DPS ices relationship with Teach For America
The Durham school district will honor its current contract with Teach For America, but the national teacher training program’s future with Durham Public Schools is up in the air.
The school board voted 6-1 last week to honor its commitment to TFA teachers, including five hired to work for DPS this school year, but to not pursue any new relationships with the program beyond the 2015-16 school year.
That’s when the five TFA teachers hired for this school year will complete their service obligation with the program.
Seven other TFA teachers have begun their second years with DPS and will complete their two-year obligation with the program at the end of this school year.
Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.
“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.
Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.
“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.
School board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the only member to vote in favor of the district’s continuing its relationship with TFA.
She agreed that school districts need teachers who are willing to make long-term commitments, but only if they are doing a good job in the classroom.
“Having tenure, just being there because you’re there and not dong what you should be doing, committed to every child, every day, having high expectations for every child, every day, if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve become a veteran in the classroom,” said Forte-Brown. “I need a veteran, qualified teacher in every classroom.”
The discussion about the school district’s relationship with TFA came as the board prepared to consider a new three-year contract with the organization.
Under the terms of the contract, TFA would recruit up to 10 teachers for the school district each year at a charge of $3,000 a teacher.
Nearly a dozen people signed up to speak in favor of and against the school district’s continuing its relationship with TFA during the board’s monthly meeting.
Board members said they also received numerous phone calls and emails before meeting.
One a speakers, Robyn Fehrman, executive director for Teach For America of Eastern North Carolina, said the data showing TFA’s positive impact in high-needs schools are undeniable.
“UNC Chapel Hill has found time and time again that Teach For America is North Carolina’s source for our state’s most effective beginning teachers,” Fehrman said.
She said TFA gives principals, particularly those in high-needs schools, another tool to help fill vital classroom positions.
“Today, when we know what a challenging educational environment we face in our state, I simply can’t imagine taking this tool away from our school leaders.”
But Jackie Novotny, a Hillside High School teacher, said the money the district planned to use for TFA would be better spent on a now-defunct mentoring program for young teachers.
“If the money for paying TFA teachers was used for this program, for mentoring, our students would have better teachers,” Novotny said. “Our students would have the teachers that have the support that they need.”
Bryn Proffitt, also a Hillside High School teacher, said children who live in unstable communities deserve teachers committed to remaining in schools for the long haul.
“It’s not community service,” Proffitt said, referring to the teaching profession. “It’s something that people learn how to do. It’s something that people get better at as they go forward and it’s something that people who make a long-term commitment to continually get better at over the course of their careers.”
Dov Rosenberg, a Rogers-Herr Middle School teacher who spoke on behalf of the People’s Alliance education team, asked the board to create a teacher training modeled after the former North Carolina Teaching Fellows program.
“We recognize that money is tight but hope the board will consider seeding this kind of program,” Rosenberg said.
He also asked the board to consider compensating veteran teachers who mentor young teachers.
“We encourage the board to find whatever funds possible to pay our veteran teachers some small amount of money to incentivize this process in our schools,” Rosenberg said. “One great teacher can have a significant effect on at least two or three younger teachers.”
Andrea Underwood, president of the Durham Association of Educators, also spoke against the school district renewing its contract with TFA.
“We support recruitment and retention of quality, licensed teachers in every classroom,” Underwood said. “We honor the profession and strive to maintain the highest standards for educators.”
Like many of those who spoke before her, Underwood said the money used for TFA teachers could be used to help support career teachers who serve as mentors for younger teachers and for creative strategies to recruit and retain quality teachers.
“We value longevity and experience, not a brief commitment,” Underwood said.
Ann Rebeck, president of the Durham Council of PTAs, spoke against TFA, but noted that she was speaking only for herself.
Rebeck said the teaching profession is under assault and the TFA model suggests that anyone can become a teacher with only six weeks of training and no student teaching.
“I believe, as do many hard-working educators, that this concept is an offense to the teaching profession,” Rebeck said.