Category: Blog

How Businesses Are Partnering with Schools to Create Opportunities

It’s critical that communities work together to assist students who are pursuing a degree or certificate, step into the career or job that will help them thrive. Career and technical education is important because it allows students to pursue an area of expertise that isn’t usually found in a conventional general education classroom.

While exploring the incredible partnerships our state has to offer, TSS came across a remarkable collaboration between Nissan Group of North America and TCAT Smyrna. Dan Caldwell, Senior Manager of Learning Pathways at Nissan, leads a manufacturing training group for three U.S. manufacturing plants, and his team serves a population of 17,000 employees in their professional and personal growth.

One of the programs Nissan touts was birthed through a partnership with the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce and is an externship for K-12 teachers. Nissan brings teachers onsite to work alongside their employees, so teachers understand first-hand the skills and competencies Nissan requires, as well as the opportunities they offer. These teachers gain a clearer understanding of what happens in the manufacturing plant and the numerous job opportunities that are available for their students.

Watch below as Mr. Caldwell shares about a career awareness event Nissan sponsored with Smyrna Middle School and the opportunity each middle school student had to learn about the innovative opportunities that are available in their own community.

How Tennessee Schools Are Preparing Students for College and Career

By: Jessica Whitmill, Manager, Policy & Outreach

Tennessee is innovating in education.

I have the awesome opportunity as leading the outreach at Tennesseans for Student Success to visit schools across the state. During my travels, I’ve met hardworking teachers, seen progress and growth in-action, and experienced world-class programs.

World-class programs are peppered across our state in forms of career and technical education programs that are helping students build real-time skills for 21st-century jobs. These programs are helping students gain academic skills so they are better prepared for high school, college, career, and the future.

Cleveland High School in Bradley County is heavily invested in ensuring students are engaged with hands-on learning that is preparing them for their futures. Cleveland High School’s career and technical programs include Health Science where students get direct experience in their Raider Rescue, an ambulance simulator and health science training classrooms equipped with medical instruments that stimulate an actual hospital. Students also take flight in their Aviation Lab which allows them to use a Redbird FMX flight simulator, one of only two Tennessee high schools to have this tool for teaching. The flight simulator is used to provide students with a real-life feeling of flying in different weather conditions before they pilot an actual airplane. Cleveland’s STEM program was also highlighted during my tour, where community service and science are combined to create Project Malachi. This project was spearheaded by the robotics team and creates custom motorized wheelchairs for children with disabilities and has since expanded to be called the Malachi Movement. Learn more about this venture at

In Nashville, at KIPP Academy, they are helping students succeed through their innovative math program. KIPP Academy is located in East Nashville where students are historically underserved. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brittany Middlebrooks, the Assistant Principal over math, to learn more about how they are assisting students who enter their middle school deficient in math and help them graduate on or above grade level. KIPP Nashville uses strategies like Opening Tasks, which are grade level tasks that allow students to think through their previous knowledge of math by making connections, build on their learning, and engage in higher-level thinking. Seeing this in real time was incredible. This program is helping students think differently about their learning and preparing them for their future college path or career.

Lastly, Coffee County Central High School boasts robust CTE programs of study fulfilling 15 out of the 16 state focus areas. Of the 15 focus areas, Coffee County Central HS offers 23 programs of study which speaks to the high caliber of diversity students have access to in their studies. As I spoke with Richard Skipper, CTE Director for Coffee County Schools, he shared a student success story about a specific student who turned a corner in his academic studies because of his co-op program. These types of stories are common as I talk with teachers and am able to hear first-hand about how Tennessee’s students’ lives are being changed because of the innovative opportunities and programs they have access to across the state.

Innovation is a key ingredient to Tennessee’s historic success in recent years. Programs like the comprehensive CTE courses at Cleveland High School, Coffee County Central High School, and the innovative math program at KIPP Academy, highlight that Tennessee schools are helping students succeed. As we look at education policies moving forward, we should strengthen and invest in opportunities for all students to have access to programs that help them prepare for their futures.

BLOG: TSS is Celebrating Career Technical Education (CTE) Month

February is CTE month. If you’re unfamiliar with what career and technical education is, we’re here to give you a refresher.

This field is diversified between high schools, area career centers, career academies, community and technical colleges, as well as four-year universities. Through these avenues of education, students choose a career option through 16 different career clusters with 79+ pathways. These programs are critical in Tennessee because they allow high school students to pursue industry certificates and education that a typical college education doesn’t offer, which will in turn, assist in closing the skills gap. This pathway is often more affordable and allows students to take on less debt while starting their industry job sooner. CTE programs and careers boost our economy and help our communities work closer together as students are better equipped and ready for college and career.

Tennessee has made a concerted effort to invest more in programs that provide various forms of education to many different types of students. For example, Governor Bill Lee recognized the skills gap in our local workforce, so he launched the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Act last year. The GIVE Act helps expand access to vocational and technical training through regional partnerships between Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs), community colleges, industry, economic development/workforce agencies, and K-12. Learn more about the GIVE Act here.

Through speaking with various CTE educators, business leaders, and students, we uncovered powerful stories of the way CTE programs are making a positive impact on multiple communities around the state. Today, we’re featuring Mr. Matthew Slight, Principal of West Creek High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, about how his background and experience has marked the way he leads his school and the various CTE programs they tout. 

Mr. Slight, Principal of West Creek High School

To view the video online, click here.

VIDEO: #KnowYourWhy with LEAD Southeast Principal, Mrs. Wilkins in Nashville

NASHVILLE – October is National Principals Month and Tennesseans for Student Success sat down with Amy Kate Wilkins, Principal at LEAD Southeast High School, a public charter school within the LEAD public schools’ network with six schools serving 2,700 students in the Nashville area.

As an organization, we believe it’s important to celebrate educators and encourage leaders in the community to ‘Know Their Why.’ Read a few excerpts from Mrs. Wilkins below:

Short: What do you love the most about what you do?

Wilkins: “… The relationship that I was able to form with students and with my colleagues as well as with families in the community that I served, especially in these first few formative years really set the foundation for this work. So I think that it is the reason I decided to stay in education, but really what gives me the drive every single day is knowing that I am coming to school, serving students, interacting with parents, and working with colleagues to problem solve and give kids the best possible education they can have here in Nashville.”

Short: Can you tell us a little bit about your school and what makes it unique?

Wilkins: “… We specifically at this school, serve grades 9th through 11th. We’re unique in that we’re a growing high school. Next year we will add our first graduating class. We’re following in the footsteps of our sister school, LEAD Academy who has graduated and sent 100 percent of their seniors off to a career or college path that is best suited for them, and we hope to do that soon in less than a year. Our graduating class of 2021 is pumped to do that, and I think it really sets us apart as a high school here in the city of Nashville.”

Short: In closing, do you have any last thoughts or words you’d like to share?

Wilkins: “… I think what resonates most closely with me is when people affirm that this work is really hard… Being an educator is something that a lot of people aspire to do, but very few stick with because it is really taxing. So my encouragement and closing words would be to stick with it, to value the relationships that the job offers – both with students and the people you are working alongside – and utilize those to energize you in this work. And finally, take care of yourself… So that would definitely be my closing words but also advice for people that are looking to get into this work.”

Click here to view the video.