By Carson Cook, Chattanooga, Tenn. —

The School of Education hired a new director and introduced new programs to help boost low rankings.

In July, Dr. Renee Murley began working as the director of UTC’s School of Education. She came from a role as assistant chair of Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership at the University of Memphis.

“I had heard great things about UTC and knew they wanted to implement changes to their education program,” said Murley.

In 2014, UTC elementary education program ranked 327th out of 788 programs evaluated by the National Council on Teacher Quality. According to  Tennessee’s Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs for 2015, the student achievement growth did not exceed the state average in any subject.

Murley said she accepted her role with ideas on how to improve the program, such as better connecting students to the resources in the community and improving the student teacher program.

Student Teacher Program

The School of Education is working on restructuring its student teacher program. The department hopes to more strategically match students with the most successful teachers in the district.

Murley said her vision was to strengthen the communication with the Hamilton County Department of Education and other community partners.

“The key to our success is our partnerships,” Murley said in a meeting with the State Board of Education this July.

“Oftentimes, the relationships have been about just placing students or talking a little bit about what is it we can do to change curriculum, but what we really want to do is begin having some probably not-so-easy conversations with our partnerships, so we can understand what their needs are, but then they can understand what our needs are as well.”

Under the new student teacher pilot program, students will stay in the classroom for 14 weeks. In the past, students spent seven weeks with one teacher and then switched halfway through the program.

Living Learning Community

This year UTC added a new Living Learning Community (LLC) opportunity for first-year students to live with peers with similar interests.

The NEST (Nurturing Effective and Successful Teachers) is a community of freshmen majoring in education. Student live in the Walker apartments, with close proximity to classes and volunteer experiences.

Students in the program will take a first year experience course and an education course together. They also participate in the Postsecondary Awareness with Success (PAWS) program to mentor elementary students at Brown Academy.

These teaching candidates also have access to PRAXIS preparation, priority registration, early move-in and professional development opportunities, according to the School of Education.

“We feel like this will be something that will provide support for our students and our teacher candidates so that we can help them be successful throughout their program,” said Murley.