By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Enlisting in the United States Marine Corps was a pivotal moment in the development of Derek Picklesimer as a man.
Born and raised in Murfreesboro, the Riverdale graduate wanted to feel like he was part of something that would allow him to become a positive factor. He discovered that feeling while serving his country.
After six years, he was not entirely ready to leave active duty.
That decision took some getting used to, but he ultimately put his family first.
“It was bittersweet,” said Picklesimer, who was newly married and expecting his first child. “I really enjoyed doing that, so when I came back home there was going to be kind of like that emptiness that I still wanted to fulfill.”
A lot of military veteran’s struggle in their return to civilian life.
Picklesimer put together a five-year plan in which he would earn the proper certification to teach and eventually a master’s degree.
However, his plan was expedited when Rutherford County Schools was approved by the Tennessee Department of Education to be the first district-led Educator Preparation Provider, and he accepted a position as a graphics arts instructor at Riverdale High School.
EPP is an alternative licensure pathway for occupational teachers coming from industry or, in Picklesimer’s case, the military. The program allows them to complete the state requirement of obtaining educational coursework to advance their practitioner license to a professional license within three years of accepting employment with the school district.
Teaching is an extension of the difference-maker he felt he became as a Marine.
“I just want to go home at night and feel like I made a difference,” Picklesimer said.
Picklesimer was a member of a combat camera crew as a multimedia specialist with skills in photography, videography and graphic arts.
“I never took this (graphic arts) program when I was in high school,” Picklesimer said. “I was in band.”
He joined the Marine Corps with the intention of being a member of the band, but the positions were filled. He then pursued the multimedia position with the idea that he would join the band within two years, but “fell in love” with his new role.
Two uncles — Steve and David Picklesimer — are well known for having owned a printing press downtown. Both uncles now teach digital and graphic arts for Rutherford County Schools. Steve is at Smyrna High, while David is at Siegel High.
“It’s almost like I have a PLC meeting every time we go eat dinner,” Derek joked. PLC stands for Professional Learning Communities, and the school district uses them regularly for teacher collaboration.
Picklesimer is one of 15 occupational instructors representing seven schools in the district’s new EPP program.
Based on the anticipated workforce project needs throughout Middle Tennessee, there is a “huge workforce demand” in areas like advanced manufacturing, information technology and health science, according to Rebecca Murphy.
Murphy, who spent the past year writing the EPP application, is the Educator Preparations Provider Specialist for RCS.
The following CTE occupational endorsements are eligible for the EPP program: automotive, aviation, barbering, broadcasting, carpentry, collision repair, concrete/masonry, cosmetology, culinary arts, distribution and logistics, drafting/CAD, electrical, graphic design, HVAC, health science, information technology, legal and protective services, manufacturing, plumbing and programming.
“We will have an increased need for those CTE content teachers and in order to incentivize teaching and recruit more teachers from those industry areas,” Murphy explained, “we needed some sort of alternative to help make it easier for teachers to join as an educator.”
Prior to the school district being approved as an EPP, prospective instructors would have up to three years to earn 18 credit hours of education coursework from a university.
The new program offers a “just in time” style where, for instance, occupational teachers are learning about classroom management in the summer prior to the start of their first year of teaching. The EPP program is substantially more cost-efficient than enrolling in a university, where the teacher candidate must complete 152 hours of professional development time over and 18-month period, which includes the summer prior to and following their first year of teaching.
Unlike universities, the EPP curriculum is a blended process learned throughout the program instead of the traditional model of enrolling in each individual course. Instead, the curriculum is composed of four modules: classroom management, classroom assessment, instructional planning and instructional strategies.
“We’re excited to be able to provide this to teachers,” Murphy said. “We’re proud that we can offer this, that we can help provide a model to the rest of the state for how we can proceed and advance in occupational licensure and potentially other hard to staff areas down the road as well.”
“I cannot believe it happened,” said Tyra Pilgrim, CTE coordinator for Rutherford County. “It was my dream for four years.”