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Schwinn plans 10-day bus tour to spotlight summer learning happening across Tennessee

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn talks with a student at Dodson Branch Elementary School in Cookeville, Tenn., on May 12, 2021. Schwinn is planning a 10-day bus tour of Tennessee to visit summer learning programs required under a new state law.
Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Education

Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn is hitting the road to talk up summer learning opportunities during a 10-day bus tour of 50 school districts across Tennessee.

The state education department announced Tuesday that Schwinn will kick off her “Accelerating TN” bus tour next week. Her itinerary lists four days of stops in East Tennessee beginning June 14, visits to West Tennessee June 21-22, and a four-day tour of Middle Tennessee wrapping up on July 1.

The road trip seeks to spotlight summer programs required under a new state law to bolster learning that was disrupted by the pandemic. The work mirrors acceleration academies happening this summer in schools across the nation to help students learn key concepts they may have missed, while also preparing them for a new school year.

“This summer, students are in their schools and learning,” Schwinn said in a statement. “Districts and schools are planning how to spend historic amounts of federal funding to accelerate student achievement. The Accelerating TN 2021 bus tour will support this important work.”

Funded with state money freed up by billions of federal dollars flowing into Tennessee for coronavirus relief, most of Tennessee’s camps are already underway for kindergarteners through grade eight. For four to six weeks, teachers and staff are providing six hours of daily programming that include reading and math, as well as physical activity and play.

“Our aim is to accelerate the learning for our summer camp participants so that all students are ready for grade-level work when we return for the 2021-22 school year,” said Russell Dyer, director of Cleveland City Schools, where Schwinn is scheduled to visit during a swing through southeast Tennessee on June 17.

Tennessee won’t have a baseline on whether and how much students have fallen behind academically until results of state tests are released late this summer. But some districts have begun to receive early scores from assessments that began in mid-April and end this week.

The department did not immediately provide summer enrollment data requested by Chalkbeat, but a survey of several large districts indicates that tens of thousands of students are participating.

During her whirlwind tour, Schwinn wants to interact with students and educators at camps, as well as teachers being trained in phonics-based reading instruction as part of Tennessee’s Reading 360 initiative. Under a state contract with New York-based TNTP Inc., about 11,000 teachers in prekindergarten through fourth grade are learning about foundational principles of literacy in person this summer after completing a week of online training this spring.

Some stops on the bus tour will feature roundtable discussions with district leaders and elected officials, possibly including Gov. Bill Lee.

Artist’s rendering of the bus for Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s “Accelerating TN” tour of summer learning programs
Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Education

The tour won’t include Shelby County Schools since the state’s largest district is finishing up the school year and will launch its summer learning academy on July 6, after Schwinn’s final stop. The Memphis district has hosted its summer academy since 2017 and is expanding offerings this year with federal funding.

“We are in talks with the commissioner’s office and looking for an opportunity for her to visit and see our academy in action,” said spokeswoman Jerica Phillips.

Schwinn last came to Memphis in April, visited Parkway Village Elementary School, and spoke with Superintendent Joris Ray about his Reimagining 901 plan for using federal coronavirus relief funds to revamp academics and school facilities.

The West Tennessee bus tour will focus mostly on rural areas like Tipton County, north of Memphis.

“It has been a unique and challenging year to say the least,” said Director John Combs, “so we appreciate Commissioner Schwinn taking the time to stop by Tipton County to share the department’s vision for Tennessee schools and see firsthand the great work happening in our district.”

Below is the bus tour’s schedule:

June 14-17: East Tennessee

  • June 14: Johnson City Schools, Bristol City Schools, Sullivan County Schools, Kingsport City Schools, Washington County Schools
  • June 15: Jefferson County Schools, Grainger County Schools, Claiborne County Schools, Scott County Schools, Oneida Special School District
  • June 16: Knox County Schools, Sevier County Schools, Blount County Schools, Maryville City Schools, Alcoa City Schools, Clinton City Schools, Tennessee School for the Deaf
  • June 17: Etowah City Schools, Polk County Schools, Bradley County Schools, Cleveland City Schools, Hamilton County Schools

June 21-22: West Tennessee

  • June 21: Benton County Schools, Hollow-Rock County Schools, Trenton Special School District, Bradford Special School District, Milan Special School District
  • June 22: Tipton County Schools, Lauderdale County Schools, Haywood County Schools

June 28- July 1: Middle Tennessee

  • June 28: Trousdale County Schools, Jackson County Schools, Overton County Schools, Pickett County Schools, White County Schools, Warren County Schools
  • June 29: Decatur County Schools, Perry County Schools, Maury County Schools, Williamson County Schools, Franklin Special School District, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Tennessee School for the Blind
  • June 30: Cheatham County Schools, Dickson County Schools, Sumner County Schools, Wilson County Schools
  • July 1: Murfreesboro City Schools, Rutherford County Schools, Clarksville Montgomery County Schools

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