Gov. Bill Haslam visits Austin-East Magnet High School

Gov. Bill Haslam visits Austin-East Magnet High School

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By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Education Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Gov. Bill Haslam has made education reform a major part of his administration so on Friday he visited Knox County's Austin-East Magnet High School.

The school is still on the state's high priority list, but students there made enough progress last year to avoid a state takeover.

The governor and new Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman received a warm reception at Austin-East. Principal Benny Perry explained that it has taken a team to make improvements at his school.

Those improvements have included a higher graduation rate, a rise in test scores and a lower absentee rate. 

All the school administrators agree the climate has changed.

"We knew we were having successes along the way, small successes and some larger, but that adequate yearly progress really made it that icing on the cake," said Curriculum Principal Katherine Banner.

Gov. Haslam and Commissioner Huffman visited a history class, an advanced placement English class, an algebra 2 class, and they saw a demonstration of the performing arts aspect of the school.

After the tour, they had a round table discussion with students.

"It's always impressive to hear students who care passionately about their school," Haslam said, "and it's why local school control makes so much sense and makes such a difference."

Sophomore Anjelique Hyatt says, "When they first told me I was like, wait a minute, Bill Haslam? The governor Bill Haslam? He's coming to Austin-East? It really just excited me that somebody actually does see what we're doing here at Austin-East and let's me know that all the hard work I'm doing is actually paying off."

Hyatt is one of a group of student ambassadors. They are taking an active role in changing the climate of the school.

For instance when it was time to take end-of-course exams, they came to school early and called other students to make sure they would be there.

The school needs to make adequate yearly progress this year too in order to get off the state's high priority list. 

Administrators want to put the threat of a state takeover behind them. 

Gov. Haslam hopes so, too.

"We want, we'd much prefer for schools to be in local school districts," said Haslam. "That makes more sense and works and so what we want to see is the kind of progress that Austin-East is showing. We are obviously hopeful that that continues and that it stays part of Knox County Schools System.

Commissioner Huffman agreed and seemed impressed with the progress Austin-East and the state is making.

"I feel Tennessee is really heading in the right direction," Huffman said. "We as adults need to all make a better effort to ensure we're delivering a great education to the kids. When you go in and you talk to the kids here and you hear about their aspirations and their goals and their energy and their belief in the talent in their community, it's so critical that we as adults are doing right by them."

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