Dr. Vernon E. Coffey

Dr. Vernon E. Coffey '73, '75, '78, '92
2000 Distinguished Alumnus in Education

Dr. Vernon Coffey, a native of Grainger County, Tenn., has had a wealth of experience which led to his appointment as Tennessee's Commissioner of Education by Governor Don Sundquist in July 1999. After high school, Coffey worked for Magnavox before entering the U.S. Army, where he served in Hawaii and Vietnam. Upon completion of his tour of duty, he worked for several years for General Motors in Dayton, Ohio. In 1970, Coffey chose to leave manufacturing to complete a bachelor's degree at East Tennessee State University. He graduated in 1973 and began his teaching career at Rogersville High School in Hawkins County. While teaching, he earned his master's degree and Ed.S. degree from ETSU.

Coffey was appointed principal of Rutledge High School in Grainger County in 1978. He became an instructional supervisor for the system in 1979 and was elected superintendent of schools in 1980. During his 15-year tenure, two new schools were built, and the school system experienced a phenomenal growth in special programs, implemented for the first time in Grainger County: an adult high school, an alternative school, two preschool sites, junior ROTC, homework hotline, health occupation class, and a counseling hotline for truant or disruptive students. Coffey was also a member of the task force of superintendents of small school systems in Tennessee that initiated the small school system lawsuit to secure equitable funding for all school systems in the state. The results of this action resulted in the Basic Education Plan (BEP) for the public schools in Tennessee.

Coffey received his Ed.D. degree from ETSU in 1992. He left the superintendency in Grainger County Schools in 1995 to become Deputy Commissioner of Education for the State of Tennessee. He played an active role in the Department of Education's goal of achieving Internet and technological networking of all schools in Tennessee. Coffey then moved to the East Tennessee Regional Director's position, where he served as liaison between 33 school systems and the State Department of Education.

As Commissioner, Coffey develops and administers a $2.5 billion annual budget; serves 138 school systems, over 850,000 students and 55,000 teachers. He serves as a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee System, as well as a number of other professional organizations and boards.

Coffey is married to Virginia Needham Coffey. They have two children, Gina Hipsher and Brett V. Coffey, and two grandchildren .