Tennessee has been recognized by a national organization for its work in preparing students for high-wage, in-demand jobs and for establishing strong pathways to obtain those jobs.
A bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, Chiefs for Change, released two reports outlining how systems can create rigorous college, career and technical education (CCTE) programming and provide students pathways to those careers, recognizing three states for their work, including Tennessee.
One of the reports, The Role of State Governance in Supporting Learner Pathways, notes that Tennessee “prioritizes CTE as a key component for promoting higher postsecondary credential attainment,” and that it “serves as K–12 lead for Governor Bill Lee’s effort to develop a strong, educated workforce in Tennessee.”
A second report, Education to Workforce Learner Pathways, recognizes the work happening through the Department of Education’s Tennessee Pathways initiative that has a strong K–12 college and career advisement, early postsecondary and work-based learning opportunities for secondary students, as well as vertical alignment among K–12, postsecondary programs, and career opportunities
“Tennessee understands the value and impact that career and technical education can have for students, and our state’s track record of success continues as this work has been recognized as nation-leading and as we strengthen the opportunities available to students across the state,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Preparing students for in-demand jobs that require strong skill sets and are accompanied by strong pay will help ensure our kids can find the best possible pathway to future success. It’s terrific to see the hard work our students, families and educators are doing being recognized.”
The goal of the work being done in Tennessee is to remove barriers for students and provide access to opportunities for future success, both to ensure a future workforce skilled for tomorrow’s jobs and to help give students the skills they’ll need to be successful.
The reports indicated one of the things that has set Tennessee apart from the nation is that the state “has been a leader in developing and supporting high-quality pathways across multiple gubernatorial administrations and subsequent leadership transitions at its major state agencies.” The report also noted that three consecutive Tennessee commissioners of education, including Kevin Huffman, Dr. Candice McQueen and Dr. Penny Schwinn have “championed” this work.
Further, a recent influx of $4.5+ billion in federal COVID-19 relief and recovery funds for K-12 education in Tennessee have presented new opportunities for the state, districts and schools to expand and strengthen this work.
One area of focus for the department has been in creating partnerships between school districts and local businesses and industries in their communities to help them prepare students for post-secondary success. A $30 million program called Innovative School Models now has 24 districts participating, with Elizabethton, Milan and Trenton high schools joining the list of the schools announced in May.
The goal of the Innovative School Models program is to encourage strong, strategic and innovative partnerships between Tennessee public school districts, postsecondary education institutions and local employers to reimagine how to prepare students for success after high school. The state issued $30 million in grants in a competitive process and funded programs ranging from $750,000 to $2 million to meet the needs of the local education agencies (LEAs) and the partnering businesses. Schools have reimagined high school educational models to help students connect with pathways to opportunities for future growth and professional success. From employer-led “boot camps” where students learned about the needs of local businesses seeking a skilled workforce, to developing an Agri-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for students in rural areas to learn about the latest technologies in farming, districts are working to provide for the future educational needs of the communities they serve.
The department also launched a $10 million program with the Niswonger Foundation to help students throughout the state have access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes to potentially earn college credit, even if their own schools do not offer the courses. The program, AP Access for ALL, is in its first year and has already enrolled 1,200 students across 102 high schools throughout the state. The program was designed to offer classes virtually to students in schools that may not be able to support those classes. Through taking an Advanced Placement class, students are able to test their proficiency and potentially earn college credit for their high school coursework, serving to prepare students for college readiness as they graduate. The courses serve to remove barriers some districts with limited resources may face in providing students with courses that they might not otherwise be able to take outside of a virtual setting.
Further, with the recent announcement of a $5.6 billion campus in West Tennessee, Ford has committed to creating 6,000 jobs at a facility called Blue Oval City, announced in September by the state of Tennessee and Ford at the Memphis Regional Megasite. Because the facility will manufacture F-series electric pickups trucks as well as advanced batteries to power the next generation of electric vehicles, Tennessee is already ahead of the curve to prepare students for those future manufacturing jobs thanks to its Work-Based Learning (WBL) program in schools. These programs represent a holistic overhaul of policies, curriculum, and training to lay a strong school-based foundation to support and scale quality WBL programs. WBL programs allow students to collaborate with industry to explore careers that interest them and gain valuable employability skills. By working with employers, students apply classroom theories to practical problems, explore career options, and pursue personal and professional goals.
“The Innovative High School Models Program has been beneficial to not just our students, but the Tullahoma community in general,” said Catherine Stephens, Director of Schools, Tullahoma City Schools. “Our partnerships with local businesses and organizations allow Tullahoma Virtual Academy to provide our students with great educational opportunities as well as real-world experiences. Being able to create an innovative place to learn, TVA Café (The Virtual Café), has enabled our virtual students to find a place to connect with peers, as well as their instructors. This out-of-the-box environment helps promote positive social-emotional interactions, as well as academic support for students as they navigate their high school courses. This Innovative High School Model, Tullahoma Virtual Academy, ensures that once our students graduate, they have the necessary skills to engage with a variety of people and are ready for wherever that next life step takes them.”
“Simply stated, we can’t do enough to help Tennessee’s students prepare for their future. It is not intuitive for a student to know the plethora of career opportunities that are available, what their interests and aptitudes might be, how to navigate the college application process, and how to take full advantage of financial support that is available,” said Nancy Dishner, President and CEO of the Niswonger Foundation. “We have to support their journey every step of the way. It is equally important that we consider this is not a ‘one size fits all’ consideration. I am proud that Tennessee provides opportunities for all paths to a bright future, whether that is one of Tennessee’s extraordinary technical colleges, community colleges or four-year universities. But career guidance can’t just begin with seniors in high school. Helping our students to envision their futures must be nurtured early in the educational process.”
“Bartlett City Schools has worked hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to career and technical education,” said Clark Knight, Career and Technical Education Supervisor, Bartlett City Schools. “By using our funding to create innovative programs that serve the needs of our local business community, we focus on giving students every opportunity possible for future career success. Examples include our Dual Enrollment Machining and STEM programs of study. Our district strives to have every program of study align with an early post-secondary opportunity.”
“Our goal is to provide high quality CTE programs in a variety of high wage, in-demand, and/or growing careers available in our Bristol area,” said Deidre Pendley, Director of Career and Technical Education for Bristol City Schools. “We have over 23 CTE Programs of Study that provide a seamless pathway to a career. This pathway consists of career exploration in elementary and middle school to determine possible career paths, then we provide relevant high school curriculum and hands-on experiences, industry certifications, early post-secondary opportunities, work-based learning, and pre-apprenticeship programs.”
“Sumner County Schools works hard to prepare students for life after graduation,” said Chase Moore, Supervisor of CTE and STEM Sumner County Schools. “Our CTE teachers closely monitor the local job market related to their content area and stay in contact with Advisory Council members, a diverse panel of local employers, to ensure we are teaching skills relevant to the job market and introduce our students to careers that are in-demand. For example, after the announcement in 2020 of a new Facebook Data Center in Sumner County, we added four Information Technology (IT) programs in 2021 to help prepare students for the large number of expected IT jobs coming to our area. The goal is to provide a clear and guided pathway for students to transition seamlessly into college and career.”
For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact Edu.MediaInquiries@tn.gov.