Teach for America is coming to the Buffalo School District after a two-year lobbying effort.
The Buffalo School Board voted, 6-2, Wednesday night to approve the program, which will result in the hiring of as many as 60 Teach for America recruits over the next several years.
The national organization recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in poor, inner-city and rural school districts. In its agreement with Buffalo, Teach for America will find recruits for teaching slots that are normally difficult for the district to fill.
Although a majority of board members indicated they have no issues with the program, several said they were troubled that the board approved the Teach for America program without having been given a copy of the actual contract.
“I understand we have the ability to do it,” said board member John Licata. “I’m just not comfortable doing it.”
He and board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak voted against the proposal.
Teach for America advocates, however, praised the board’s actions.
“We’re thrilled by this important first step in our partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools and grateful for the support of board members, district leaders and community members who have welcomed us to Buffalo,” said Katie Campos, managing director of community engagement at Teach for America.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation and others have criticized the program, saying it is costing the district money to pay for under-prepared teachers who have very limited education training and will contribute to the district’s already high teacher turnover rate.
The district is responsible for covering the salaries of Teach for America recruits and for paying a $5,000 fee to the organization for each teacher hired.
However, M&T Bank has agreed to cover the fees for the first group of Teach for America teachers in 2014-15, and district administrators said they expect grant money to cover future fees to the organization.
Even so, the fact that the district would pay Teach for America for its corps recruits bothers some district teachers, many of whom say they remain highly skeptical of the organization’s claims and statistics.
All Teach for America teachers would be members of the teachers union. Both district and corps representatives stressed that while the organization will provide 30 candidates for the district to interview for new, vacant positions in 2014-15, and another set of 30 the following school year, Teach for America recruits would receive no preferential hiring treatment.
Human resources administrator Darren Brown said the district has a shortage of well-qualified teachers in areas including science, math, English as a second language, and secondary special education. Corps recruits would still need to show they have degrees and expertise in hard-to-fill specialty areas.
Teach for America provides a five- to six-week crash course in teaching for college graduates over the summer, though they receive additional professional development during the school year. Most do not have permanent teaching certification but must earn their master’s degree within two years of district hiring.
In other news, the board:
• Unanimously approved the concept of a new advanced manufacturing magnet program at Burgard High School, which would be created at little to no cost to the district, with help from the Buffalo Billion economic development initiative.
“Advanced manufacturing is the third largest employment sector in our region, and this pipeline program is essential to a thriving economy in this region,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “What makes it even better is that there are no fiscal impacts to the Buffalo Public Schools or the City of Buffalo, and additional equipment that might be needed to facilitate the program would be secured through the efforts of the Regional Economic Development Council.”
• Approved the creation of a new Medical Campus High School, which would offer career courses in medical laboratory, health information technology and health facility management.
The school, which would open to 250 ninth- and 10th-graders starting next fall, would be housed in the vacant School 8 building at Masten Avenue and East Utica Street.
• Approved a resolution, not given to the public, in support of a Say Yes plan to provide after-school programs in 28 schools starting in January. After the resolution was adopted, Say Yes representatives raised concerns that what was presented to the board and ultimately adopted was not what both sides agreed to. They also said they never saw a copy of the resolution.
The board agreed to hold a special meeting next week to untangle the discrepancies.