Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and Austin Peay State University: Honest Conversation for Better Partnerships

This case study appears in our publication Partnering on Prep: A Toolkit for Building Strong District-Teacher Preparation Program Partnerships. You can access the full publication here.

When Lisa Barron became the Director of Teacher Education and Partnerships at Austin Peay State University (APSU), she knew that APSU had work to do. Though the institution was placing student teachers in an impressive 14 districts across Tennessee and Kentucky, the relationships with those districts were surface-level. The districts and the university weren’t communicating enough about the challenges they were facing and how to improve.

To address this issue, APSU first made the tough decision to prioritize districts that were closest to the university, decreasing the number of partner districts from 14 to 6. But it wasn’t enough to just decrease the number—they also needed to strengthen the ones that remained. Building a stronger relationship with Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS)—the district in which APSU is located and where most of its student teachers are placed and many are ultimately hired—was of particular importance.

Barron knew that prioritizing honest conversation and feedback was key. So she formed the Education Partnership Advisory Council, a group that includes representatives from APSU and all 6 districts and meets four times a year. The Council started by performing a SWOT analysis —a structured format in which participants discuss strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—to encourage honesty and candor. Barron limited APSU staff participation to elevate district voices. She was skeptical that the districts would buy in to such a radical shift. But all parties relished the chance to be honest about the challenges they were facing.

This newfound transparency has led to real improvements in APSU’s partnerships, particularly with CMCSS. For instance, CMCSS and other districts revealed that they were struggling to hire teachers in high-need areas such as STEM and special education; APSU responded by sharing information about scholarships and other opportunities available through the university to help the districts build stronger talent pipelines in these subject areas. APSU wanted to ensure that their student teachers had high quality mentors, and  CMCSS made a commitment to place all student teachers only with teachers who achieve a 4 or 5 on the TEAM (state teacher evaluation) rubric. The district also worked with APSU to develop joint criteria for mentors. And APSU has incorporated CMCSS curriculum and language—such as Explicit Direct Instruction and classroom management training—into their coursework for pre-service teachers..

Today, the relationship is even stronger. As APSU Dean Dr. Prentice Chandler puts it, “Quality teacher education is the responsibility of colleges of education and local school districts working in tandem with one another. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.” CMCSS has opened up its professional development opportunities to APSU students and regularly leads trainings on APSU’s campus. APSU uses data on new teachers from CMCSS—including , TEAM and Praxis scores—to improve their programming. The language and principles of high quality instruction that CMCSS uses and prioritizes for its teachers starting at induction are incorporated into APSU coursework. APSU and its partner districts are also working together to make their teaching pipelines more diverse through partnerships with organizations such Future Teachers of America and the Nashville Teacher Residency.

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