State Representative Scott Cepicky: ‘There’s So Much Intimidation Right Now on Our Teachers that They Can’t Do Their Job’

Scott Cepicky


Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Maury County, Tennessee State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) to the newsmaker line to discuss clearing a pathway for teachers to properly teach students the fundamentals in K-12 and the fear they face in speaking up.

Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by good friend State Representative Scott Cepicky from Maury County. Good morning, Representative Cepicky.

Cepicky: Good morning, Michael. How are you doing today?

Leahy: Doing great. So the Tennessee General Assembly is in session. What is on your agenda these days as the Tennessee General Assembly meets?

Cepicky: One of the big things I’m always concerned about is education and getting the results that we all want in Tennessee. We’ve just heard the State of the State address where Governor Lee is putting in almost $1.4 billion more into education.

And from speaking to members of the education committee, one of the things we’re concerned about, Michael, as you know, is the devil in the details.

We haven’t really seen any kind of proposal from the governor yet, any kind of details on how that $1.4 billion of recurring money is going to move the needle in education. So we’re really concerned about that.

Leahy: That was my concern as well. As, you know, the Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn, orchestrated these town hall meetings around Tennessee, about eight of them over three months.

And from our reporting, most of the attendees at the meetings were teachers and other school officials. And the theme was more money, more money, more money.

The governor has been saying to attach money to the student, but it sounds like there’s not a clear idea where all this extra money will go other than more money for teachers and administrators.

Cepicky: That’s absolutely right. One of the things I’ve tried to do as one of the chairmen of education, I’ve visited 26 different school districts across the state of Tennessee. And a recurring theme I’ve heard from teachers is “let us do our job. Clear the path for us so that we can get the standards that we’re supposed to teach, and teach our children the fundamentals and basics of education so they can master them to be successful when they get into high school.”

And unfortunately, one of the things that we’re not hearing from the Department of Education right now is this $1.4 billion on top of the $6 billion we already spend, how is this going to be used in the process of education to clear the pathway and eliminate some of the testings?

To clear some of the excessive review work we do with our students and paperwork so that our teachers can do what they’re supposed to do? And hopefully, we’ll get that information soon.

Leahy: Scott, you said that you visited how many school districts? 64 – was that 64 school districts?

Cepicky: 26.

Leahy: 26. Okay, well, still a big number. What was that like? What did you learn in talking to all these school districts?

Cepicky: Everybody talks about salary increases. Everybody wants salary increases. And we know our teachers could probably use a salary increase to be more competitive in the marketplace.

But the one thing they keep coming back to is the process. The process that we have right now in K through 12 has limiting factors in it on allowing the teachers to do their job.

And what they keep telling me over and over is “we appreciate the pay raise, but if we’re stuck in the same system with the same frustrations, you’ll be paying us more but to expect different results would be insane.” And so that’s where we are right now, Michael.

We’ve got to figure out, is our K through 12 system, the way we have it right now, capable of producing the 12th-grade graduate that is ready to be a contributing member of society, able to make choices and have options in their life? Is that system yielding those results? And you know the numbers like I do. The answer is no, it’s not.

Leahy: Do you have any confidence that the governor’s plan will improve the performance of students across the K through 12 system to the level that we need it to be improved to?

Cepicky: I believe so. If, as you said earlier, if we will listen to the boots on the ground and the teachers in the classroom, they will tell us how to solve the equation of education. If this is something about just giving more money and expecting different results, I think we all know what definition that is.

Leahy: When you go to these schools, and I’m very impressed that you’ve gone to 26 – we’ve done the National Constitution Bee now for about five years. Our sixth National Constitution Bee will be held in Brentwood in October of this coming year. But towards the beginning of it, we’d go out and we’d go to schools and we’d see what they were experiencing. And I can tell you many of the teachers seemed to be under great stress because they had all this pressure to teach to the test, teach to the test, teach to the test. And you got the sense that they were just trying to get students to memorize stuff, hit it on the test, and go on to something else. What’s the attitude of the teachers that you’ve talked to out there?

Cepicky: That’s a great question. It’s very interesting, the data that I brought back to members of the committee. There was a way we used to teach, Michael, and it was called teach and review.

And in K through 8, odd-numbered years were teaching, and even-numbered years were review and testing, and it seemed to work really well. That’s the last model we used in ’72, when we led the world in education, and then the Department of Education was created and you know what’s happened since then.

What the teachers are telling me – and I’ve been to urban, suburban, and rural – and they’re just telling me the same thing. Simplify the system in K through 8; we will teach our kids the fundamentals and basics, and then when they get to high school, all these different career technical paths, two-year paths, and four-year paths.

And if the children coming out of eighth grade can’t read, write, and do math on grade level, the opportunities for those different pathways are so limited.

And I believe that if we all just listen to the teachers in the classroom, we will go back to the way we used to do it, the fundamentals and basics in K through 8, and we will have an educational system that will lead the nation.

Leahy: I got the impression when I went out and talked to teachers as we were trying to promote our Constitution Bee that many of them were over-stressed and felt intimidated and pushed around by just about everybody, by the administrators, by the unions, and by the parents.

And it turns out a lot of them, I think, love teaching, but they were miserable in the current circumstances. Did you see any of that when you were out there?

Cepicky: Absolutely. One-hundred percent. When we were in committee recently, last Wednesday on one of my bills on district takeover, Representative Mike Sparks said something great off of something I mentioned – that if we could bring ordinary teachers into the committee room and have them tell us what they need us to do to fix education, we would fix it.

And Representative Sparks said, well, we’ve invited teachers up here before, but they’re all too scared to come up here and talk to us.

And the question you have to ask yourself is, why would a teacher be scared to come to the General Assembly in front of the people that can help make the system better?

Why would they be scared? And that’s where you’ve got to get into, is it the administration? Is it the parents? There’s so much intimidation right now on our teachers that they can’t do their job.

We’ve got to clear that pathway, Michael, and if we don’t, we’re going to struggle. And you know where that leads to with crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, et cetera.

Leahy: Reading, writing, and arithmetic scores have been plummeting over the past several years, accelerated by the COVID lockdowns and all that mask mess. Is there anything that the Tennessee General Assembly will do this session that will actually reverse that trend?

Cepicky: Yes, absolutely. There are a couple of things I can think of off the top of my head. Our testing window is very broad right now, where sometimes the testing window starts in the middle of April to the first of April in some districts. And that means we’ve got 30 to 35 days after testing that the kids are just sitting there.

Representative Rudder is running a bill that makes it a 20-day testing window from the end of school. And from speaking to teachers across those districts I’ve spoken to, they are elated with that bill because now it gives them an extra 30 days of standing in front of their students and teaching them the standards that we need them to do.

They told me that that could be the biggest thing that could help kids that were approaching grade level to now become on track, and could move those numbers up.

Leahy: State Representative Scott Cepicky and the man who played for the triple-A [Nashville] Sounds, who was in the same outfield for a period of time as Michael Jordan. (Chuckles) Thank you for joining us today.

Cepicky: My pleasure.

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Scott Cepicky” by Tennessee General Assembly.

















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