NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Nashville teacher is pushing to change Tennessee’s credential process for school principals after learning her Harvard University education degree is worthless in The Volunteer State.

A Tennessee law approved in 2009 requires Tennessee principals to graduate from an approved in-state college or university master’s program, or to have at least three years of experience as a principal for out-of-state applicants, The Tennessean reports.

It’s a reality that Tennessee teacher Ashley Croft learned while earning her master’s degree in educational leadership at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in 2013. Her resume also includes an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, six years of teaching experience and recognition by the teachers union as Distinguished Educator of the Year in 2013, according to the news site.

Croft’s supervisor, Isaac Litton Middle School assistant principal Chara Rand, believes “she is definitely ready” to become a principal and “just needs the opportunity” to shine, but the Harvard grad will have to gain experience in another state or attend a local university if she wants a chance to lead a school in Tennessee.

Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Ashley Ball told The Tennessean the requirement is in place because Tennessee colleges “teach to the state’s Instructional Leadership standards, aimed at setting high standards for effective leadership based on research and best practice.”

“I certainly understand why the policy exists, so someone isn’t coming from an out-of-state diploma mill,” Croft told the news site. “But that’s sorta throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

To highlight the illogical state law, Croft and her sister Marissa started a petition on Change.org urging the state to change the rules. So far, it’s gained support from about 1,700 people over the last three weeks.

Jenna Gabriel attended Harvard with Croft, and wrote about the teacher’s drive to help students in the state she grew up in.

“I had the privilege of studying alongside Ashley Croft last year at Harvard, and continue to be in awe of her dedication to her students and her commitment to improving education in her home state of Tennessee. Though she had the licensure and ability to stay in Massachusetts, Ashley’s belief that she could make the greatest impact in the community where she grew up never wavered,” Gabriel posted to the Change.org petition.

“Ashley is everything that all of our children deserve in a school leader: deeply committed to student success, driven to increase access and opportunities for all students, a lifelong learner looking to improve her own professional capacities, and–most importantly–a brilliant educator who sees and instills the best in her students.

“I cannot speak to the other principals who will be unable to serve students in Tennessee because of this policy, but I do know that when Ashley Croft moves so she can fulfill her personal dream of being a school leader, the school districts in Tennessee will have lost an extraordinary woman. And the state administration will have no one to blame but themselves for adhering to a policy that restricts some of the best and brightest principal licensure candidates from serving the students who need them most,” she wrote.

If the state doesn’t amend the rules, Croft has only two options to become a principal in Tennessee: move to another state and gain experience, or repeat her degree at a local university to gain the proper state approval.

And Croft doesn’t sound like she plans to repeat her education.

“I love teaching in Metro” Nashville Public Schools, she told The Tennessean. “And if I am going to leave, it’s not for a teaching position.”

Her current principal, Tracy Bruno, said her departure would be Tennessee’s loss.

“She went to one of the most highly regarded universities in the United States, if not the world, and the state is telling her she can’t be a principal here,” Bruno said. “If we lose her, it’s a blow to the system. And it’s a blow to the state.”

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