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THEC approves new teacher prep program in Memphis

Relay Graduate School of Education, which touts an innovative approach to teacher preparation and a nontraditional teacher certification path, is coming to Memphis after gaining approval Thursday from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

Based in New York, Relay will be partly based at the University of Memphis and will open this fall with on-site and online courses. The school will offer master’s degrees in up to 11 graduate programs to students who promise to work in Shelby County’s worst-performing schools.

The development is welcome news for most education advocates in Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of underperforming schools and struggles to recruit and retain quality teachers.

“The swell of priority schools shows that Memphis is a ripe place to turn the trajectory of what we’ve seen with education for far too long,” Relay spokeswoman Michelle Armstrong said following Thursday’s vote.

Relay’s application with the state drew pushback in December, however, from faculty at the University of Memphis, which already operates a College of Education. Its Faculty Senate complained that the university did not consult with the Senate or its College of Education in partnering with Relay and expressed concern that the new program will directly compete with the College of Education. In a subsequent letter, university President Paul Rudd assured faculty that the university is unlikely to cut its own teacher training programs, noting that Relay’s program will focus on attracting non-education majors to teaching.

Relay Graduate School of Education grew out of a program that launched in 2007 and has gained national attention for its approach to training teachers and principals. Memphis will become home to its sixth campus.

Armstrong said Relay will announce next week which graduate programs will be offered in Memphis.

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