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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

School board approves Teach for America contract, but there's a catch

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Last night, the Pittsburgh Public School District board of directors voted by a vote of 6-3 to approve a three year contract with Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income schools. But the contract might not be a done deal.

After attempting to table a vote on the TFA contract, school board member Mark Brentley, who was against the contract, voted in favor of it. As a result, Brentley has a chance to defeat the measure by bringing it up for a vote again when a new crop of board members is sworn in less than two weeks from now.

“Let’s table it; let’s bring it up at another date when the community’s involved,” said Brentley prior to the vote. “It’s controversial and it’s divisive.”

School solicitor Ira Weiss said he doesn't anticipate the district moving forward with the TFA contract because of the controversy.

"Given the discussion at the table, given the statements of several board members, good judgement would dictate that we wait until December," Weiss said.

The district’s proposal to contract with TFA has been met with some resistance from the community. At a public hearing on Nov. 25 and a rally preceding the vote, a group of teachers, parents and community organizers asked the district to postpone deliberation on the contract until four new board members take office in December.

“It really bothers me that they’re taking away the democratic process by trying to push these things through tonight,” said Debra Srogi, a PPS parent, an hour before the board’s vote.

Long time school board members Theresa Colaizzi and Jean Fink took offense to those who referred to them as “lame ducks” and said the outgoing board members shouldn’t be voting on controversial issues at the last meeting of their term.

“I walked into this with a table of controversial issues and I don’t see one this last one should be any different,” said Fink who has served on the board for 37 consecutive years.

However, even the outgoing board members disagreed on whether or not the district should contract with TFA.

“There’s this thing out there that Teach for America does not bring in qualified teachers,” Colaizzi said. “Teach for America does bring in teachers with certifications.”

Fink sided with those in opposition who accused TFA teachers of being unqualified.

“The district has been saying for years that every student needs a highly qualified teacher and I agree,” said Ellen Smith, a retired PPS teacher who criticized the minimal classroom experience TFA teachers receive. “So the notion that somebody can come into a classroom with five weeks of training—I look back at what I didn’t know those first two years. I feel like these Teach For America teachers might be very well educated, very bright, but they’re not well prepared.”

The contract would allow the district to hire up to 30 TFA teachers next fall.

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