New Nashville-based alternative teacher education program seeks state approval

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Indianapolis Public Schools has long struggled to find substitute teachers, but a new program has nearly solved the problem.

An education advocacy group founded by former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is waiting for state approval to establish Nashville Teacher Residency, a program to recruit and train recent college graduates who were non-education majors to join the city’s teaching force.

Project Renaissance, which was formed by Dean in 2014, aims to launch the residency program this year. The goal is to develop “high performing middle and high school math and English teachers serving low-income students in Nashville’s district and charter schools,” according to the website for Nashville Teacher Residency.

“Every child deserves a great teacher every year,” said Randall Lahann, director of the new program. “We look forward to partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools to provide a new teacher preparation pathway toward that goal.”

The program is part of a growing number of teacher residencies nationwide, including Memphis Teacher Residency, which has developed a strong track record in recruiting and developing teachers for Memphis since its establishment in 2009. That program, along with a bevy of other teacher recruitment and development initiatives, also has helped to brand Memphis as “Teacher Town.”

However, unlike Memphis Teacher Residency, the Nashville program does not grant a master’s degree in conjunction with any university and is not religiously affiliated. The Memphis program bases its mission of serving low-income children on Christian principles.

According to the Nashville program’s website, Nashville teacher residents will be placed with a master teacher for their first school year while taking education classes in the evenings. During the second year, the residents will teach full time while attending monthly professional development sessions. The cost is $5,000 per resident, which the residents begin paying in their second year.

The first crop of teachers-in-training could start an internship as soon as March. However, the group is still seeking approval from the state to license teachers. State policy requires that programs submit three years of financial audits before they can grant teaching licenses, an impossibility for a new organization such as Project Renaissance. 

Project Renaissance was founded with the goal of doubling the number of Nashville students in high-performing schools and is headed by Justin Testerman, former co-director of the Tennessee Charter School Center, and State Board of Education member Wendy Tucker, a disability rights attorney and a former education adviser to Dean.

Dean’s education legacy was marked by a commitment to charter schools, fostering growth in the charter sector while recruiting several high-profile educators to the city. But Testerman and Tucker have repeatedly said that they hope Project Renaissance will work to help improve both charter and traditional schools and that the organization doesn’t view one set of schools as more valuable than the other. The group holds bimonthly tours to highlight “great schools” including charter and traditional schools.

Even so, according to the new program’s website, only charter organizations have agreed to partner with Nashville Teacher Residency to date, including Nashville-based charters Valor and LEAD Public Schools. 

The program website also lists several community organizations as partners, including Conéxion Americas and the Martha O’Bryan Center.

If approved, the program won’t be the only alternative-certification path for bringing more educators to Nashville. The city already hosts Teach For America and TNTP Teaching Fellows.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.