Commissioner Schwinn, left, and Representative Staples listen as questions flow from attendees. Photos by Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — “I am always aware, no matter where I go in the state, these are my babies; almost one million of them. We are raising our future.”

These were the words of Penny Schwinn, education commissioner for Ten- nessee. She spoke for nearly one hour before educators and other members of the Knoxville community at a “Fireside Chat” set up by District 15 representative Rick Staples.

She gave some of her vision for the state. Among the items she shared were her two main focus areas: the teacher and the child.

She spoke of her goal to give more support to teachers. “Teaching is the most important field in our country.” Schwinn said.

“Education should be understood and respected, teaching is hard work. Teachers need support and compensation,” said Schwinn. She wants teachers to have the materials they need to be able to teach, have admin help and support, not only during class time, but before and after school so they can do their job.

Along this vein of thought is her desire to see the position of educator become a job that everyone wants to have. “Get the children to want to be an educator; create a profession that is respected.” She said with passion.

The children are her other focus. It’s about family, community and home. Schwinn spoke of making sure all children have the exact same opportunities with support for the whole child. “One of the hardest things a parent has to say is I can’t give my child what they need,” Schwinn said. Saying parents want their children to be happy, healthy and to have a shot at a good life; Schwinn has a goal of offering opportunity to all as it pertains to education.

Following her speech, Schwinn took on questions from the audience on immi- grant students, BEP, use of community resources, using retired teachers, grants, standards, and the upcoming shortage of teachers on the next ten years as fewer people are choosing education as a career area.

One of the most interesting questions asked was about the need on the elementary level for more men of color in the classroom.

Commissioner Schwinn shared that it was important that students be around people who are like and unlike them- selves. She sees men in the elementary setting as a good fit.

Following the chat, Representative Staples made time for a reception so those in attendance could meet and speak one on one with the commissioner.