I have watched and listened with interest to an increasingly noisy conversation seemingly between non-traditional education reformers who are accused of trying to upset the public education system and traditional educators who are opposed to changing the status quo. I don’t often hear, however, the voice of the education insider who sees the need for change and works to make it happen.

I am that insider, a veteran educator, traditionally trained, and a product of the “system.” And I believe in the need for public education reform.

Over the past 19 years I worked through the ranks as teacher, supervisor, superintendent, and now at the state level. Every step of the way I have challenged how we do education because I have witnessed the results of the failure to educate all students in a meaningful way. We in education are good at teaching to the middle, where students who learn differently are moved to the “slow” classes or out of the system and those who know the material learn to sit quietly while peers catch up to a low-bar standard.

I’ve opposed the wait-to-fail model of “identifying” students when problems might have been resolved two to three years earlier had we only intensively and intentionally intervened. I’ve seen federal dollars thrown at pullout classes, where children are exposed to below-grade-level material by teachers with lesser content training. I’ve taught high school classes to students with second-grade reading levels from an appropriately “leveled” text because the system had failed to teach them to read.

I’ve been a teacher who worked long and hard to ensure student success in schools where some teachers gave minimal effort but were compensated at a higher level for years of experience vs. student outcomes. I’ve participated in a system with infrequent evaluation of teachers, using an instrument with little relation to student learning. I’ve known of leaders who remained in low-performing schools because of failure to make a needed change by district administration. I see an education system with lower expectations for students of poverty, students of color, and students with special needs.

I am an education reformer. I am proud to work beside non-traditional education leaders with the same vigorous intention and motivation. I intend to advocate for all students in Tennessee, to change lives by amending what can be a failed model for too many of our students. I believe “all” means all when it comes to providing great opportunities through a free public education system.

I have been accused of being idealistic, but I know there are more insiders like me who are making a difference from the inside out in districts across Tennessee every day. For those quiet reformers, I challenge you to speak out for the change that needs to happen. Our kids can’t wait for us to stop bickering over which “side” will get it right.