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Lipscomb University received a $100,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Education to further develop its partnership with Hamilton County Schools and other school districts through the Grow Your Own teacher preparation program.

The Grow Your Own program aims to increase the number of teaching candidates from various backgrounds and education levels, and the grants fund tuition, fees, supplies and licensure for participating students. It's one of several initiatives with Hamilton County Schools, such as Project Inspire, to boost the quantity of teachers and recruit more diverse candidates.

"The department is thrilled to see Grow Your Own partnerships flourishing across the state to further boost the state's teacher talent pipeline to provide all our students with a high-quality education," said Commissioner Penny Schwinn in a news release. "This investment provides individuals with the opportunity to become a teacher for free and will continue to make Tennessee the best state to become and be a teacher. We are excited to continue to see the success of this program impact the state for years to come."

Currently, there are 57 people in Grow Your Own programs in Hamilton County Schools, said HCS chief talent officer Penny Murray, and the district partners with multiple schools for different programs. The partnerships with Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville and Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, serve participants who already have a bachelor's degree in something other than education without teaching certification. A new partnership with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will be geared toward participants who don't have degrees now.

"We have a lot of classified employees who do not yet have a bachelor's degree who we want to help get a bachelor's degree. They're already in there working with our students every day. They're doing an amazing job and amazing work. We just need to work to get them to that bachelor's and then the teacher certification as well," Murray said.

The partnership with Lipscomb focuses on math, science and English language arts, while the partnerships at Tennessee Tech and Lee University focus on special education with Tennessee Tech students finishing the program with a master's degree.

At its June meeting, the Hamilton County school board recognized six candidates from the program. Three of those candidates graduated from Tyner Academy and will attend UTC with full scholarships before becoming teachers in Hamilton County Schools. The second group of three candidates finished coursework at Lipscomb University to teach math in the district this coming fall, and they will continue to pursue their master's degrees through Lipscomb.

The board also approved hiring a program manager for Grow Your Own. The position will be funded initially by federal coronavirus relief money and then through class-size waivers and a model called Opportunity Culture, in which Hamilton County Schools holds an open position, fills it with two Grow Your Own residents and then promotes a teacher on the team to a multi-classroom leader position who mentors the residents and other teachers on the team.

One of the district's goals for the program is to be able to hire about one-third of Hamilton County Schools teachers from Grow Your Own. Murray said the district struggles with teacher preparation programs not producing enough candidates since fewer students are entering teaching, but that Grow Your Own candidates have better retention rates and are passionate about their work.

"They're already committed to the community. They're committed to the work. They have a passion for what they do, and they already have experiences in our schools, and they're really able, once they're certified, to hit the ground running," Murray said.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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