Teach for Pittsburgh

My hometown should embrace Teach for America

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I love Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a city built on grit, hard work and determination. Most of my Pittsburgh friends — whether they live in Pittsburgh or moved away a long time ago but go back as often as possible like I do — are committed to seeing its education systems continue to improve. We want all Pittsburghers to have opportunities for academic and life success that will, in turn, contribute to the city’s great character, strength and advancement.

Those of us who call ourselves Pittsburghers but who live elsewhere may get together to cheer for Penguins goals and Steelers touchdowns, but we bond over a deep love and pride for all things Pittsburgh and all that Pittsburgh has yet to achieve.

In that regard, I am excited by the role Teach for America could play in the city’s efforts to expand opportunities for students.

Teach for America recruits, trains and supports teachers who want to work in under-resourced schools. It was founded more than 20 years ago to pursue the vision that drew me to the organization 14 years ago: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. In 48 regions across the country, we’re proud to be working with local educators, families and community members to further this vision.

I became drawn to Teach for America several years after I graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School and moved away from Pittsburgh. At Allderdice I had access to some terrific teachers and an excellent education. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true for all kids; by and large, kids who came from lower-income backgrounds had far fewer opportunities at Allderdice than kids who came from more middle- or upper-income families.

Allderdice opened my eyes to the grave inequities in public education and inspired me to spend my career working to ensure that all children, regardless of income or race, have access to an excellent education. Teach for America was the natural place for me to turn.

In Pittsburgh, Teach for America could help meet the need for teachers in high-demand content areas like math and science and in hard-to-staff schools. Two weeks ago, the outgoing school board approved a three-year contract with Teach for America to provide and support qualified candidates for up to 30 open teaching positions in Pittsburgh Public Schools. It is likely, though, that our contract will be recalled this week and voted on again by the new group of board members.

In addition to helping PPS meet its projected hiring needs as one source of teaching talent and support, we could help the district meet its goal to diversify the teaching force to better match the diversity of the student body.

Currently, 67 percent of PPS students identify as people of color while only 18 percent of teachers do. This past year, more than 900 applicants to Teach for America indicated that they would like to teach in Pittsburgh, and one-third identified themselves as people of color. I can’t imagine many in Pittsburgh would want to prevent that kind of talent from coming to Pittsburgh!

Teach for America teachers would be considered alongside all other applicants. School and district leaders would determine who is the right fit for each school’s teaching team.

As in every region where we work, Teach for America teachers do not take jobs of current teachers. Our teachers would join the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and many would already be members of the community. Thirty of our first-year teachers in 2013 identified Pittsburgh as their hometown. Additionally, more than 120 of our current first- and second-year teachers attended either graduate or undergraduate school in Pittsburgh.

We hope to have our teachers join Pittsburgh classrooms next fall. We are proud to have earned the trust and partnership of Pittsburgh Public Schools and we will work hard to do the same with the new board members, students, families, fellow teachers and community leaders. We are eager to work side by side with the committed educators of Pittsburgh Public Schools and would be honored to serve the students and families of Pittsburgh.

I hope the new board upholds the Teach for America contract to bring in up to 30 teachers and continues the work of partnering to ensure all kids in the district have access to an excellent education. I can’t imagine anything that would make me more proud of the city I love most than to see that partnership blossom.

Katie Dealy graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1996 and is chief of staff to one of the co-CEOs of Teach for America (katie.dealy@teachforamerica.org.) She lives in Evanston, Ill.

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