TSU Program Helps Address Shortage of Special Education Teachers in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University is using a $375,000 grant from the state Department of Education to address the need for more special education teachers across the state.

The SPED Endorsement Program allows certified teachers within Tennessee to receive their special education endorsement at no cost to them or their school district. At least 70 teachers are scheduled to take the online course in the fall.

“The College of Education plays a critical role in addressing special education teacher vacancies across Tennessee by providing a pathway for current teachers to add special education endorsements at no cost,” said Dr. Jerri Haynes, dean of the College of Education.

“TSU has a history of preparing educators in K-12 settings. It has been preparing educators since 1934 and is a leader in higher education, pioneering education, and preparing teachers. A lot has changed since then, but our commitment to training educators remains the same.”

Statistics show a need for special education teachers in Tennessee. The National Center for Education reports that 12.1 percent of the state’s student population has an Individualized Education Program, below the national average of 13 percent. In its analysis of the ability of each state to meet the needs of its students with disabilities, the U.S. Department of Education rated Tennessee as “needs assistance.”

The program at TSU will allow an educator to become the teacher of record for instruction, and develop and implement Individual Education Programs (IEP) for the Special Education Interventionist K-8 endorsement. Participants will receive services at no cost for tuition or fees. Also, TSU will cover the cost of one administration of the Licensure Assessment(s) associated with the endorsement through the grant funds.

Dr. Judith Presley is the program’s coordinator. She said program participants are enthusiastic.

“Several students have contacted me and expressed their excitement to have the opportunity to be a part of the program and the benefits of receiving the training,” said Presley.

Brady Risner of Collinwood, Tennessee, is among those enrolled to take the course in the fall, and she’s grateful for the opportunity.

“I was thrilled to be accepted,” said Risner, a second-grade teacher at Collinwood Elementary. “I’ve always had a soft spot for children with special needs. I taught in a transition class before, where there were struggling students, and it really opened my eyes to see that I have a passion for that.”

Nicki Hartsfield, who is also enrolled this fall, said she realized she wanted to become a special education teacher after being a special Ed assistant.

“I found out about the (TSU) program through our central office,” said Hartsfield, who is currently a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Leoma Elementary School in Leoma, Tennessee. “This gives me another opportunity to help kids.”

The grant is the latest TSU has received from the Tennessee Department of Education in the last year. In June, the University received the other half of a $600,000 grant to train educators to become assistant principals in Middle Tennessee school districts.

Officials said the effort is part of a longstanding collaborative partnership between the university, the Department of Education and K-12 systems aimed at attracting more qualified applicants for positions in school leadership.

“Tennessee State University is taking the lead in the state’s assistant principal training program, as a further recognition of the quality of our programs,” said Haynes. “Through this program we are helping to fill the void or shortage of assistant principals, especially minorities.”

To learn more about TSU’s College of Education, visit

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