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TDOE Recognizes Five Exemplary ACCESS Districts

Monday, January 25, 2021 | 01:28pm


Recognition Reflects Intensive Dedication to Helping All Students Succeed


Nashville, TN—Today, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) announced five school districts- Chester County Schools, Houston County Schools, Lakeland School System, Marion County Schools, and Milan Special School District- have been selected as Tennessee Exemplary ACCESS Districts for their dedication to helping all students succeed. These districts have earned the Exemplary ACCESS designation by ensuring All Children are Challenged and Equipped for Success in School. 

This designation recognizes the intensive work and exceptional dedication of these five districts to student success through the second K-12 cohort of the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG 2.0), Access to Instruction and Intervention for All Students initiative. 

“All students deserve to receive a great education and we thank these five districts for their exceptional work to help all their students succeed,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Through participation in this initiative, these districts have strengthened their teachers’ instruction methods and student engagement, and the department is thrilled to be able to support this incredible work.”  

On Wednesday, January 27, each of these school districts will be recognized at the virtual Partners in Education (PIE) Conference during a special session. 

The State Personnel Development Grants (SPDG) program, administered through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the U.S. Department of Education, assists state education agencies and their partners to improve results for children with disabilities through systems of professional development and dissemination of knowledge about best practices to educators and families. 

In 2015, the TDOE was awarded the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. This grant, aligned with the State Systemic Improvement Plan, allowed Tennessee to create a model that included training for general education teachers, special education teachers, and administrators on improving classroom climate, reaching all students through a differentiated design for learning, assessing students effectively in order to maximize the instructional impact, and promoting general and special education collaboration.   

The selection of these districts was based on training data, improvements in teaching methods, improvements in Individualized Education Program (IEP) quality, and efforts to sustain the work system-wide. 

In response to being selected to receive this designation, each of the five districts commented on how participating in the initiative had positive impacts on their districts: 

“Chester County Schools’ participation in the SPDG 2.0 Access for All initiative has made a significant impact on teachers’ instruction and students’ engagement in learning. This has truly been an impactful, long-lasting, and phenomenal experience for ALL!” - Melinda Parker, Special Education Director, Chester County Schools

“As a result of SPDG 2.0, HCMS now strives to encourage a positive student mindset by changing the classroom environment to reduce barriers for ALL students.  Our school is a happier place!” -Robin Fairclough, Director of Programs, Houston County Schools

“To create universal designs for learning and safe classroom climates utilizing differentiation, it begins with MINDSET. The SPDG 2.0 grant allowed us to do that.” -Becky Bigelow, Director of Exceptional Education, Marion County Schools

“Our district's participation in the professional learning made possible through the SPDG program has been overwhelmingly positive. The activities of the SPDG program have caused our teachers and administrators to reflect upon, discuss, and make changes to the ways we approach teaching ALL learners in the classroom. The most exciting part is seeing the number of participants who say that the training made them better teachers and helped their students learn.” -Dr. Ted Horrell, Director of Schools, Lakeland School System  

“We have found the training materials to be of the highest quality and practical to implement.  We are committed to providing a supportive learning environment that addresses all students' comprehensive needs.  These strategies ensure each student can access instructional content and all teachers are prepared with tools to reach their learners.” -Lynn Gonzales, Supervisor of Special Populations and Student Support, Milan Special School District

“Each of these districts has had an exceptional impact on their students, educators, and school communities,” said Theresa Nicholls, Assistant Commissioner of Special Populations. “We appreciate the dedication of these districts to their educators and students and their hard work creating positive, motivating, and empowering learning environments throughout their districts.” 

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, contact