Gov. Bill Haslam hasn’t decided whether to invite Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman back if he wins a second term in November, but comments he made Thursday suggest that he will.
Haslam has been steadfast in his support of Huffman, even in the face of mounting criticism from the state’s largest teachers’ union, superintendents, and some legislators. The have complained about several reform efforts such as new teacher evaluations and charter school expansion. The intensity of criticism increased after a delay in the release of TCAP scores last month, culminating in a letter from 15 Republican representatives asking Haslam for Huffman’s resignation.
Haslam and Huffman spoke at the Pathways to Prosperity network conference at Vanderbilt University Thursday. Pathways to Prosperity is a network of leaders from nine states striving to link education to employment opportunities.
Echoing a common refrain of his and Huffman’s, Haslam attributed discontent with Huffman to the fact that “change is hard.”
“Anytime that you push to change the way that we’re doing things, which we’ve been doing with education in Tennessee, there are going to be people that are unhappy,” he said. “I think we’re on the right direction, but I also think it’s important to listen to folks with other views.”
Haslam said that he was focused on his campaign right now, and has not yet discussed his probable second term with any of his cabinet members. When he does, he said his main consideration will be if the commissioners are capable of positive outcomes for the state. He said Huffman’s results are “undeniable.”
“We’re the fastest improving state in the country,” Haslam said, referring to the Tennessee students’ often-touted improvement in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores (NAEP).
Later in the morning, Huffman echoed Haslam’s sentiments, repeating that “change is hard,” but then adding that he didn’t want to appear to be blowing off criticism.
“Obviously anytime you get critics like that you have to take it seriously,” he said, “but I’m doing my job and my focus is getting ready for the next school year.”
He said he hadn’t had time to consider whether or not to stay for a second term, but that his decision would be based on whether or not he thinks he can make a contribution to the state, not on criticism.
“The reality is, there’s a lot of people who feel good about how the work is doing,” he said.
And, he added jokingly, he’d miss the state’s journalists. Smiling he said, “You all would miss me, and I would miss you, too, of course.”