This is how Fielding Rolston led during a crisis

Hank Hayes • Oct 3, 2019 at 3:05 PM

One of the great things about being an older-than-dirt journalist is witnessing historic events and knowing the people who made those events happen.

Consider the challenge faced by Fielding Rolston, who passed away last Sunday following an extraordinary stint as chairman of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

In 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce began a national effort to use data to determine which states were leading in educational performance and which states were falling behind.

The resulting report ranked states on nine indicators, including “Truth in Advertising.”

Tennessee got an “F.”

It was a big-time wake-up call.

Under Rolston’s and former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s leadership, Tennessee raised the state’s academic standards in 2009.

And it wasn’t about politics.

The result was that from 2011 to 2015, Tennessee became the fastest-improving state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math assessments.

In that time period, for instance, Tennessee went from 46th in the country to 23rd in fourth grade math.

“The difference was immense and we didn’t know why,” Rolston was quoted as saying about the results. “So we started to ask a lot of questions. We wanted to know what the reason was for this. We had been lying to kids. We weren’t telling them the truth.”

He held himself accountable.

Rolston’s collaboration to improve education kept going after the 2010 gubernatorial election when Bredesen, a term-limited Democrat, was replaced by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican.

So if you’re looking for a leadership standard in this crazy political world, look no further than Rolston, a person we should feel quite fortunate to have known.

Hank Hayes covers politics and business for the Times News. Email him at hhayes@timesnews.net.