New UTC education center aims to better prepare teachers, assist local school districts

Staff file photo / A woman walks past Hunter Hall, home of the UTC School of Education.
Staff file photo / A woman walks past Hunter Hall, home of the UTC School of Education.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is creating a new education center in an effort to better partner with local school districts to serve their needs.

The Center of Excellence and Innovation in Education will focus on educator and leader preparation, literacy instruction, innovative school models, policy and technical support, and rural education, according to a Wednesday news release.

"We need a better way to serve our community, better way to serve our K-12 schools, better way to serve our students, future students and people that may not think they could be students but now they can," Allen Pratt, the interim co-director of the UTC School of Education, said in an interview. "The center's a way to be responsive and proactive to the requests and needs of the community."

The goal is to use the new center as a foundation for building one of the best teacher education programs in the South, Chancellor Steve Angle said in the release. Roughly two-thirds of students in UTC's teacher preparation program end up teaching in Southeast Tennessee, according to a 2022 report by the state Board of Education.

(READ MORE: UTC to invest in artificial intelligence, prompting organizational changes)

"We have a national teachers shortage, and we need to find new, innovative ways to address the shortages and the needs," Pratt said. "There's a lot of just different pathways to become a teacher, and I think that's going to be an important part of this."

As part of its previous efforts to assist local districts, the UTC School of Education has a Grow Your Own program, Tennessee's teacher residency program. The school had also, in response to feedback from districts, started using more adjunct professors from local schools and aligned the programs it taught with what local districts used to ensure teacher candidates were prepared to teach locally, Pratt said.

With the new center, the university will continue to focus on these programs, as well as provide professional development and other services to local school districts. The center will also have an advisory board with representatives from the school districts, as well as local businesses and philanthropic partners.

(READ MORE: UTC, Southern launch new initiatives in response to housing crunch)

"It's not us telling them what to do," Pratt said. "It's a process of we're collaborative together, working together."

In a September speech during which Angle first proposed the center, he said teacher education was an area in which the university could make a difference, citing the effect teachers have on literacy, third grade advancement and post-secondary preparation.

"Teacher preparation is the key, and that means being on the cutting edge and challenging the norm," Angle said. "This is important work. Our partnering school systems, community and students are counting on us to get this right, and we will."

Angle will address the new initiative at the National Forum to Advance Rural Education on Thursday and Friday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Contact Shannon Coan at or 423-757-6396.