New Nashville-based alternative teacher education program seeks state approval

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.