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Gov. Bill Haslam tours Central Magnet School to learn from teachers, students

January 26, 2017

By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

MURFREESBORO — It’s not every day that students have an opportunity to engage with a governor in a classroom setting.

In fact, most students will never know that experience.

So it was a rare honor when Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam paid a visit to Central Magnet School this week to privately observe one of the teachers — Dr. Kyle Prince — and interact with students during the lesson, which involved combining math and history to break a code used once on the U.S.S. Yorktown.

The visit was one of only three the governor has done so far this year, and the first high school. Prince is a member of the governor’s teacher advisory cabinet, and Haslam is planning to visit many of them to learn their strategies for connecting with students and improving education in Tennessee.

“I think it's critical to have people who stand in front of classrooms every day to help us make decisions,” Haslam said.

Haslam’s visit consisted of three activities.

He first met privately with Director of Schools Don Odom, Central Magnet School Principal Dr. John Ash, and the state representatives and senators senators who serve Rutherford County. They spent approximately 15 minutes discussing education in the state.

“He was basically talking about Central Magnet and how they obtain the scores they have,” Director Odom said.

Central Magnet School has the highest ACT average — 29.1 — of any public school in Tennessee. 

Dr. Ash also discussed whether the state could assist students with paying for Advanced Placement exam fees and finding ways to offer more AP classes, especially in schools that aren’t affluent.

“He was very receptive and interested in what we had to say,” Ash said.

Haslam concluded his visit with a tour of the school’s engineering program, where he talked with other teachers and students.

Two of those students were junior Jimmy Jones and sophomore Aidan Gibson, who are also members of Central’s robotics team, which recently competed at Auburn University as one of only 55 schools invited from the eastern United States.

The robotics program has been valuable because it allows students to develop skills in multiple areas, Jones explained.

“It's a really good program for students to learn about all aspects of a business and an engineering company,” Jones said while demonstrating the team’s robot.

Engineering teacher and robotics club sponsor Marc Guthrie said there are approximately 75 students involved in some aspect of the school’s robotics team — ranging from marketing and website creation, to driving and spotting the actual robot during obstacle competitions.

“I can’t believe ya’ll are sophomores and juniors,” Haslam told the students.

The governor — who is scheduled to deliver his annual State of State address on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 — also held an impromptu press conference in one of the school’s hallways to answer questions from several reporters. Topics ranged from education priorities, to a proposed increase in the state’s gas tax and the governor’s stance on President Donald Trump’s initiatives concerning refugees from other countries.

The governor and his motorcade departed the school after spending just over an hour with teachers, students and school district leaders.

For Dr. Prince, the governor’s visit was yet another way to get students excited about learning. The governor asked to spend some time in the classroom without members of the media so he could experience the classroom atmosphere. He then allowed reporters to enter the classroom at the end of the lesson for photographs.

“I know (Gov. Haslam) likes history so I tried to incorporate a couple of history pieces,” Prince said of his choice to feature the U.S.S. Yorktown during his lesson. He added, “It was interesting. He was walking around the class and asking them questions.”

PHOTO / KEITH CARTWRIGHT
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam asks questions and interacts with students while observing Dr. Kyle Prince's Algebra II class at Central Magnet School.