Pittsburgh schools board to vote on new teachers agenda

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A proposal to use Teach for America to help Pittsburgh Public Schools find new teachers survived an agenda review meeting and is expected to be up for a board vote on Tuesday.

Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh, an education advocacy group, has called on the district to postpone a vote until after four new board members are sworn in on Dec. 2. So far, more than 886 supporters have signed its petition onchange.org.

But school superintendent Linda Lane said Wednesday told the board the item should move forward because of the lengthy recruiting and screening process done by Teach for America.

Only two board members spoke against the plan, Regina Holley and Mark Brentley Sr. Board members Theresa Colaizzi and Sherry Hazuda spoke in favor. Board member Thomas Sumpter asked whether the district is doing enough to recruit diverse, qualified candidates.

Ms. Lane said the district could hire as many as 30 Teach for America teachers next fall. The fee charged by Teach for America is $5,000 per teacher, which would total $150,000 in the first year. The motion calls for spending $750,000 from Aug. 1, 2014 to July 31, 2017. The fees would be paid by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a highly competitive process, Teach for America recruits top college graduates for positions in high-needs schools. Teach for America provides five weeks of training at a local institute and other local training and coaching. The teachers make a two-year commitment.

Ms. Lane said Teach for America could provide candidates to hard-to-fill positions, such as chemistry and physics, and would provide a more diverse candidate pool than the district has now. About 30 percent of Teach for America candidates are people of color, Ms. Lane said, although Teach for America does not guarantee minority candidates. She also said the Teach for America candidates have a passion for teaching in difficult schools,

Ms. Lane said the Teach for America candidates would compete with other applicants.

Ms. Holley said that education graduates who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on their education are passionate about teaching and are better prepared.

Ms. Hazuda noted a prinicipal who had difficulty finding a world language teacher. She said Teach for America could provide a larger pool.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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