As the old saying goes, “I see farther because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” That best describes my experience as a 2019-20 member of the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute (CTLI) sponsored by SCORE and The Hunt Institute. From our two convenings so far, I have learned so much that I have taken back to my school district and developed similar programs matched to our district needs. I’ll share two examples here.

CTLI cohort members take ideas back to their home communities and turn them into action for students. A member of the 2019-20 CTLI cohort explains how he turned ideas from convenings into action in his home district.

Recruiting Teachers

At the first convening, we discussed the need for more high-quality teachers in our classrooms and the shortage that we are currently experiencing in Tennessee and across the nation. We engaged the leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly and had the opportunity to exchange ideas to solve this problem. At the end of the day, and upon much reflection, I discovered that the only barrier to putting a plan of action in place to “grow our own teachers” was me! 

After that meeting, I immediately contacted our higher education providers at Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee Tech University. I met with the deans of the colleges of education of both schools, and we are currently working to develop our own “grow your own program.” Partner districts around Warren County were engaged in a cohort to develop a regional “grow your own program.” We are currently identifying paraprofessionals working in our school districts who would be good candidates to go into the teaching profession. In our district, we have identified 16 candidates who fit our criteria with a goal of having the program in place by the end of the school year so these candidates can start their program in the fall of 2020.

College-To-Career Pathways

In our second CTLI convening at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, part of the discussion centered on intentional college-to-career pathways. This has been an ongoing discussion in Warren County and one that we feel is a strong point in our district. Through consistent and ongoing feedback with our business community, we have built strong college-to-career pathways. We started a Mechatronics program in our high school in 2007, we recently began integrating robotics into our high school, middle school, and elementary schools, and we have a STEM on Wheels program that takes STEM education to all schools in our district.

The one area where we needed to improve was providing more internships for our students with local businesses. A visit to the Jackson-Madison school district to examine their LOOP program led to the development of a School to Work program in our district. Through our Virtual Instruction Program, students can complete their high school course work online while working at an internship that leads to employment after graduation. We also have a home school pilot program to engage home school students and a flex program to engage students who need options to complete high school and train for a good-paying job.

The sharing of ideas that is encouraged through the Complete Tennessee Leadership Institute has led to change in our district. We are always open to new programs and ideas, and by networking and sharing ideas with other districts, we have learned how to develop programs that are similar but work in a rural community. As the Beatles say, sometimes you just need a little help from your friends! But most importantly, that help can go a long way toward implementing ideas that improve education outcomes for our students.

Bobby Cox, EdS, is director of Warren County Schools.

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