If you want an indication of the serious potential for real progress on educational transformation in Tennessee under new Commissioner Kevin Huffman, the announcement that YES! Prep President Chris Barbic is leaving the organization he founded to head-up a new statewide Achievement School District (a vehicle for taking over and transforming chronically low-performing schools) is a pretty damn impressive sign. Barbic is a real education rock star, he's leaving one of the strongest organizations in the space at an important point in its growth, as well as a community where he has serious roots/connections, and taking on an incredibly daunting challenge that will inevitably put his name and reputation on the line. You don't do that unless you believe there's a huge potential opportunity for dramatic transformation that will positively impact kids' lives.
My guess is that we're going to see Tennessee become a real magnet for top-drawer education reform talent over the next several months, due to the combination of Race to the Top and Kevin Huffman's profile and reform vision.
In recruiting talent, Huffman's got an advantage over a lot of ed reformers in that Nashville, the Tennessee state capital, is a pretty cool city--at least that was my impression during the four years I was in school at Vanderbilt and seems also to be that of the college friends I have who've stayed in the area.
Speaking of which, Barbic is also a Vanderbilt alum. So it's possible the lure of SATCO, Swett's, and Pancake Pantry also had some bearing on his decision. In any case, congrats to Tennessee for a great catch, Barbic on an exciting new challenge, and Go 'Dores!