Middle Tennessee State University and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, have joined forces for an innovative program to recruit prospective teachers from school districts within high-needs, rural areas of the state, train them at MTSU’s College of Education and return them to teach in their local communities.
MTSU and SCORE officials signed an agreement Monday, May 8, to help launch the Tennessee Teach Back Initiative, with SCORE initially committing to over $90,000 the first year, with subsequent awards upon successful outcomes over a three-year period. This funding will support the new recruitment and engagement specialist who will manage recruitment and retention with the initiative and assist with establishing partnerships with school districts across the state.
Under the initiative, participating school districts would agree to fund any last-dollar scholarships — remaining costs after all other scholarships and grants — for their students’ education to earn initial teaching licensure. In exchange, those students will return to their local districts to teach for at least the same amount of time they spent earning their initial teaching licensure.
University President Sidney A. McPhee praised the partnership during remarks at the signing ceremony hosted in the gymnasium at Homer Pittard Campus School, a K-5 teaching laboratory school located on the western edge of the campus.
“We celebrate the initiative designed to help solve the pressing issues that contribute to our statewide, indeed nationwide, teacher shortage,” McPhee said. “The agreement we will sign today represents an important investment in our schools, the next generation of teachers and in the lives of Tennessee’s children.”
Campus School served as a fitting backdrop for the morning’s announcement with its ongoing ties to the university’s origins as a normal school to train teachers. Owned by the university and operated by Rutherford County Schools, Campus School provides MTSU education majors with hands-on, student teaching opportunities as they pursue their degrees.
SCORE is a Tennessee education and research nonprofit that works to ensure public education in the state continues to deliver academic progress for students from kindergarten through career, according to its website. SCORE does this by informing and influencing state policy, monitoring progress to measure impact and identify challenges, and prioritizing Tennessee’s education agenda.
MTSU has partnered with the nonprofit for years, most recently in 2019 to support creating research-supported innovations to inform the College of Education’s continuous improvement process for its curriculum.
David Mansouri, president and CEO of SCORE, said the nonprofit is excited about the initiative and proud to support and partner in this work.
“We are committed to ensuring all students are prepared for college, career, and life, and we know that strengthening the teacher pipeline is one of the most important things we can do to ensure students have an excellent K-12 experience,” Mansouri said. “We also know that having a more diverse teaching force can lead to improved student achievement, especially for students of color.”
Other attendees included some members of the Tennessee Teach Back Initiative Advisory Council; representatives from Murfreesboro City Schools, including remarks from MCS Director of Schools Trey Duke; MTSU Board of Trustees members, including Chairman Stephen Smith, who also gave remarks; Campus School students; MTSU first lady and retired city schools teacher Elizabeth McPhee; MTSU staff and administrators and College of Education faculty, including new dean, Neporcha Cone.
“By increasing the diversity of candidates in our teacher preparation program, this new initiative and partnership will allow us to play a critical role in addressing some of the educational disparities that exist in today’s classrooms,” Cone said. “I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all of the individuals who have made this collaboration possible. In addition to supporting the academic development of our students by providing high quality educational experiences, we are committed to building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with our school and community partners.”
Michelle Stevens, director of the college’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity, has overseen the initiative and said the idea first came about last November with help from Tracy Frist, an education advocate, philanthropist and former teacher who serves as chair on the initiative’s advisory committee. Frist is married to SCORE founder, former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, who visited the university to sign the 2019 agreement. Though Tracy Frist was unable to attend the event, Mansouri included remarks from her in his address.
Stevens said the next step for the initiative is to hire a recruitment and engagement specialist this summer to continue to build upon the work that is currently being done to strengthen existing and establish new partnerships with school districts to help identify high school students interested in pursuing teaching at MTSU.
“We will also add more supports for these education students such as establishing a living learning community and connecting them with our Office of Student Success,” said Stevens.
Duke, an MTSU alumnus, said the initiative will build on the already robust relationship between MCS and the College of Education to identify that strong teaching candidates over the years who end up teaching within the city district.
“Initiatives like this will allow us to expand our partnerships to make sure we know that the high quality and effective educator candidates that we love to hire from MTSU will continue to be here for years to come,” he said. “We believe the core of every educational decision is based on what’s in the best interest of the student, and we know that the very best thing we can do for students is to put a healthy, supportive, well-trained teacher in front of them every day.”
To learn more about the opportunities at MTSU’s College of Education, visit the website at https://www.mtsu.edu/education/. To learn more about the outreach and opportunities at the college’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity, visit the website at https://www.mtsu.edu/fjecoe/.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)