Hartgrove named to the Accelerating TN ESSER Steering Committee

21-member committee to ensure public accountability with historic Federal K-12 education funding

NASHVILLE – Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced the statewide Accelerating TN ESSER Steering Committee, a statewide group of 21 stakeholder members regularly convening with clear objectives to share information, discuss efforts to accelerate student learning after the pandemic, identify helpful opportunities and partnerships to support students and provide additional avenues for public reporting and transparency on the historic amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funding for continued statewide student growth and achievement. Putnam County’s Lillian Hartgrove, Chair of the State Board of Education was chosen to be on the committee.

In response to the global COVID-19 health pandemic, the U.S. Congress passed landmark legislation to provide a historic influx of federal funding to states. Between four major sources of federal relief and stimulus funding including ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief), Tennessee will benefit from almost $4.2 billion for K-12 education to be spent between spring 2020 and fall 2024. 

Because ESSER funding requires extensive progress monitoring and data reporting on student outcomes, Tennessee school districts, educators, partners and families will all have information and tools they need to determine what is moving the needle for student growth and greater opportunity.

“The Accelerating TN ESSER Steering Committee will work to ensure that Tennessee maintains and accelerates momentum to support students and schools by matching Tennessee’s value for fiscal responsibility with the orientation of always doing what is best for kids.” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Now more than ever, the priority is for state and district-level investments to be directly targeted on improving the academic achievement for all Tennessee students, and I am confident in the commitment and partnership from these dedicated individuals from across the state who continue to lead and serve.”

State-level test results from the 2020-21 Spring TCAP assessments show that pandemic-related disruptions to education led to declines in student academic proficiency in the state, as expected. While greater declines were mitigated as a direct result of the hard work of our educators, these results highlight the importance of addressing the needs of students and operating with a sense of urgency and optimism about what our districts, schools, educators, families and students can accomplish. An overview of the state-level results with comparisons by student group and grade level are available here with additional information here.   

The department remains focused on academic achievement and acceleration, and is making deep, strategic investments to provide the most-needed support for students. In May, the Tennessee Department of Education shared the overall spending strategy for the state’s portion of the federal COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus funding. Like the state agency, districts are required to develop plans that outline local spending strategies for their portion of federal funding due to the Tennessee Department of Education on August 27, 2021 for review and approval. Further, district plans are required to be posted publicly upon approval. To support districts in their planning, the department is regularly updating this webpage with guidance, templates and resources. 

As a collective of key statewide stakeholders, the Accelerating Tennessee ESSER Steering Committee will support both the opportunity and responsibility districts have to make key investments for positive statewide trajectory. This group will participate in a public dialogue that includes a spending to date (both state and district levels), discussion of outcomes related to that spending, and reflections of the roles each individual party can take to move the work forward in their respective spaces. The Committee will convene quarterly, and members are expected to attend and engage in meetings with prereading, input, and active consideration to best engage in district analysis and statewide review.

The 21 members of the Accelerating TN ESSER Steering Committee are:

  • Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Senator Raumesh Akbari, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Janet Ayers, President, The Ayers Foundation
  • Linda DeBerry, Principal, Dyersburg Primary School
  • Nancy Dishner, President and Chief Executive Officer, Niswonger Foundation
  • Senator Todd Gardenhire, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Lillian Hartgrove, Chair, State Board of Education
  • Representative Gary Hicks, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Emily House, Executive Director, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Senator Jon Lundberg, Tennessee General Assembly
  • David Mansouri, President and CEO, SCORE
  • Dr. Jeff McCord, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development
  • Representative Sam McKenzie, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, Tennessee State Director, The Education Trust
  • Dr. Joris Ray, Superintendent, Shelby County Schools
  • Teresa Sloyan, President, Hyde Family Foundation
  • Dr. Steve Starnes, Superintendent, Greeneville City Schools
  • Dr. Elaine Swafford, CEO, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy
  • Dr. Danny Weeks, Superintendent, Dickson County Schools
  • Chairman Mark White, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Marie Williams, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Members of the committee commented on their participation in this historical moment in time for education in Tennessee and the opportunity this funding presents: 

“I have served on many committees in my thirty-three years in education, but I do not believe any were tasked with more important work than what will be done by this group of stakeholders. Resources matter and if used effectively, ESSER funds have the power to transform education in Tennessee. By looking at how districts are spending funds and analyzing the results of those efforts, our committee will be able to provide leaders across the state with data on best practices and support them in their work. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for education in Tennessee, and I am honored to be a part of it.” – Dr. Danny Weeks, Director of Dickson County Schools 

“The impact of ESSER on students in Tennessee cannot be understated.  On the higher education side, we know students who enter college academically prepared are far more likely to persist and earn a degree.  The targeted resources and supports for students and schools will help these students remain on a path to postsecondary success.” – Emily House, Executive Director, THEC/TSAC

“This committee will be vital in allocation of education funds across Tennessee.  My focus, and I’m certain the rest of the committee, will be on both enhancing education and being great stewards of these funds.” – Senator Jon Lundberg

“Tennessee has a historic opportunity to make the wise investments in research-supported strategies that will dramatically and equitably improve student academic achievement and growth. There’s no more important mission before us, and SCORE is honored to support this effort.” – David Mansouri, President and CEO, SCORE

“I am honored to be asked to join this important discussion.  This unexpected and unprecedented funding for education in Tennessee brings great promise and greater responsibility. To honor that promise there is the responsibility for us to make courageous decisions that will positively affect the quality of education for our children for generations to come.”  – Dr. Nancy Dishner, President and CEO, Niswonger Foundation

“This moment demands our best collective thinking as we respond to the impact of COVID-19 on our students and schools. As a member of the Steering Committee, I will center the aspirations and priorities of our Alliance partners and our student leaders, and I look forward to working alongside members to identify the most impactful strategies for recovery. Solutions will vary depending on the unique needs of our diverse communities, and our goal must be to strategically direct resources and remove barriers so that our students can thrive and succeed.” – Gini Pupo-Walker, State Director for The Education Trust

“During this pandemic, students and educators in rural Tennessee have faced many of the same challenges as those in larger and better resourced communities. We are pleased to be part of this effort to help ensure local school districts have what they need and are spending their resources wisely to help all students quickly catch up, prepare for postsecondary success, and go on to rewarding careers. This work is vital. Nothing will be more important to the future of our communities and our state.” – Janet Ayers, President, The Ayers Foundation

“As a principal with a “boots on the ground” perspective, I am honored to reflect and share my views on the importance of early literacy support for all teachers.  By considering the importance of access for all students to high quality literacy instructional materials along with continuing professional development, coaching and support for teachers, we can ensure that Tennessee educators will increase literacy proficiency rates and close achievement gaps in advancing grades.” – Linda DeBerry, Principal of Dyersburg Primary School

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve on the Accelerating TN ESSER Committee which is composed of individuals dedicated to the improvement of education in the great state of Tennessee. The responsibility to leverage the unprecedented amount of federal funds for innovation and improvement of public education is a historic opportunity. These investments will positively affect students for years to come.” – Dr. Steve Starnes, Director of Greeneville City Schools 

While all faculty, students and staff operated in a world of unchartered territory this past year, it is of utmost importance going forward to provide our schools and districts with the means, by which to recover in an equitable manner for all our youth.  This funding is meaningful and stands to have substantial impact in the lives of our students across the state. It is an honor to be a team member of this significant piece of work that allows us to assist with ensuring students have access and resources to gain the skills and knowledge to find success in their preparation and educational attainment.  – Dr. Elaine Swafford-CEO Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy/Montessori Elementary at Highland Park

“Education and workforce development are two sides of the same coin. We have an incredible opportunity to advance the state’s workforce strategy through ESSER investments. It’s exciting.”  – Commissioner Jeff McCord, Department of Labor and Workforce Development 

“The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is committed to expanding the resiliency, recovery and independence for all Tennesseans affected by mental health and substance use challenges. We know that our work and that of our providers across the state in prevention and early intervention with young people is essentially important to the future of so many aspects of productive, thriving communities. I am excited about this work and energized to make a generational impact with Commissioner Schwinn and our partners.” – Commissioner Marie Williams, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services 
“I am honored to be a part of the TN ESSER Steering Committee because we will have the responsibility to help school districts effectively use their resources to help Tennessee students get their education back on track to prepare them for an ever-changing world. The State of Tennessee and their communities are depending on it.”  – Rep. Sam McKenzie, General Assembly 

To support districts in planning and implementation of ESSER funds, the department continues to post and regularly update this webpage with guidance, templates and resources. 

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