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Durham cuts ties with Teach For America

The district’s school board voted Aug. 28 not to renew its contract with the program, citing concerns of high teacher turnover. The program recruits college graduates to teach for at least two years in underperforming and low-income districts.

“Studies have shown Teach For America is as effective as traditional new teachers, but they often do not persist with teaching and improve after the two-year period,” said Heidi Carter, board chairwoman for the Durham district.

Those already placed at the school will finish their commitment, but the district will end ties with the program for the 2016-17 school year.

Carter said the decision was primarily driven by the board’s preference to spend money developing teachers who are looking to educate for a career as opposed to a temporary commitment.

Becky O’Neill, spokeswoman for Teach For America in North Carolina, said schools pay the organization $3,000 per teacher each year, as well as the teacher’s salary.

Durham schools employ 12 teachers from the program — and there are 500 statewide, she said. But it is not unusual for schools to stop receiving teachers from the program, she said.

“Every year we keep an ebb and flow, though usually on the side of growth,” O’Neill said. “Especially in North Carolina, we always have more demand than we could ever hope to fill.”

Carter said the school district is hoping to redirect the Teach For America money toward reinstating a mentorship program, where veteran teachers help those starting their careers.

“We think it’s of vital importance and one of the most exciting decisions we’ve done since I’ve been on the board,” Carter said.

She said the district will not receive any state money to help pay for the mentorship program.

Another critiqued aspect of Teach For America, Carter said, was the relatively short training period — five weeks — for teachers before they were placed in the classroom.

Board members had expressed concerns that the most under-served student populations would be taught by the least experienced teachers, she said.

“Some felt those students should be taught by our best teachers, not our newest,” she said.

She said the board prefers the model of the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, because it incorporates more formal training, as well as a four-year commitment in North Carolina public schools.

But the N.C. General Assembly phased out state funding for the Teaching Fellows scholarship in 2013 and allocated $6 million annually to Teach For America.

UNC is consistently one of the most represented schools among the Teach For America corps — and has 65 graduates entering its most recent class, O’Neill said.

Briana Jackowski, a 2013 UNC graduate with a biology degree, is in her second year teaching in Detroit through Teach For America.

She said she plans on teaching for longer than the required two years.

“My experience in the program has been really great,” she said. “I have had a lot of support and met great people. Teaching is difficult, but I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of support.”

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Jacquelyn Gist, assistant director at University Career Services, acts as an on-campus liaison for Teach For America and said the program is very beneficial to participating K-12 schools.

“I know there is a lot of political swirl going on,” she said, “But at the end of the day, our students are going in and making a difference in kids’ lives.”