Durham cuts ties with Teach for America

Posted September 19, 2014 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Durham Public Schools is severing ties with Teach for America, a national program that places recent college graduates in urban and rural schools that have difficulty filling teaching positions.

The district has worked with TFA for the past decade and currently has 12 teachers from the program in local schools: Six at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, four at Neal Magnet Middle School and two at Eastway Elementary School.

The Board of Education last month decided not to renew TFA's contract, saying the district no longer needs the group's help and that local schools need teachers willing to commit more than the two years TFA requires.

"We want to build a strong teacher workforce that’s made up of career educators," school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said Friday. "Our job is to look long term and make decisions that will benefit the most students over time."

Carter said the inconsistency and turnover after TFA teachers leave can create problems, especially in high-risk schools where many of the teachers are placed.

"No organization in the business world builds its workforce from temp employees, and basically, that’s what this would be doing." she said.

Some TFA teachers said that comparison is unfair.

"I can think of so many amazing TFA teachers who’ve come in here who stayed here who are in their fourth year teaching here and who have really made just the most wonderful impact on kids," said Jacqui Batts, an eighth-grade English teacher at Neal Middle who finished her two-year commitment last year and stayed on at the school.

"I think it’s a great program when it works correctly and it’s a right fit for the area," said Sarah McHenry, an eighth-grade science teacher at Neal Middle who is in her second TFA year. "I’ve enjoyed my time so far, and together we really are making a difference."

Neal Middle Principal Jill Hall said there were 16 TFA teachers at the school when she arrived four years ago, and many left after her first year.

"I believe for Neal being a hard-to-staff school – we do have a high teacher turnover rate in general – I look at all recruiting measures, and I try to recruit from a lot of different avenues," Hall said. "My focus right now is maintaining the teachers I have, and that’s been my focus since I got here – teacher retention."

TFA spokeswoman Beck O'Neill said studies have shown the program's teachers are among the most effective young educators in North Carolina.

"Given the impact corps members and alumni have had in high-need classrooms, we’re disappointed by the board’s decision. Though just one of 18 communities with which we partner across the state, it’s one we value deeply," O'Neill said in a statement.

TFA teachers already in Durham schools can stay put, but there will be no more new instructors hired from the program. Carter said the district has 99 percent of its teaching slots filled already and is confident that the district won't have any problem making up for the loss of TFA's assistance.

"Durham is a desirable location to live and to teach," she said.