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Sam Pearcy

Chief Operating Officer & Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education

Fellowship Year: 2010
Fellowship Location: Washington, D.C. 
Placement: Friendship Public Charter School

After the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March 2020, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his strong support to resume in-person learning in the fall. So he made educators a promise: free PPE for every teacher, including face masks and shields, and a year’s supply of disinfection supplies for every classroom in every school. 

“The sheer logistics of it were massive,” said Sam Pearcy, EP 2010 and Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the state education department. District central offices were filling up fast with boxes, often miles away from the classrooms where they were needed. “It was a really complicated thing for 147 districts to distribute to all 1,800 local schools.” 

So Pearcy and other state officials crafted an alternative: the routed requests through a government ordering system designed for disaster response. And instead of sending enormous shipments to 147 districts, Tennessee mailed out right-sized packages to 1,800 local schools, most of which were open for in-person learning for the majority of the 2020-21 school year.  

“What feels like the minutiae of a process very deep in state bureaucracy actually can make a difference for kids—and does,” said Pearcy. “It is not enough to come up with great ideas or programs at the state level, because if we’re not thinking about how they are going to actually play out in a district, school, or classroom, we’re not really developing anything worthwhile.”


Sam Pearcy currently serves as the Deputy Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Education, overseeing divisions that support information technology, district operations, performance management, and finance, including leading the technical development of the state’s Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) funding formula.

After joining the department in 2013, Sam led the close-out of the state’s Race to the Top grant before transitioning roles to focus on improving the efficiency of state operations to better support districts.

Sam previously worked for the District of Columbia Public Schools, managing the district’s IMPACT team that implemented school-based employee performance evaluations and strategic compensation initiatives. Additionally, Sam began his career as a high school English teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A native Tennessean, Sam attended public schools throughout his K-12 education before earning his Bachelor’s degree from Furman University and a Master’s of Public Policy from George Washington University.

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