Teach for America receives green light to launch in Chattanooga

Teach for America receives green light to launch in Chattanooga

November 8th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Breaking News

Updated at 10:14 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, with more information.

A contract between Hamilton County Schools and Teach for America, a nonprofit aimed at recruiting high quality teachers for high poverty schools, was approved in a 6-3 vote by the school board Thursday night.

The vote — in the works for at least three weeks — was delayed twice due to scheduling conflicts, as well as debates between board members over where the funding was coming from, whether other teacher recruitment programs are being considered and how the contract was proposed in the first place.

Chairman Joe Wingate, of District 7, and board members Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, and Tucker McClendon of District 8 were the only votes against the four-year, $1 million contract that guarantees 15 Teach for America core members will be placed in Hamilton County schools next year.

Those in favor of the agreement — which will actually cost about $3.3 million over five years — emphasized that the board's $250,000 a year commitment is coming out of state grant money for the district's priority schools.

The district received $670,383.30 for the 2017-18 school year, and another $921,886.11 for the 2018-19 school year for its nine priority schools, but further priority school funding is not a guarantee with a new governor taking office soon.

Another $500,000 will come out of $1.5 million that Gov. Bill Haslam allocated to Teach for America, which has had regional sites in Memphis and Nashville for more than a decade.

The rest will come out of local foundation and private donors' pockets, something that concerned McClendon since the agreement was first proposed.

"It disheartens me for these organizations to only want to give large sums of money to our local school system when only certain organizations come to town that want to push their agenda their names aren't on the contract, Hamilton County's is," McClendon said. "We are bound for this contract and they aren't. If the state money dries up, then we are left to pick up the tab."

Eric Dailey, the deputy executive director of TFA's Chattanooga site, said that the Smart City Venture Fund, administered by the Benwood Foundation, the Footprint Foundation and other private donors, has already committed to funding the site.

"It's going to be a great thing for the community," Dailey said. "We are excited. This has been a process, but we're going in with support of the board and have room for more partnerships."

The Smart City Venture Fund has approved $400,000 over three years of funding for TFA as part of a three-pronged strategy to improve the teacher talent pipeline in Hamilton County, according to Lori Quillen, program officer for the Benwood Foundation.

The agreement had been revised since it was first put on the board's agenda at its Oct. 18 meeting. At the time, it asked the board to commit $1.25 million over five years. It also did not add a clause that has since been added that requires reimbursing the district $15,000 for every teacher not placed in a Hamilton County school.

TFA, which was founded in 1989, recruits top graduates from across the country to teach in low-income, high poverty, urban schools. It trains corps members through an intense, five-week summer institute and then supports corps members throughout their two years in the classroom.

The organization was originally established to fill teacher shortages or hard-to-fill positions, which Superintendent Bryan Johnson acknowledges the district has in areas like math, science and special education.

But with only 13 total vacancies at this point in the school year, including three Central Office positions, Thurman asked "Are we creating a crisis just so we have a crisis?"

About 71 percent of TFA Nashville corps members continue teaching into a third year, which led some board members to question whether the partnership was myopic in its view.

"I think we are all in agreement that we want teachers filling spots in the Opportunity Zone and for every child I am concerned that it is a short-term fix," Highlander said. "I personally would like to see a longer term than two years."

Karitsa Mosley Jones, board member for District 5, which includes three of the district's priority schools, asked her colleagues Thursday night for their suggestions for a long-term fix.

"My question is, what are the long-term solutions for kids who are sitting in pivotal classes without teachers in classes that they need to graduate," she said. She suggested the board "do its job as an advocate for kids" and find long-term fixes to issues like zoning, gerrymandering of districts, concentrated poverty, gentrification and other issues leading to underachievement in some schools.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

 


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