He may have only been on the job for two days so far, but John Carver, the newest Director of Schools for Tullahoma City Schools, already has a vision for where he wants to take the district.
Carver, who was hired by the school board in September to succeed longtime superintendent Dan Lawson, has spent the last two months transitioning to take the reins from Lawson and to move Tullahoma City Schools farther into the 21st century.
Now that he has officially taken over the helm of the district, he has spent his first 48 hours on the job meeting with school and city officials in order to build relationships that will serve the district well in the future.
“I’m really excited to be here,” Carver told The News on Thursday, his first official day on the job. “It’s been a couple months since I was able to come in and start running, and now I’m running.”
Carver is currently working on a 100-day plan for his vision for the district.
“It’s real important here in the first 100 days that we start to build a relationship with the staff and the principals and look at the culture,” he said.
Carver has spent several days over the last two months meeting faculty members and administrative personnel, workshopping everyone’s ideas for how to improve the educational climate in Tullahoma.
“I’ve already had one conversation with district-level staff, just about where we’re at [and] getting a district perspective,” Carver said of his first day on the job.
By Friday morning, Carver had met with Mayor Lane Curlee for a larger, citywide perspective on the district’s position in Tullahoma, with more meetings with building principals planned in the next week.
In all of those upcoming meetings, he said, Carver plans to identify where the district is currently excelling and where some tweaking and tinkering might be necessary in order to improve the education Tullahoma’s students are receiving.
One larger component of that is better utilizing the technological resources currently available.
“I think Dr. Lawson has done a great job of laying the groundwork with the deployment of the Chromebooks and the open-sourced textbooks,” Carver said of his predecessor.
He added that how the plan is to find out what the “new normal” is for students in the 21st century.
“We’ve got to be able to adapt … and be able to turn our kids that can think, lead and serve in the 21st century,” he said.
In order to achieve that standard, Carver said, he recommended to the school board that the district be “totally transformed” by the time the class of 2025 graduates.
Those students are currently in the sixth grade, he said, and the technological advances that are being made today might completely change by the time those students graduate high school.
“The thing about education is the educational environment that you and I grew up in was based on 20th century, industrial, factory-model thinking,” he said. “That’s not the way of the world today.”
Instead, Carver suggested that the educational climate at least catch up with how rapidly technology is changing, using the Apple iPhone as an example.
“The smartphone – the iPhone – is only 11 years old,” he said. “Eleven years ago, this didn’t exist.”
In just 11 years, the cellphone technology has completely transformed, Carver said, so why shouldn’t education keep pace with that change, if not try to exceed it?
“The blueprint that I would lay down is that we need to create a system that is flexible to kids, that finds out where kids’ passions and strengths are, and then we need to build a system that’s flexible enough to meet their needs,” Carver said.
In order to determine where the district needs to and can go in the future, Carver said he will be setting up a series of workshops, in what he calls “Wildcat drilling.”
The term, he said, comes from his grandfather, who worked in the oil industry.
“Of course the Wildcat is the mascot for the high school,” Carver said, but ‘wildcat drilling’ is also a term in the oil industry, where oil workers would drill in either over- or under-produced areas in order to find oil.
“It was finding what was working, what wasn’t working and then charting a new course,” Carver said.
The first of these “Wildcat wells” took place during Carver’s meeting with district-level personnel, though more are to come.
These discussions will take place with more faculty and staff, Carver said, but he will also be holding one made up entirely of student representatives.
In the student Wildcat well, Carver said, he will be asking students “guiding questions” in order to determine where the district could better serve its students.
In those meetings, he said, he would have a representative from each grade level from the middle and high schools, ask them what they like about school, what they want to do when they graduate high school and how they are achieving those goals and more.
“It’s really important to listen to that, because we want to expose the kids to as much as we can in the way of careers and things like that,” Carver said.
All these “wells” will take place by Christmas break, Carver said. Once the new year hits, he added, he plans to use the information gleaned from the meetings in order to change the educational culture of Tullahoma for the better.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.