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UT Center for Educational Leadership Recognized with National Award

The National Rural Education Association (NREA) has recognized the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Center for Educational Leadership with the 2018 NREA Exemplary Practices Award for its Administrators Planning Innovation for Rural Education (AsPIRE) rural school leadership initiatve.

The NREA Exemplary Practices Award is given to an individual or organization for demonstrating exemplary practice in one or more of the following areas: curriculum or staff development to provide more equitable educational opportunities for rural children, enhancement of communications within and among local school districts, promotion and development of state and rural delivery systems, curriculum planning and/or instructional strategies to utilize effectively the rural environment, and financial efficiency in school operations.

The award was received at the annual NREA Convention on Friday, October 12, by public school principals Christie Amburn and Ginny McElhaney, both participants in AsPIRE. Amburn is the principal at Loudon Elementary School in Loudon County, Tennessee, and principal at the Washburn School in Grainger County, Tennessee.

AsPIRE is a unique collaborative effort to enhance rural school leadership in Tennessee,facilitated by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and funded by SCORE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative was developed to address the challenges of rural school leaders, including a diverse array of responsibilities, limited quality learning opportunities, and the scarcity of mentoring and professional networks.

AsPIRE represents a groundbreaking principal-driven delivery system of collaborative professional learning experiences to support and develop exceptional rural school leadership. Participating principals have designed and are implementing a series of collaborative professional learning opportunities for their rural colleagues, including mastermind groups and a cohort learning experience.

“These collaborative learning experiences are bringing together small groups of rural principals to learn with and from each other,” said Jim McIntyre, director of the Center for Educational Leadership and facilitator of the AsPIRE initiative. “Through this innovative programming, rural school principals will explore and address shared problems of practice, enhance knowledge in critical areas, cooperatively problem solve, and develop strong professional support networks.”

The Center for Educational Leadership began in 2010 as a collaborative effort between UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and local school districts to grow and support the next generation of outstanding school principals and to meaningfully enhance educational leadership in Tennessee.


Jules Morris (, 865-719-7072)