Carmelo Montalvo says as a member of the Durham community he didn’t think the school board represented him well at its August meeting.
At the meeting, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 not to renew its contract with Teach For America past the 2015-16 school year.
Montalvo, a second-year teacher in the Teach For America program and volunteer football coach at Southern High School, supported renewing the program.
“From the Teach for America standpoint, we strive to bridge the gaps for educational equity,” Montalvo said. “That mission was undermined with that decision.”
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Teach for America is a national teacher corps whose mission is to “eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach” for at least two years in low-income communities through the U.S.
Durham is one of 18 communities in the state with TFA partners. There are 12 TFA teachers in the district. They are paid a starting teacher salary, receive a local supplement and are treated like any teacher.
Some educators have criticized the program for throwing students into the most difficult classrooms after a five-week crash course. School board members at the meeting said some in the program leave education after their two-year commitment, which creates discontinuity in the schools.
“You sign up and then you’re gone,” board member Michael Lee said. “What happens in year three for these students whose lives you were impacting?”
Lee cited statistics he said he got from Teach for America’s Eastern Carolina office that “of the 200 alumni of TFA still in Durham County, only 25 are still teaching.”
Board member Natalie Beyer said she disagreed with renewing the contract three years ago and she still does.
“Continuing a relationship with Teach for America is a slap in the face to people who have dedicated lives to teaching,” she said. “The narrative being pushed around the country is that anyone can teach. Despite the best intention and efforts, this has the potential to do harm for some of our neediest settings.”
Some board members said they’d prefer the money being paid to TFA redirected to stipends for experienced teachers willing to act as mentors for those new to the profession.
The organization, however, says TFA teachers do teach beyond their second year and are typically rated beyond proficient by their principals on the N.C. Professional Teaching Standards evaluation.
After the two-year commitments, teachers in the program can stay at the school if they wish, having filled their requirements under the program, or they can go elsewhere.
Data from the organization shows that fewer than a third of TFA teachers in N.C. public schools stay beyond their two-year commitment. Only 10 percent stay for a fifth year.
Montalvo said he was disappointed by the conversation between board members at the meeting.
“It felt like a personal attack,” he said. “I was being called basically ‘unequipped’ and ‘not worth the investment’ they've been doing over 10 years.”
“I’m still in a state of shock,” he continued. “Being in that board meeting was like an out-of-body experience.”
The district will honor its commitment to the five new teachers accepted in the program this year and allow them to serve for the required two years. But it will not add any more teachers in the program after that. It will cost the district $3,000 per teacher.
With only 12 teachers from the program, Thomas Crabtree, assistant superintendent for human resources, said it should be relatively easy for district to absorb the losses.
“Twelve is not an issue for a total workforce of 2,500 teachers,” Crabtree said.
Vice chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the lone vote against ending TFA’s services.
In a guest column in The Herald-Sun, Forte-Brown wrote that the organization has developed some of the state’s most effective teachers.
“To my ears, last week’s conversation was about grown-ups, not kids,” she wrote. “It was about politics. It was about maintaining a status quo that has failed too many students, for far too long. And it lacked the perspective of parents, principals and teachers on the front lines of this work every day.”
“Despite the tireless work of countless educators and advocates, our low-income students of color aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve,” she continued. “The glaring absence of serving these student’s best interests from Thursday’s conversation is more than disappointing, it’s disgraceful.”
Brown, who was once a teacher who took the traditional path of going to graduate school, wrote that the vote pitted traditional teachers against teachers who have taken an alternate route.
“This shouldn’t be an either/or,” she wrote. “It should be a both/and. We need great teachers and educational leaders, whatever their backgrounds. Without Teach For America, we take one step back.”
Staff writer Jim Wise contributed to this report