School Board Votes 6-3 To Sign Contract With Teach For America

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Rhonda Thurman, Tucker McClendon and Karitsa Mosley Jones
Rhonda Thurman, Tucker McClendon and Karitsa Mosley Jones

The County School Board on Thursday afternoon voted 6-3 to enter into a four-year contract with Teach For America to supply 15 teachers per year, many of which are slated for the Opportunity Zone Schools.


In favor were Jenny Hill, Karitsa Mosley Jones, Kathy Lennon, Joe Smith, Tiffanie Robinson and Steve Highlander, who said he wants a quick review of how it is working out. Against were Rhonda Thurman, Tucker McClendon and Joe Wingate. 


Board attorney Scott Bennett said the school system can get out of the contract with a 30-day notice.


The county school portion to cover administrative costs is $250,000 per year, but officials said that will be covered by state funds allotted by the Haslam administration.

In addition, the group will work to secure $4 million in private funding.


The first batch of teachers from Teach For America are due next school year.


Keith Fogelman, who oversees county school hiring, said TFA "will be one part of the solution." He said he is also working with Project Inspire and The Chattanooga Fellows Great Teachers, Great Leaders program in the constant effort to hire and retain teachers. His office is also carrying out an expanded recruitment effort.


There are curently five teacher vacancies in the Opportunity Zone, as well as other needs in other school slots.


Board members had some sharp exchanges in discussion why it has been so difficult for years to hire and keep teachers in the low-performing schools.


Ms. Thurman said one factor is that principals, teachers, crossing guards and bus drivers have been threatened by parents after their children were suspended. She said, "The parents won't show up even when you offer pizza and Coke. But they always show up when their child is suspended and sometimes threaten school personnel with bodily harm."


She said unless that type problem is dealt with "we're just trying to fill a pocket with holes." 


Ms. Thurman also said that three teachers she felt were highly qualified and doing an excellent job in the Opportunity Zone got notices that they were not being retained. "She said, "They didn't even have bad evaluations. They were shocked. They had wanted to be there."


Ms. Mosley Jones said, "Kids are sitting without teachers in pivotal classes" in the high priority schools.


She said that children in the poorer schools also wonder why their facilities are inadequate and "why they didn't get a new track like Hixson did."


Ms. Jones also said, "Zoning sucks in some of the schools. What are we going to do about that?"


Defending the use of TFA teachers, she said, "If somebody wants to be in those schools, let's give them the opportunity."


Mr. Smith said, "It takes a special kind of individual. It seems the risk for the county is pretty low and there is the possibility of some high returns. It may work. What we've got ain't working." 


Ms. Hill said, "It is 15 teachers. But if we can't get the little stuff done how will we ever be able to get to the big stuff."


She added, "It will not solve it, but it will help."


She bemoaned the fact that students at Brainerd High average 14.6 on the ACT. She said, "That's not OK. The county average is 20 and the minimum for acceptance at UTC is 18."


Principal Rosalynda Odom, who worked with TFA teachers in Memphis, said, "I found them to be very hard working. They infused an excitement into the students and the schools."  


Supt. Bryan Johnson was in favor, saying, "We have some real gaps. We feel this is a strong strategy that fills a need." 


Teach For America teachers, known as corps members, will be eligible for open positions and will have the rights and benefits of other county teachers.


To lead operations, Eric Dailey will serve as deputy executive director of Teach For America Nashville-Chattanooga. In this role, he will expand the footprint of Teach For America in Southeast Tennessee, it was stated. Most recently, he served as the national managing director of The Collective at Teach For America "supporting over 16,000 Teach For America alumni of color to lead, connect, and accelerate the work of ending educational inequity."


Previously, Mr. Dailey spent three years as a public school principal in North Little Rock, Ark., serving 350 students. He began his career as a middle literacy teacher in the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Dailey received a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science from Rhodes College in Memphis and a master’s of education in educational leadership from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.


He said, “Today is the beginning of a valuable partnership to support the work of district and community leaders in placing quality teachers in classrooms in Hamilton County Schools. I am looking forward to meeting and learning from students, teachers, leaders and others in Chattanooga as we collectively pursue greater opportunities for all students in our schools.”


Currently, Teach For America has school partnerships in Nashville and Memphis with more than 400 corps members and almost 1,300 alumni combined. For the eighth year in a row, the Tennessee State Report Card identified Teach For America teachers to be among the most effective teachers in the state, officials said.


Teach For America "recruits top college graduates and career-changing professionals who make a commitment to teach for a minimum of two years in under-resourced public schools. From there, corps members continue a lifelong commitment to educational equity by continuing to work from within or outside of schools to shape the academic and personal growth of students."


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