Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today the principals who will serve in the inaugural class of the Tennessee Rural Principals Network, which is a comprehensive approach to improve the preparation, retention, and development of Tennessee’s principals. The following area principals are part of the inaugural class: Justin Whittenbarger from Stone Elementary in Cumberland County, Sheri York from Pine Haven Elementary in Fentress County, Laura Bunch of Petros Joyner Elementary School in Morgan County and Scott Calahan of Harriman High School in Roane County.
Principals in rural schools are often unable to take advantage of leadership development due to the cost of registration and travel and have few networking opportunities to learn from other school leaders. To address this need, the department is implementing a two-prong approach by creating a professional network for 52 rural principals, who will also receive funding to attend state-led conferences and training opportunities, and by providing scholarships for up to 200 additional rural principals to attend state-provided training opportunities.
“We must ensure that every school, no matter where it is located in Tennessee, is led by a principal who is supported and developed to his or her fullest potential and able to guide our teachers and students to success,” said Commissioner McQueen. “The Tennessee Rural Principals Network is an innovative approach to meet the unique needs of school leaders in our rural communities and allow them to grow professionally and learn from one another to ultimately benefit our students.”
The department and school districts have supported school leaders in part by implementing an effective evaluation system and offering robust professional learning; however, opportunities for school leaders in rural communities are still limited. Addressing Tennessee’s broader leadership challenges involves making sure that the state is also targeting rural school leaders with access to high-quality professional learning.
The participants selected for the Tennessee Rural Principals Network will receive funding to support their attendance and learning at five events during the 2018-19 school year designed to provide them with professional learning aligned to help address those challenges that are unique to rural leadership.
The Tennessee Rural Principals Network recognizes the importance of providing a sustained opportunity for rural principals by providing them the ability to participate in:
- Ongoing professional learning from state and national experts on evidence-based strategies that improve educator effectiveness and student outcomes in a rural setting
- Opportunities to exchange ideas, strategies, resources, and common challenges with peers in a safe and supportive setting
- Opportunities to work with a smaller group of peers in a community of practice focused on a common challenge to identify best practices currently in use and to reduce isolation
The Transforming School Leadership Initiative was announced by Governor Bill Haslam in March 2018 and leverages both state and private dollars to improve leader pipeline programs, reward and retain individuals effectively leading our state’s lowest performing schools, and provide networking opportunities and support for principals in our rural communities. Gov. Haslam has dedicated more than $3.5 million in this year’s budget to advance this work, and additionally, the Ayers Foundation, Scarlett Family Foundation, and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) have invested a combined $600,000 to the efforts.