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March 21, 2012 at 8:24 PM

Seattle School Board votes 4-3 to continue TFA partnership

The Seattle School Board voted tonight to continue the district’s partnership with Teach for America, temporarily resolving an issue that had starkly divided the community and board.

The 4-3 vote came during a packed public hearing, at which nearly 50 community members had signed up to express their views, although only 20 got the chance to do so.

Almost all weighed in on TFA, an organization that places high-preforming recent college graduates without teaching credentials in low-performing schools. The national group has been around for two decades but, aside from a brief period in the 1990s, this is its first year in the Puget Sound region.

Despite its small presence in its first year here — there are six TFA teachers each in Seattle and Federal Way — the group has encountered resistance from union officials and community activists worried that the recruits, while passionate about teaching, lack the experience of the longtime educators they are in some cases replacing.

“You’re experimenting with our kids,” said Eric Muhs, a science teacher at Ballard High School who is running to be president of the Seattle teachers union, during public testimony at the meeting. “Our kids, not your kids.”

The opponents also worry about the $4,000 fee TFA charges for each member a school district accepts. The Seattle  Foundation is currently paying the fees for Seattle Public Schools.

The concerns culminated in the effort to cancel the partnership. But the move, led by two new board members, fell one vote short.

Board Vice President Kay Smith-Blum, considered the swing vote on the issue, declared her support for the partnership by saying she didn’t want to limit a program that some principals wanted. She noted that TFA members are not guaranteed to be hired in schools, but are an option for principals.

“I believe terminating the contract at this point would be premature,” she said. “I continue to trust in our school leadership to choose the right educators for our students.”

The others voting to continue the partnership — Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr and Board President Michael DeBell — said they want more time to evaluate the program before making a decision.

DeBell also said the debate over TFA has been distracting to normal district business, especially considering the small number of TFA teachers who have been hired.

“We sure have devoted a lot of time to six teachers,” he said.

TFA is looking to expand next year, planning for more of its member to teach in Seattle and Federal Way and exploring the possibility of partnerships with other area districts.

Comments | More in Education, General news | Topics: Eric Muhs, Harium Martin-Morris, Kay Smith-Blum

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