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Haslam visits with students, administrators on stop in Blount

Knoxville Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam speaks to a group of students in Kevin Rowland’s class at Heritage High School on Friday.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Knoxville Mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam speaks to a group of students in Kevin Rowland’s class at Heritage High School on Friday.

Life happens fast and to get the jobs of tomorrow, students must prepare today.

That was the message Bill Haslam had for students in Kevin Rowland’s government class at Heritage High School on Friday.

The Republican candidate for governor spent almost an hour in Rowland’s classroom, then moved to a gathering of Blount County and Maryville City principals for a roundtable discussion on education.

One of Rowland’s students asked Haslam what budget item he would try to protect. and Haslam answered it was K-12 education.

“It’s really key to bringing jobs here,” Haslam said. “Life happens fast, and you will be entering the job market in one to five years. “It is about defining reality. The world is changing, and so are the jobs. It’s a competitive world so you have to know your strengths.”

The Knoxville mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate told the students how important a good education is to their chances of getting and keeping a job. The mayor said the important thing for students to remember is that getting an education can make them more employable.

“In Tennessee, if you are over 25, there are a larger number who have dropped out of high school than have graduated from college. That is not good for us as a state,” he said. “If you have a college degree, unemployment is less than 5 percent. If you are a drop out, unemployment rate is over 20 percent.”

The discussion was varied and lively in Rowland’s classroom.

In answer to his position regarding illegal immigration, Haslam said he would support legal immigration. “We want to be a country that welcomes people, but one that follows the law. You should address the root cause,” he said of illegal immigration. “People come here for jobs. We should attack the problem by being sure workers who are hired are here legally.”

Asked if he believed intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution, Haslam answered that while he is a Christian, “I have faith enough that I’m ok with that interchange of ideas.”

Haslam was asked by the students if he thought Race to the Top federal stimulus funds, which Tennessee received, was a good idea, the mayor said it was. “I actually do (think it was a good idea) because it is focused on innovation,” he said.

Haslam was questioned about his opinion on civil unions. “I’m against gay marriage, but with civil unions, I’m not sure what exactly that means.”

After his visit, students expressed their thoughts on the candidate.

Johnathan Tipton said Haslam did a good job. “I liked his economic policies,” he said. Lindsey Guinn said the discussion was very interactive. “I liked the way he presented himself, and he knew how to connect with people.”

Michael Shipwash said he liked what Haslam wants to do with improving standards for K-12 education and funding state colleges/universities based on graduation rates rather than attendance rates. “That’s important,” he said.

Rowland said every year since he has taught at Heritage he has invited candidates on the ballot to speak to the students. “Most of my students are 18-year-olds and are first-time voters,” said Rowland. “It is a great opportunity for students to not just hear about politicians and candidates but meet them and ask questions.”

Haslam said he feels comfortable speaking with high school students because he has children who were in high school just a few years ago. “One of our responsibilities is to help define reality for students,” he said, explaining that getting a good education may not be the first thing on a high school student’s mind, but an educated workforce can have a huge influence on the economic climate in the state. “It’s important they have a college education,” he said.

After speaking with the students, Haslam met with principals and the school directors from Maryville City and Blount County to discuss ways to better pick and prepare principals in school systems throughout the state.

Haslam asked the group to give him advice and feedback on how best to select and train good principals and discuss the ways they train and pick their principals.

Steve Stout, assistant principal at Heritage High School, said the administrative team at Heritage interviews prospective assistant principals as a team and looks closely at each candidate. “It’s a lengthy process. You have to have a person interested in being a principal and willing to make that next move,” he said.

Maryville Middle School principal Lisa McGinley told Haslam that the city school system also tries to leverage the experience and skill of veteran administrators in training new ones. “Where we’ve identified individuals, we mentor them, and we raise them up and mentor them with our administrators,” she said.

Maryville City Schools director Stephanie Thompson explained that the city school system tries to give those trying to break into administration opportunities. “We try to provide opportunities, even if it’s just during one class a day. The process is a team approach, and it’s a big responsibility,” she said.

Thompson said that while individuals who aspire to be administrators usually are good leaders, “sometimes they need to fill in the gaps for things like dealing with budgets and finances,” she said.

Blount County Schools director Rob Britt said time with a good principal helps a teacher as they transition into an assistant principal. “We give them a year to work with a master principal,” he said.

Maryville principal Mike Casteel said principals are trained better in some subjects than others. “There’s a lot of training in analysis, but not on being an academic leader,” he said.

Haslam told the administrators, “I have a firm conviction that the quality of an institution is as good as the quality of the leader. I think the one thing we should do in talking about education in Tennessee is ask, ‘Do we have the right method of choosing principals and are we training them right?’”

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