Distinguished Professionals Education Institute

KnoxNews - Professionals fill gaps in classrooms

Principals requesting part-time teachers for hard-to-staff courses

By Lola Alapo, alapol@knews.com
June 2, 2007

Chris Francis worked 10 years as a nuclear engineer and at one point was instrumental in a nuclear submarine project for a Virginia-based shipping company.

He brought that experience and knowledge this past spring semester as a part-time physics teacher to nine Gibbs High School students.

The benefits have been twofold - supplementing his income and interacting with students who are eager to learn, he said.

"It's just good to have a part in their development," said Francis, who is also a pastor of a small Baptist church.

Francis, 58, was one of four people participating in a Knox County Schools pilot program this last school year that allowed professionals to teach in hard-to-staff courses like math, science and foreign languages.

The founders of the Distinguished Professionals Education Institute are measuring the first year's success by the increased number of experts lining up to participate and of high school principals requesting them.

"It's a win-win situation all round," Gibbs Principal Janice Walker said.

When her school's dual-certified chemistry and physics teacher retired, Walker was able to find a chemistry teacher but not a physics instructor. Finding Francis was "an excellent solution to our problem," she said.

Program executive director Betty Sue Sparks hopes to replicate Walker's experience at other schools. High school principals already have contacted her about the need to fill 26 slots next school year - 13 each semester.

The program's goal is not to replace certified teachers but to help fill "areas of critical shortage," said Sparks, the school system's former human resources director.

"I know how hard it is to fill these classes," she said.

Sparks, Pro2Serve CEO and president L. Barry Goss and the Public School Forum of East Tennessee launched the program. The institute is a nonprofit organization.

The founders want to expand the program beyond Knox County and have applied for a three-year $880,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The professionals teach on a course-by-course basis without having to follow the traditional route to becoming a teacher. They undergo 50 hours of training, much of it through an interactive online computer program.

The program is approved by the state Board of Education. The professionals can receive an adjunct teacher's license from the state Department of Education. They also are assigned a mentor teacher at the school for ongoing support.