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Career Forward Task Force Maps out Next Steps to Ensure Graduates are Career Ready

Monday, December 05, 2016 | 10:40am

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Department of Education announced new steps to ensure the state’s high school graduates are prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. The report, which comes from the state’s Career Forward Task Force, concluded six months of research and discussions and features two dozen recommendations to ensure the development of seamless learning pathways that successfully transition students from high school to postsecondary education and beyond.  

Recommendations from the task force fall into three areas: postsecondary and career readiness, student supports, and data and accountability. The nearly two dozen recommendations include increasing access to early postsecondary classes across the state, incentivizing employers to create more work-based learning opportunities, and ensuring all students have technological literacy skills. Additionally, the group identified several areas of interest for further analysis.

The group was charged with two major goals when it was first formed in March 2016: to examine and explore ways to better engage students in their academic journey and to craft actionable recommendations that reflect the strong integration of secondary, postsecondary and workforce readiness into K-12 education. Driving this charge was the group’s crafting of a definition that profiled what academic, technical, and employability skills a successful K-12 student should possess at time of graduation.

“We know that the jobs of the future will require more specialized skills and in-depth knowledge than ever before, but Tennessee’s postsecondary attainment is not currently increasing to match the projected needs of workforce,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We have an opportunity in K-12 education to partner with postsecondary institutions and industry leaders to understand exactly what will make our students successful after graduation. Recommendations from this group of leaders will help us take actionable steps to build a better bridge from high school graduation to students’ futures.”
The task force represented members from K-12, higher education, industry, nonprofit, state-level agencies, local and state elected officials, state-level advocacy groups, parents, and most importantly students. The task force met six times over late spring and summer 2016.

The work of the task force complements the department of education’s strategic plan, Tennessee Succeeds, which has focused two of four keystone goals on the achievement of a postsecondary-career ready graduate: Tennessee will have an average public ACT composite of 21 by 2020, and the class of 2020 will be on track to achieve 55 percent postsecondary completion in six years. The work within the department has also been concurrent to statewide support of postsecondary and career readiness. In 2013, Governor Haslam launched the Drive to 55 initiative focused on having 55 percent of Tennesseans holding a postsecondary degree, certificate, or credential by 2025.
The task force included the following members:

Burns Phillips, Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development

Mike Krause, Executive Director, Tennessee Promise and Drive to 55 (at time of task force)
Sara Heyburn, Executive Director, Tennessee State Board of Education

Russ Deaton, Interim Executive Director, Tennessee Higher Education Commission (at time of task force)
Ted Townsend, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Economic and Community Development

James King, Vice Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents

Tristan Denley, Vice Chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents

Eddie Pruett, Director of Schools, Gibson County Special Schools

Jerry Boyd, Director of Schools, Putnam County Schools

John Faulconer, District Administrator, Knox County Schools

Arlette Robinson, Career and Technical Education Director, Bradley County Schools

Susan Farris, Career and Technical Education Director, Lauderdale County Schools

Stacey Kizer, Information Technology teacher, Williamson County Schools (at time of task force)
Celeste Carruthers, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Tennessee

Mark Norris, Senate Majority Leader, Tennessee General Assembly

Dolores Gresham, Chairman, Senate Education Committee, Tennessee General Assembly

Harry Brooks, Chairman, House Education Committee, Tennessee General Assembly

John Forgety, Chairman, House Education Committee, Tennessee General Assembly

Jeff Frazier, Principal and Dean, Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Eastman Chemical

Cal Wray, Executive Director, Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council

Tony Cates, Human Resources Manager, Gestamp

Audrey Shores, COO and Director of Technology & Communication, Professional Educators of Tennessee

Debbie Landers, Tennessee Association of Non-Public Academic Schools, Executive Director

Kyle Southern, Director of Policy and Research, SCORE

Laura Moore, Education Liaison, Metro-Nashville Office of the Mayor

Kristina McClure, Parent, Hamilton County Schools

Catherine English, Student, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt University

Debbie Shedden, Tennessee School Board Association President, Hawkins County School Board

Kristin McGraner, Executive Director, STEM Prep Academy, Metro Nashville Public Schools

Missy Blissard, School Counselor, Rutherford County Schools

Jade Grieve, Senior Director, America Achieves

Becca Leech, Special Education teacher, Warren County Schools

You can review the complete task force report online, here. For questions about the task force, contact Adriana Harrington, program manager of student readiness strategies, at For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or