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Lipscomb dean will replace Huffman

Candice McQueen and Bill Haslam announced McQueen's new job at the state capitol.
Candice McQueen and Bill Haslam announced McQueen's new job at the state capitol.

A top official at one of Tennessee’s premier education schools will become Tennessee’s new education commissioner, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today.

Haslam’s pick, Candice McQueen, is the senior vice president at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

In a speech following Haslam’s announcement, McQueen stressed that she believes Tennessee is “heading in the right direction,” suggesting she won’t steer away from the path forged by outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman, which focuses on higher standards and increased accountability.

McQueen also emphasized that she will be an advocate for teachers, who have often complained of mistreatment by the Haslam administration.

Before becoming an administrator at Lipscomb, McQueen oversaw the growth of the university’s College of Education, highly ranked by both the state and the National Council for Teacher Quality, an advocacy group often critical of traditional teacher training programs. The NCTQ commended Lipscomb’s rigorous application process for potential teachers.

“Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said in a press release. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach.”

She also helped found the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation at Lipscomb. Prior to her work in higher education, she was an elementary and middle school teacher.

McQueen said that her experiences in the classroom at both the primary and university levels will serve her well as she continues Haslam’s and Huffman’s push to make sure Tennessee students will leave high school prepared for college or a career.

“I know first hand what college readiness looks like,” she said. “I also know the academic struggles, the financial implications, and the sense of failure that occurs when students come to college not prepared.”

In the first minute of her speech McQueen reminded those assembled that she was raised in Tennessee, although she didn’t dwell on that. A frequent criticism of Huffman was that he was a transplant unfamiliar with the people of the state.

Her background pleased Tennessee’s two large teacher professional organizations, who often opposed Huffman’s reforms, especially tying test score data to teacher evaluations.

“As a former educator herself, I’m sure she agrees that it is unacceptable for our state to rank below Mississippi in what we invest in our children,” Tennessee Education Association President, Barbara Gray said in a press release, referring to Tennessee’s funding for education.

“Dr. Candice McQueen is well versed in the hard work teachers’ face every day as she has taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools,” read a Professional Educators of Tennessee press release. “She is familiar with Tennessee, one of our major concerns.”

McQueen gave little indication that she’d steer the state away from the path forged by Huffman, lauding teacher evaluations and “high standards,” although she said that whether the standards were Common Core or not was immaterial.

“I am a supporter of high standards, and the forms that they take is somewhat irrelevant,” she said. She said that the ongoing statewide review was one of her top priorities.

In the past, McQueen has been a strong supporter of Common Core. Last year, she testified in front of the General Assembly about its rigor. She is also a board member of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a nonprofit educational advocacy and research organization that has been vocal in its support for Common Core. But the private school associated with her university did not adopt the standards.

McQueen helped lead the education summit held by Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey earlier this fall. At the summit, McQueen presented on accountability and assessments, both of which continue to be hot button issues leading up to Haslam’s second term.

The education summit has already proved to be influential: it was the basis for the review site of the state’s academic standards, as well as Gov. Haslam’s proposals for teacher support across the state.

As commissioner, McQueen faces several challenges. She will have to implement Huffman’s reforms without the benefit of Race to the Top money, and maintain support within the U.S. Department of Education to ensure Tennessee will get a waiver from the stringent No Child Left Behind Act, which would exempt Tennessee from punitive measures that strip funding from schools with low test scores.

Another challenge will be rekindling enthusiasm for Haslam’s education agenda among Tennessee lawmakers and educators.

McQueen will take over from Huffman on Jan. 20.

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