NCTR is excited to partner with the second cohort of aspiring residencies supported through our U.S. Department of Education Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant. Our New Site Development Program (NSDP) team is working with four residency programs in this cohort: Nashville Teacher Residency, McCormick County Teacher Residency (South Carolina), Metro Nashville Urban Teacher Residency, and the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency (New Orleans). Cohort 2017 received funding to launch and grow their programs through NCTR’s two-year NSDP consulting curriculum, which will establish the core components of the residency model. Our goal is to share the drivers, influences and goals of a residency program early in its start-up phase.

In the coming weeks, NCTR will feature profiles of each of our four new SEED partners in order to better understand the drivers, influences and goals of a residency program early in its start-up phase.

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Nashville Teacher Residency

Our first of four interviews was with Justin Testerman, Co-CEO of Project Renaissance, a founding partner of Nashville Teacher Residency (NTR). Justin spoke with us on why working with NCTR was important to him and his team.

How did you find out about NCTR’s SEED grant? 

Project Renaissance was originally introduced to NCTR and your work through our friends at The Mind Trust and the Kauffman Foundation. We reached out and had some initial conversations with your leadership team. Anissa Listak was in Nashville and we had a chance to visit with her and tell her more about our vision for NTR. Anissa shared information on NCTR’s SEED grant and the attributes of an ideal SEED partner. When the RFP became available for Cohort Two candidates, we were anxious to send in our proposal.

What inspired you to apply to become a SEED grant partner?

This spring, NTR had the opportunity to attend NCTR’s Annual Symposium in Chicago. We were blown away by the quality of your Network and your programming. What we saw at the Symposium, immediately, was an opportunity to leverage the collective experience and knowledge of the best residency programs in the country to build our own high-quality program here in Nashville. Of course, the financial support offered through the SEED program is also incredibly helpful now that we are in start-up mode. Moving from start-up to sustainability is an expensive undertaking, and we’re looking forward to learning how to move toward that next phase.

What are you excited about building upon in your district?

One thing we are excited about in Nashville is the community of practice that we have started with the other two new residency programs in town – Metro Nashville Urban Teacher Residency and its higher education partner Belmont University, a fellow Cohort Two SEED grantee, and the Relay Graduate School of Education. We meet bi-monthly to share updates and work through problems of practice using a consultancy model, and are always looking for ways to collaborate. Working with thought partners has been incredibly useful and beneficial to all of our programs. We have a new administration in the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), and the residencies, collectively, have asked to meet with the new leadership to reiterate our desire for a close partnership with the district. We look forward to discussing the district’s needs, and our capacity to create programming that will allow successful teacher residencies to thrive.

What challenges do you face in your work and/or community, and how do you predict your partnership with NCTR through SEED will support your work?

Nashville has become a very politically charged atmosphere for education reform, particularly where school choice is concerned. We support efforts to improve both traditional public schools and charter schools and bridging that gap can often be difficult. We are anxious to partner with traditional district schools as we move into our second year and double the size of our program. NCTR is a strong external validator for us within the district to make sure that happens.

What attracted you/your district to the residency model?

Quality teachers and school leaders are critical to the success of schools. As Nashville’s education ecosystem continues to change and grow, recruiting and retaining high caliber teachers has become of the utmost importance. Nashville school leaders routinely express a desire for assistance in expanding the teacher and school leader talent pool.  MNPS is projected to hire 1,300 teachers, through both the district and charter schools combined, each year for the next five years. Though middle Tennessee is home to many quality teacher preparation programs, the most recent data shows that of the roughly 1,000 graduates of local teacher prep programs, only 431 graduates chose to teach in MNPS schools.

Recent research on teacher education shows that teacher efficacy improves through high-quality mentorship, strategic practice and developing teachers’ cultural competencies and knowledge of the communities in which they serve. Taken together, these three practices are at the heart of the residency model. We were excited to see these programs taking root across the country and wanted to bring the model to Nashville – to help us produce a more diverse teaching force that will produce better outcomes for kids.

What partners do you have in your community that will support you as you work toward accomplishing your residency goals? 

Our program has a focus on recruiting and preparing a diverse teaching force for public schools in Nashville. We are proud that 70 percent our first cohort of residents identify as people of color, 40 percent are first generation college graduates, and 25 percent are graduates of the local school district. We also have a strong focus on community and culture and have partnered with three local nonprofits – Conexión Américas, Oasis Center, and Martha O’Bryan Center – to co-plan and co-lead curriculum modules for our teacher education courses. As a result, our residents are building a deep understanding of the historical, socio-economic contexts in which they work. We also view our partner schools where our residents are placed as key to accomplishing our goals.

What are the 2-3 things you hope to accomplish in Year One of our SEED grant partnership?

  1. Develop a robust recruitment plan. We will be doubling our class size from 15 to 30 residents in Year Two and recruitment is top of mind.
  2. Develop thought partnerships and gather feedback on our program model. NTR is all about continuous improvement, and we are anxious to get outside eyes on our programming.
  3. Learn from NCTR consortium members. Our fellow SEED partners and NCTR’s Network Partners offer a great deal of insight, experience and opportunities to collaborate on problems of practice.

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Justin Testerman

Justin Testerman || Co-CEO, Project Renaissance

As Co-CEO, Justin manages Project Renaissance’s great schools and great educators initiatives. He was formerly Chief Operating Officer of the Tennessee Charter School Center, the state’s charter support organization. In this role, he led the Center’s incubation efforts, resulting in the development of 15 high-performing charter schools in Nashville and Memphis. Justin served as the Director of Education Programs for Volunteers of America of Minnesota where he started the nation’s first nonprofit charter school authorizing program, managed the operation of three contract alternative high schools for the Minneapolis school district, and an adult basic education program. Justin also served as a Charter School Specialist in the Minnesota Department of Education and began his career in education as a middle school teacher in Newark, NJ, through Teach for America.