As we start 2021, I see a new year filled with endless possibilities for education in Tennessee. At the beginning of this new year, I encourage you to join me in recommitting your support to Tennessee students — a sentiment reflected in the title of our 2021 annual report, Renewing Our Pledge.

During an unprecedented year, educators, leaders, and others met innumerable challenges to serve Tennessee students. In 2020, teachers embraced new ways to teach. Districts designed new ways to get kids fed. Educators discovered new ways to reach out to students virtually and help them make the transition to college. We can harness that spirit of innovation and put it to work to solve long-standing education challenges made worse by the health crisis.

What matters now is that we renew our pledge to hold high expectations for every student. Let’s make sure that every student has the access and opportunity to succeed. When we look at state achievement data by student groups, we see that opportunities are not distributed equitably for students who are Black, Hispanic, or economically disadvantaged. When we look at postsecondary attainment rates for these same groups, we see similar opportunity gaps. These are failures of the system, not of the students. With aggressive goals, a bold vision for education equity in Tennessee, and a commitment to acting in policy and practice in the best interests of students, we can erase these disparities in K-12 and postsecondary.

We came into 2020 with huge momentum on early literacy, and districts across the state continue to see success with the implementation of high-quality instructional materials. Let’s resolve that 2021 is the year we turn talk about literacy at the state level into action for Tennessee students, the majority of whom struggle to read and write well. When we dream bigger, they rise higher.

When the pandemic upended everything — including education — back in March, we couldn’t have imagined then how long this period would last. Lesson learned: We can do hard things. As I look to the work ahead this new year, I’m reminded of a Gene Kranz quote from the movie Apollo 13. As the finest minds at NASA were desperately working to bring our astronauts home, with a spirit of optimism, Kranz, the flight director, told the assembled crew: “I believe this is going to be our finest hour.” 

Let’s make 2021 Tennessee’s finest year in education. Let’s do it for Tennessee’s future. Let’s do it for the kids.

David Mansouri is president and CEO of SCORE.