Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn made stops Tuesday at schools in both Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District as part of the department’s Accelerating TN 2021 Bus Tour.

The tour took Schwinn and part of her staff to Allendale Elementary School in Spring Hill and to the FSSD teacher center at Moore Elementary, with each stop providing a different look at highlights of summer learning opportunities. The three-week bus tour is going to 50 school districts across the state and is winding down this week in Middle Tennessee.

TDOE bus 1

Penny Schwinn engages one of the summer school students.

Schwinn, department staff, state and local elected officials, and community partners will end up having visited over a third of Tennessee’s school districts this summer to connect directly with students, educators and stakeholders.

“After countless disruptions caused by a global pandemic, Tennessee is focused on implementing innovative and student-focused learning opportunities that will help accelerate student achievement,” Schwinn said as the tour began June 15.

At the FSSD stop, Schwinn was hosted by Mary Decker, associate director of schools for Teaching and Learning. She was joined by staff members Josh Bracamontes, Instructional Technology specialist; Summer Carlton, Curriculum and Professional Learning supervisor; Gina Looney, Reading and RtI coordinator; and Amber Whitley, Instructional Technology specialist.

The district’s Summer Learning Camp ended last week, so Decker and her staff welcomed Schwinn through a roundtable discussion and a PowerPoint highlighting progress being made as well as challenges. Joining the group on this stop were Tennessee Rep. Sam Whitson, District 65, and Rep. Brandon Ogles, District 61.

TDOE bus tour 2

WCS Superintendent Jason Golden takes time to interact with a summer school student at Allendale Elementary School.

Summer school was still in session at Allendale Elementary, so Schwinn got a first-hand and interactive look at what the young students there were working on in reading and math classes. This stop was hosted by WCS Superintendent Jason Golden and Allendale Elementary Principal Cindy Davis.

“What we saw here were small groups and really targeted instruction for the individual needs of learners,” Schwinn said after the visit. “You saw joy in students and energy in teachers. So how do we make sure that optimism continues into the school year?

“The goal of summer camps is really about [coming back from] a year with the pandemic. Let’s see if we can make additional instruction time for students who need it and families who want it, and let’s make sure it’s fun and engaging. That’s what we saw here.”

During the Tennessee General Assembly's legislative session in January, legislators passed the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act which set forward a path for all districts’ current and future summer programming opportunities to benefit students.

In addition, this summer, districts and schools are in the process of planning how to spend their portions of historic federal COVID-19 relief and recovery funding flowing — about $4.2 million for K-12 education in Tennessee — to accelerate student achievement.

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