Spend just a few minutes around Candice McQueen, and you will quickly learn that she is passionate about making sure all students — regardless of their race, gender or economic status — have the same educational opportunities regardless of their backgrounds. “All means all,” is her motto.
McQueen has devoted her career to educating young minds and to training and equipping teachers. She began her career as a classroom teacher at Lipscomb Academy; served as dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education, ranked top in the nation in teacher prep programs; and today serves as the Commissioner of Education for the State of Tennessee. McQueen has experienced education in nearly every aspect, which provides her much knowledge and wisdom on which to draw as she strives to make education accessible to all.
For her work, Lipscomb University’s College in Education named McQueen its 2017 Innovator in Education. On April 19, she was recognized at a breakfast that featured remarks from her peers and educators across the state as well as award-winning children’s author Kwame Alexander, who was the featured speaker for the event.
McQueen is also known as a champion of literacy, a cause that is also near to Alexander’s heart. He travels the country holding literacy pep rallies — which he held later that day in Lipscomb’s Allen Arena for hundreds of local school children.
“Why do we do this (work in education and support literacy),” Alexander asked the audience. “We do this to transform lives because we know that words have the power to engage children and inspire them. We want kids to know their worth. We do this because we want to change lives. And literacy does that.”
Deborah Boyd, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education, said McQueen was instrumental in leading the university’s program to be one of the best in the nation.
“While at Lipscomb, Candice’s vision led the College of Education to state and national recognition and unparalleled growth,” said Boyd. “All the while, she was embedding literacy and her hope for success for all in every thing she touched. She has demonstrated her dedication to education in so many ways.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said McQueen has made an impact the quality of education across the state.
“Since joining our administration two years ago, Candice McQueen has been a force in making sure Tennessee’s one million students are ready — ready for college, ready for a career, ready to succeed in every way,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. “She has been accessible. She has shown that listening is an important element of leading — and she is good at both. Commissioner, we are fortunate to have you as a leader in our efforts in education in Tennessee. There is no more important mission and responsibility for our state.”
“Candice can see beyond what is to what could be,” said L. Randolph Lowry, Lipscomb University president. “She also has a sense of creativity and a level of excellence that was beyond even our own expectation. She also has a sense of tenacity. We appreciate her vision and leadership at Lipscomb, and are so proud of her that she now serves the state in the larger capacity.”
Janet Ayers, the 2016 Innovator in Education recipient and president of the Ayers Foundation, said her respect for McQueen has grown through the years as she has watched the impact she has had on education. But she said she most respects the foundation upon which McQueen stands.
“Her faith is the foundation from which everything else springs,” said Ayers. “I’ve seen that first-hand. When we talk about education, faith is that place out of which these conversations take place. Add to that someone who is intellectually curious about the world around us and how she can make that world better. Then you add to that that she is inclusive and naturally a collaborator with her friends and colleagues — that’s why Dr. Candice McQueen has had such a great successful career to-date and it continues. Those accomplishments and that career are wide and long as well as inspirational.”
McQueen was presented with a portrait of her 10-year-old son, Henry, painted by Lipscomb alumnus and internationally known portrait artist Michael Shane Neal (’91) for the honor. McQueen said she was very touched by the gift and thankful to those gathered to celebrate the honor.
“I want to first thank Lipscomb University,” said McQueen. “The remarks that I make today come from what I’ve learned at Lipscomb University from leaders on campus. When I saw the faces when I entered this room today, I saw partners in our work. Whether you are a teacher in a classroom, or leading amazing community work around literacy for high school students, or teaching students to become teachers, or an administrator at a school, or whether you are a business leader who hires the best and brightest, you play an important role.”
McQueen said as she thinks about the work that is being done across the state everyday in education, three words come to mind — opportunity, engage, learn.
“We have to provide an opportunity for every student. Opportunity can mean several different things, but many of you in this room are working to ensure that ‘all’ really means ‘all.’ Opportunity means every single day,” said McQueen.
Engaging students is something that “we all have to get up every morning thinking about,” she said.
“Engagement is how you actually provide the opportunities you inspire,” said McQueen. “It’s about inspiring, motivating, sparking an interest in students and what lays ahead, and then engaging with them to actually create that pathway.”
McQueen also believes that continual learning is important.
“Use what you have done and what you know to keep growing and keep doing to work toward evidence-based practices which we know will ultimately create change,” she said. “Be that learner.”
McQueen was sworn in as Tennessee’s commissioner of education on Jan. 17, 2015. During her first year as commissioner, McQueen led a statewide effort to create a new strategic plan and vision for our schools called Tennessee Succeeds. The comprehensive plan provides aligned goals, priorities, and strategies focused on increasing postsecondary and career readiness for all of Tennessee’s 1 million students.
A native of Clarksville, Tennessee, worked to open lines of communication between the department and the public through avenues such as the Assessment Task Force and Assessment Task Force 2.0, Early Literacy Council, Career Forward Task Force, and the department’s inaugural parent and student advisory councils. In addition, she continues to oversee and participate in the department’s Teacher Advisory Council and the Governor’s Teacher Cabinet. McQueen also worked alongside the governor and first lady of Tennessee to launch a comprehensive statewide literacy effort called Read to be Ready, with the goal of having 75 percent of third graders reading on grade level by 2025.
Prior to her appointment as Commissioner of Education, McQueen served as senior vice president and dean of the college of education at Lipscomb University. Under her leadership, Lipscomb’s College of Education and teacher preparation program were consistently highlighted as one of the top teacher training programs for quality and effectiveness at the state and national levels. McQueen also led the College of Education to a 54 percent enrollment growth with 72 percent growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.
Prior to her tenure at Lipscomb University, McQueen was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of a new magnet school. She began her career as a classroom teacher, teaching in both public and private elementary and middle schools.
McQueen has a bachelor's degree from Lipscomb, a master's degree from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas. She serves on the board of trustees of the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents and was recently appointed to serve on the national board for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and as a commissioner for Education Commission of the States.