Project Inspire receives grant to recruit and retain more Black teachers

·3 min read

May 30—Project Inspire, a teaching residency program supported by the Public Education Foundation, received $84,000 in grant funding through the National Center for Teacher Residencies' Black Educators Initiative to recruit and retain more Black teachers.

The 14-month-long program trains residents and pairs them with teachers in high-need Hamilton County schools. Residents, who come into the program with non-education bachelor's degrees, earn master's degrees and teacher licensure before committing to teaching in a high-need Hamilton County school for four years.

Project Inspire has partnered with Hamilton County Schools for years, said Marsha Drake, the school system's chief equity officer. She told the Times Free Press Wednesday that the grant from the initiative aligns with the district's goals of recruiting and retaining more teachers of color.

"We have a large percentage of our students who are students of color, and we have not moved the needle with teachers of color for close to 15-plus years. We've only been at about 8%, we haven't moved that needle. Eight percent of our teachers are minority teachers, and so we would like to move that because of course we have more than 8% of our students that are students of color," Drake said. "So the effectiveness of having a teacher of color in front of you, someone who looks like you, someone who has had some of the same lived experiences, that can really make those connections with our students and that's really important because building that relationship is so important."

While about 8% of teachers in the district are people of color, about 30.8% of Hamilton County Schools students are Black and 16.1% are Latino, Drake said.

Last month, the district partnered with Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance to fulfill the same goal of diversifying the teacher work force in the county. The school board also passed educator diversity and equity policies earlier in the spring, based off a state board of education policy passed in February.

That policy and the grant will influence the work of Project Inspire through three new initiatives, director Mark Neal told the Times Free Press Friday. The program will create a one-to-one mentorship program for Black residents, a Black teacher affinity group and a two-week hybrid internship program before the residency for people to experience being a resident.

The new cohort of around 28 teaching residents is 32% people of color, and Project Inspire aims to reach 40% to align with the student population of Hamilton County Schools, Neal said.

"I think the retention part and the culture of being a teacher is the part that we're really want to work on, and I think a part of that is definitely in partnership with Hamilton County, who I hear speak openly all the time about wanting to be a great place for teachers and really working on that culture piece," Neal said. "That's where I think that work with the affinity group and really listening to the voice of teachers becomes super important, and I think we'll get some great lessons learned from that."

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at or 423-757-6592.