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Knox County pilots program to fill critical teacher shortages

Knox County Schools, including Farragut High School, is piloting a program to help reduce “critical shortages” of qualified teachers in certain areas.

The Distinguished Profession-als Education Institute, born out of a desire to address the national and international teacher shortages in critical areas such as math, science and foreign language, has successfully placed several local professionals in Knox County classrooms to teach classes in their field of expertise.

Betty Sue Sparks, a former Farragut Primary School principal, was instrumental in getting the project started.

“When I left Farragut Primary School I became elementary supervisor and then, subsequently, I was director of human resources for the school district. I retired in 2004. When I retired one of the things I was asked to work on was the critical shortage in the math and science and foreign language areas,” Sparks said.

“What we do is work with scientists, mathematicians and linguists who are interested in teaching on a course-by-course basis where we are unable to fill that course,” she added.

The program began in 2006 and since its inception has seen much progress.

“This is a pilot program, just in Knox County Schools. The state department has been really pleased with the results that we have seen. Principals have had really good things to say about it because it enables them to offer courses they could not otherwise offer,” Sparks said.

FHS principal Michael Reynolds said, “This program is the ultimate collaborative effort between community and school. The Distinguished Professional Education Institute helps us bring real world expertise and a unique perspective into the classroom.”

Doris Gordon, FHS curriculum principal, added, “They filled positions we just couldn’t fill. The D-P-E-I team is vital. With them on board we have been able to put the right people in the right place. The solution is good for everyone.

Not to worry, KCS and DPEI are not sending just anyone into the classroom to teach your children.

Each professional must have at least a Bachelor’s degree and 24 semester hours in the subject in which they teach as well as 10 years of work experience in that field. They also must pass the same background check as KCS teachers.

“There also is an extensive pre-service program that is built around the state Department of Education’s framework for evaluation and professional growth. Those domains include teaching strategies, planning, assessment and evaluation, classroom environment, professional growth and communications.

“We do 50 hours of pre-service with them built around that framework. Then they are provided with a mentor teacher,” Sparks said.

“They have to take the Praxis Content Area examination during the first year of their teaching. So it is a pretty extensive program,” she added.

This semester, FHS has three distinguished professionals in place; physicist Jamada Garner teaches physics, Dr. Gil Reed teaches a biology class and Cassandra Prysork, a retired translator from the Social Security Administration, teaches a Spanish class.

Professionals also are in place at South-Doyle, Austin East, Karns, Gibbs and Carter High Schools.

“Our task is certainly not to take the place of a classroom teacher but rather to fill critical shortages on a course-by-course basis so that students can take the full realm of courses that would be available to them,” Sparks said.

“I go to high school staffing and if they want to offer a course and do not have someone to fill that spot, that is when the distinguished professionals step in,” she added.

DPEI is a non-profit organization and there is no fee for the pre-service training, which is all completed online.

“There are a lot of people out there who say, ‘I have always wanted to teach, but I have done something else.’ And so now they have an opportunity to give back and to contribute to the community,” Sparks said.

“I am so proud of what we are doing in Knox County Schools because other districts are experiencing critical shortage, but in Knox County we have been able to do something … this may not be the total answer, but it is one answer,” she added.

Each professional is allowed by the state to teach up to three courses per school year.

Although the professionals are paid, Sparks said the amount “is nominal.

“These folks are truly professionals who just want to give back. The community has been really good to them and they want to contribute to the community,” she added.

For more information on DPEI, visit

Applications are available for those wishing to participate in the program.


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