A new partnership between Knox County Schools, the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education is working to boost the number of special education teachers in Knox County.
On Monday, officials announced the “Grow Your Own” initiative, which offers incentives to UT students who aspire to special education as a career.
The program would launch in the fall of 2020, with KCS hiring 10 to 15 UT students as paraprofessionals during their intern year. Students in that Aspiring Teacher cohort would receive a salary and health care and earn years toward retirement.
In addition, KCS would offer teaching jobs and signing bonuses in the 2021-22 school year, pending degree completion, licensure and good standing as a paraprofessional.
At a news conference on Monday, KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas joined Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn; interim UT System President Randy Boyd; and Ellen McIntyre, dean of the UTK College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, to announce the program.
Thomas said the announcement was a historic moment for Knox County Schools and noted that the district starts every school year with teaching vacancies, particularly in special education.
The Grow Your Own initiative, he said, “is going to provide a pipeline for us. It’s going to allow us to fill the (vacancies) that we have … as well as build a pipeline of well-prepared teachers.”
The state Department of Education also announced that $1 million will be made available for teachers across the state to get a special education endorsement.
The state will contract with educator preparation programs to offer the endorsement to current teachers, and the funds will pay for teacher tuition. Districts will be allowed to submit teachers to get the endorsement at no cost to them.
Boyd, the interim UT president, on Monday recalled three teachers at Doyle High School who made a difference in his own academic journey, and he noted that the percentage of college students who choose education as a major has dropped significantly in the past 40 years.
“This program, this partnership will help us go a long way to solving that,” he said.
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.