On the eve of the final school board meeting of the year, I had a long talk with Dallas Independent School District board president Lew Blackburn, who expects tonight's adios to 2011 will be a lengthy one: "We've got a long list of people who want to speak about the possible school closings," he warned. That, and two days ago trustees Carla Ranger and Eric Cowan pulled from the consent agenda the item that renews Teach for America's contract with the district for five years, at a max cost of $3 million spread over the length of the deal to help bring up to 100 TFA corps members into the district each school year. One hundred, out of the more than 10,000 teachers in the district.
Blackburn's a fan of TFA; so too are most of the trustees, who've looked at the results and listened to principals who, if they've had TFA members in their schools, go on and on about how corps members transform students and teachers alike. As Kyle Richardson, ex of Marsh and now of Woodrow, told Joe last month: "They had a great impact on our school -- an amazing impact." But Ranger's never much liked TFA and the fact teachers only commit for two years; and now Alliance-AFT, a teachers' association, is insisting the language of the contract protects TFA teachers from being fired, which Blackburn says is not true. And so, tonight, grown-ups will do what they do best: argue.
"We have one or two board members dead-set against it, and I am not naive enough to say we'll always agree," Blackburn says. "They say: Why commit ourselves to five years? Why not one, two, three? But I am not concerned about a five-year commitment. If their reputation starts to change, we'll tell TFA: 'Your shining star is getting dull.' And then we'll move on.
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"But I see us using TFA as a recruitment opportunity, and the people they bring to us -- and, granted, over the last couple of years it hasn't been a lot -- but the ones we have are quite effective. Principals talk about them being very enthusiastic. I even ask them: 'But they're only committed for two years.' They tell me, 'If I can get an enthusiastic teacher for two years versus a dull teacher for life, give me an enthusiastic teacher. And two years later I will find another enthusiastic teacher for two more years.'"