instructional rubric” is so complicated and time-consuming that it takes away from teaching time and has unfair elements that have left many competent teachers contemplating early retirement or resignation.
There were also questions about not granting tenure to teachers who consistently are evaluated as meeting expectations — or level three of five levels established under the system. Under the new system, only teachers rated at the higher levels four and five can become tenured.
McIntyre said those rated three “are solid, effective teachers doing their job well…. meeting expectations when the expectations are high.” Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, asked McIntyre whether he could assure all such teachers they would be rehired.
“Can I assure all of them? No, sir. But I can assure you that, if we have solid effective teachers, we are going to continue to want to have them in our classrooms.”
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley questioned whether Knox County Schools were dealing with the transition to the new system better than other systems because four Knox schools had operated under the Teacher Advancement Program, which served as a model for the new system, for several years. Three other Knox schools were in a similar “pilot program” that started a year ago.
McIntyre said that experience “does provide us with some institutional knowledge of the rubric,” but for more of Knox County Schools “this is brand new just like it is for everybody else.”
Fitzhugh and some other lawmakers have called for halting the new system and spending at least another year to “get it right” before proceeding with implementation. But McIntyre and Booker said that would be a mistake.
“Certainly, there are some adjustments and tweaks that can be made,” said McIntyre, adding that those can be done without legislative action. “In my humble and respectful opinion, I would ask that the Legislature keep the legislation in place in its current form.”
Note: Text of McIntyre’s prepared remarks (and those of Booker) are available on the Knox County Schools website HERE.
News release from state Department of Education:
Nashville – Knox County high school teacher Byron A. Booker was named Tennessee Teacher of the Year Thursday night during the annual Teacher of the Year banquet. Jennifer Magnusson and Ann Johnson are the grand division winners from Middle and West Tennessee respectively.
“Teachers are the most important school-based factor in boosting student achievement,” said Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “Teaching is a tough job, and one that requires great commitment. I want to congratulate Mr. Booker, Ms. Magnusson and Ms. Johnson on the example of high-quality teaching they’ve set for our state.”
Mr. Booker has spent the last five of his seven years in education teaching English as a Second Language at Knox Central High School. Mr. Booker is known not only for his excellence inside the classroom, but his compassion and hard work in his community. He develops strong relationships with his students, and teaches them about life as he teaches them English. One of his supervisors called him “a dynamo of advocacy for his international students.”
“It is so important that we take the time to recognize our best teachers,” said Barry Olhausen, executive director of instructional leadership for the state department of education. “We have much to learn from them, and so do our students.”
Ms. Magnusson has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, 15 of them in Tennessee. She currently teaches first grade at Pleasant Hill Elementary in Cumberland County. Parents and principals describe her as energetic, kind and knowledgeable. “Mrs. Magnusson works magic in her room,” one parent said.
For 16 years, Ms. Johnson has taught agriculture to students at Munford High School in Tipton County. Her passion is service leadership, and her colleagues praise her as a conscientious professional and tireless worker. “Every student wants to be in Ms. Johnson’s class,” her principal said. “…If ‘Tennessee Teacher of the Year’ were in a dictionary, there should be a picture of Ann Johnson.”
Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year award program and banquet are sponsored by the Niswonger Foundation, a Greenville-based organization that provides student scholarships and resources for school systems in Tennessee. Each of the finalists receives a cash award courtesy of the foundation. For more information about the Niswonger Foundation, visit http://www.niswongerfoundation.org/.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to make his case for overhauling the nation’s education laws, President Barack Obama is highlighting progress at a Tennessee high school as evidence that the proper incentives can help all schools succeed.
Obama focused his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday on Memphis’ Booker T. Washington High School, where the president delivered the commencement address Monday.
Graduation rates at the school, which is in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, have risen impressively in just three years. The school won a national competition to secure him as its speaker by demonstrating how it overcame challenges through innovations such as separate freshman academies for boys and girls.
“Booker T. Washington High School is no longer a story about what’s gone wrong in education,” the president said. “It’s a story about how we can set it right.
“We need to encourage this kind of change all across America. We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education — not from the top down, but from the bottom up.”