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Teach for America contract at Central to end

Although Central High School has worked with seven Teach for America corps members since 2012, Tuscaloosa City Schools will no longer receive new corps members. CW | Amy Sullivan

Mackenzie Ross

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For the past 25 years, Teach For America has placed teachers from a variety of educational institutions, demographic backgrounds and professions in high-needs schools across the country. Now Tuscaloosa City Schools will no longer receive Teach For America corps members. The superintendent’s office and the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education chose to bring Teach For America corps members to the city schools in 2012 after seeing the need for more teachers, primarily in mathematics and science. The original contract planned for 25 Teach For America corps members to stay for two years. That contract is up, and the board of education has no plans to renew it, according to the superintendent’s office.

“We did contract with them for three years,” said Mike Daria, assistant superintendent for Tuscaloosa City Schools. “We did have several really good experiences with Teach For America, but that contract and agreement came to an end. And at this point, there’s no immediate action to renew that.”

Daria said they have been analyzing staffing needs for the coming years and they do not have the same need for teachers as they did in 2012. He said they will possibly renew the contract in the future if the need for more teachers arises.

Clarence Sutton, principal of Central High School, has worked with seven corps members since 2012 and credits them with helping improve the school. He also said they are many of the students’ favorite teachers.

“The energy they bring is doing extra,” Sutton said. “All of them had clubs they wanted to sponsor. All of them did outside activities with students, and I think that’s the most refreshing piece is having that spark of innovation that they brought to the table.”

While the TFA members at Central High School teach a variety of subjects, they mainly focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Prior to receiving TFA corps members, Central had lost two math teachers and a science teacher and although many of the TFA members were not from the education field, Sutton said he appreciates the STEM-related backgrounds they brought to their positions.

Khadijah Abdullah, executive director of Teach For America – Alabama, said they recruit professionals and recent graduates to teach a variety of subjects based on a specific school district’s needs, and teachers for STEM-related subjects are in the highest demand.

“American students lag far behind their international peers in science, technology, engineering and math,” Abdullah said. “Currently, the United States ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among developed nations. Teach For America is addressing the urgent need to improve math and science education.”

In addition to recruiting and training individuals in STEM subjects, TFA has partnered with organizations such as 100Kin10 to increase the number of STEM teachers in the education field.

Despite the coming removal of TFA members from Tuscaloosa City Schools, the organization continues to grow both in the state of Alabama and across the nation. Since bringing TFA to Alabama in 2010, over 160 teachers have worked in 11 partnering districts. Abdullah said over 44,000 people applied to work for Teach For America this year, which is double the applicants in 2007.

Each year, numerous students from The University of Alabama choose to work for Teach For America, and nearly 200 UA graduates are either currently working for TFA or have in the past.

“Teach For America also has found that maximizing diversity supports its effort to attract the country’s top talent,” Abdullah said. “Among the new corps members, nearly 56 percent identify as people of color, including 42 percent who identify as African-American, 30 percent who are the first in their family to attend college, and 33 percent who are graduate students or professionals.”

Beyond the educational and demographic backgrounds of the corps members, Sutton said he supports the program because of the work ethic of the TFA teachers and the impact they have made on Central High School.

“I just like that they really understand the service component of teaching, and it’s bigger than the classroom,” he said. “You really have the opportunity to model and affect other people, and they have that belief. And that’s really exciting to me.”

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Teach for America contract at Central to end