Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane wants Teach for America -- which has deployed 32,000 college graduates without education degrees to classrooms nationwide for more than two decades -- to help the district fill 15 to 30 teaching vacancies next fall.
Hiring teachers through the alternative certification program would be a first for the district, which has faced teacher furloughs in recent years.
Ms. Lane said the district still has some hard-to-fill positions, such as certain sciences, and has difficulty attracting a diverse applicant pool.
The item is expected to be on the agenda for the board legislative meeting on Nov. 26 -- the last legislative meeting before four new members are sworn in.
Board reaction is mixed.
The board met with representation from Teach for America in private session last month. Solicitor Ira Weiss said it was closed because legal and labor contract issues were involved.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, "I find it very unfortunate. People certainly wouldn't go to an accountant who wasn't certified or a doctor who wasn't certified. ... I believe our students need and deserve teachers that are trained in pedagogy and content to give them the best possible education."
In a highly competitive process, Teach for America recruits and screens college graduates, gives them one week of local orientation, five weeks of training at a national institute and then a week of local professional development before they enter the classroom. It also provides coaching for the TFA teachers, known as corps members.
Board member Bill Isler said, "I think Teach for America has proven success around the country. I think we should be very, very happy they're looking at Pittsburgh."
Teach for America has been advertising since spring on its website for a founding executive director in Pittsburgh, noting the group is "laying the groundwork for potential expansion into Pittsburgh by fall 2014."
The job notice states the founding executive director would work to "effectively build and mobilize a broad coalition of local champions -- including community leaders, district and school partners, Teach for America alumni, donors and other key stakeholders -- to support the launch of a local site."
Danielle Montoya, communications director for Teach for America, said the group had hoped to have the position filled by now and wants soon to have "someone on board to help us continue to have conversations and more deeply understand the community."
She said Nicole Brisbane, managing director of new site development, has been talking with the education, faith-based and nonprofit community as well as other organizations.
Ms. Montoya, said, "There's been great community interest and support."
She said contracts with Teach for America vary, but districts typically pay a fee of $3,000 to $5,000 per corps member per year, which amounts to about 20 percent of Teach for America's costs for recruitment, selection and training. The remainder of those costs typically comes from fundraising.
Those hired through Teach for America are paid a first-year teacher's salary, according to the organization's website.
Ms. Lane said the board supports increasing the diversity of the workforce and traditional teacher preparation institutions "are not being very successful in preparing African-American teachers."
She also said some fields such as biology and chemistry are "pretty hard for us to pull in effective and qualified candidates," adding, "We're not necessarily looking to hire elementary teachers. We've got lots and lots of applications for those."
Ms. Lane said Teach for America candidates are specifically interested in working in some of the most challenging school districts in the nation.
"That commitment to kids in impoverished neighborhoods, children of color is to me powerful," she said.
Board President Sharene Shealey sees Teach for America as an opportunity for a more diverse pool of teaching candidates.
Board member Mark Brentley Sr., who often complains about a lack of diversity in hiring and contracts, does not think Teach for America will help.
"We have a system in place. We just need an administration that is committed to diversity," he said.
Board member Regina Holley said, "I truly believe the traditional way of going through a four-year institution is the best way of servicing our children."
Theresa Colaizzi, another board member, said, "I'm very much in support of the idea. I think it's a great way of bringing quality teachers into the district."
Ms. Colaizzi said Teach for America mirrors a Teacher Academy the district had proposed to train nontraditional teaching candidates "quite a bit."
Pittsburgh Public Schools had planned to develop its own alternative certification system through a yearlong residency program, but scrapped plans in 2011 because of the difficulties of hiring new teachers when other teachers were being laid off.
Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said the nontraditional teachers in training in that program would have worked under the direction of a certified teacher.
Ms. Montoya said contracts with school districts are three years, but each corps member makes a two-year commitment.
She said more than 90 percent complete their two-year commitment, and more than 60 percent continue to teach for more than two years.
Of the 32,000 alumni of the program, about a third are still in the classroom. Another third are in education, and the remainder are in other fields, she said.
The only place in Pennsylvania with Teach for America corps members is Philadelphia, primarily in charter schools.
The school district of Philadelphia had as many as 129 incoming corps members in 2006, but this school year, following teacher layoffs, one was hired.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.