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October 5, 2015

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Money OK’d to bring in 150 more Teach for America educators to CCSD

The Clark County School Board unanimously approved a $300,000 contract on Thursday to hire 150 additional Teach for America educators for next school year, representing a 50 percent increase in TFA teachers in the School District.

The issue: The Clark County School District has partnered with Teach for America since the 2004-05 school year. Teach for America is a national nonprofit organization that recruits recent graduates from top colleges to teach in high-risk, high-need schools for at least two years.

Currently, the Las Vegas chapter of Teach for America has 125 corps members. There are 95 TFA teachers in the School District. The remaining TFA members teach in nondistrict charter schools and early childhood Head Start programs.

Next year, the School District plans to add 150 new TFA educators at a cost of $2,000 per teacher for recruitment and professional development. TFA teachers are considered district employees, and will be paid a first-year teacher's salary and benefits.

The $300,000 TFA teacher development cost — a third of which will come from federal funding — represents 10 percent of the total cost of training the new TFA teachers. Teach for America funds 90 percent of the teacher development cost, which comes out to $20,000 per teacher per year. Corps members' training includes a five-week summer institute and yearlong professional development, including some Saturday preparation.

The vote: 6-0, with School Board member Linda Young absent.

The impact: The contract approval builds on Teach for America's rapid growth in Las Vegas over the past couple of years.

Teach for America began with 57 teachers during its inaugural year. Since then, the nonprofit has placed 434 teachers in at-risk schools across the valley, impacting more than 42,000 students.

Last year, Teach for America doubled its corps to address growing demand from school principals for high-quality teachers in subjects such as math and science.

"There's such a clear need for great teachers in hard-to-fill subject areas," said Teach for America Las Vegas' Executive Director Victor Wakefield. "We hope to be part of the solution."

At Thursday night's School Board meeting, several local principals, teachers and community members spoke in favor of Teach for America. School Board member Patrice Tew also expressed support, saying she was grateful for Teach for America's contributions to Las Vegas schools. Her board colleague Chris Garvey said she had some reservations initially, but was apparently won over by the community support.

Teach for America's recent expansion also has been fueled by increased financial backing from community groups.

Major contributors include foundations such as the Caesars Foundation, the Lincy Foundation and the Windsong Trust as well as corporations such as the Las Vegas Sands and Zappos.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and the mastermind behind the Downtown Project, gave one of Teach for America's largest single contributions — $1.2 million — in fall 2011. Teach for America Las Vegas is moving its headquarters to Downtown Las Vegas.

In addition, Gov. Brian Sandoval has pledged $2 million for Teach for America in his biennial budget, which must be approved by the Legislature by this summer. If additional state funding is approved, the district could hire an additional 50 Teach for America corps members.

Capitalizing on growing community support, Teach for America is poised not only to increase its presence locally, but also its influence in Las Vegas and Nevada.

Some of its growing alumni base have established themselves as leaders in education. While some have become successful classroom teachers — launching innovative education programs — others have turned to politics.

In November, voters elected Teach for America alumni Allison Serafin and Alexis Gonzales-Black to the state School Board, which will help decide education policy for Nevada's 17 school districts. Serafin is a consultant with the Clark County School District. Gonzales-Black is a recruiter for Zappos and the wife of TFA's Victor Wakefield.

Last June, the School Board approved the hiring and professional development for 50 Teach for America corps members. An additional 45 Teach for America teachers were also hired, but their development costs were funded by outside groups.

The new hires came shortly after the district sent pink slips to 419 teachers to balance its budget, raising the eyebrows of some teachers union members. All 419 teachers were rehired later in the summer when higher-than-expected teacher retirements and resignations opened the budget.

In total, the School District will have 245 Teach for America teachers next year. The district will pay $537,500 next school year to train and develop them, on top of their regular salary and benefits.

Teach for America, which has a 17 percent acceptance rate, is actively trying to recruit more minority teachers in the School District, Wakefield said. Clark County — which is a majority-minority school district — has one of the largest teacher diversity gaps in the country.

The majority of Teach for America teachers will be assigned to one- and two-star ranked schools as well as schools receiving federal Title I funding to help students from low-income families.

Critics of Teach for America have argued that while many corps members are well-intentioned and successful teachers, they often leave the classroom shortly after their two-year commitment — contributing to the growing problem of teacher attrition. Nationally, about half of all first-year teachers leave the profession after five years.

About half of the Teach for America teachers stay for a third year in Clark County, according to the district's human resources Director Staci Vesneske. Nationally, two-thirds of Teach for America alumni stay in education long-term, Wakefield said.

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