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Knox Co. Schools program hopes to retain and develop the skills of educators of color

During a report given Wednesday, leaders said schools should be staffed with diverse educators that mirror the demographics of the student population.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Education leaders with Knox County Schools gathered Wednesday to hear a few reports from advisory groups and discuss their upcoming agenda. One of those groups was the Tennessee Educators Color Alliance.

The group connects teachers of color to help stronger accountability systems in education systems across Tennessee. They also work to make sure educators of color know about leadership opportunities locally and across Tennessee, giving them a chance to lead school systems.

They also organize mentorship programs for educators of color in the state, helping people preparing to be teachers and educators already in the classroom develop their skills.

The Knox Education Foundation helped establish the organizations, as well as the TECA Fellowship. Each year, applications are sent to educators who may want to participate in the fellowship for the year. Educators said that the executive director of talent acquisition helps run that program.

Jennifer Hemmelgarn, an education leader who attended Wednesday's meeting, said they anticipate announcing who that director would be sometime this week.

The fellowship conducts book studies, matches participants to mentors and brings participants together for a session per month to help them develop new skills, network with other educators and develop a community between teachers of color. Participants are given a $1,200 stipend, divided into two payouts.

The sessions cover concepts like logic models, family engagement and racial identity development as well as inclusive teaching.

During Wednesday's meeting, they said the cost of 15 fellows is around $90,000 per year. The 2022-2023 fellowship is partially paid for by the Knox Education Foundation — up to $60,000. There were 12 fellows in the inaugural program from 2021 through 2022.

The overarching goal of the TECA Fellowship is to inspire teachers of color to stay in Knox County Schools during their careers.

KCS members said Wednesday they hoped to get feedback from participants about the program, to continue improving the fellowship.

"Obviously, what we're wanting is to keep these people in our system, and hopefully get them to bring their friends into our system too," said Virginia Babb, a board member.

Superintendent Jon Rysewyk also said KEF conducted a report collecting input from educators of color about their experiences with KCS. However, he said during the meeting that information from that report was not immediately available.


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