Seattle School Board Votes to Continue TFA Partnership

The Seattle School Board has voted against severing its connection with Teach for America. The vote on the measure took place after a contentious full-house hearing where the board heard only 20 local residents out of the nearly 50 who expressed a wish to address the board members. Almost all the speakers spoke on the controversial TFA measure under consideration, after critics complained about the quality of TFA fellows. Although no one disputed the passion and dedication of the program’s graduates, some took exception to the fact that relatively inexperienced teachers were, in some cases, replacing their more experienced colleagues.

The opponents also worry about the $4,000 fee TFA charges for each member a school district accepts. The Seattle Foundation is currently paying the fees for Seattle Public Schools.

The effort to sever the partnership was spearheaded by two newly elected board members but in the end, the supporters of the program prevailed by one vote. Board Vice President Kay Smith-Blum, who voted to maintain the partnership and was considered the swing vote on the issue, said that her choice to support TFA is an acknowledgment that om Seattle Principals strongly support the program and wish it to continue.

The Board President, Michael DeBell, who joined Smith-Blum in his support, dismissed the entire effort as a waste of time, since only 6 TFA fellows were currently employed in the district.

“We sure have devoted a lot of time to six teachers,” he said.

TFA is looking to expand next year, planning for more of its members to teach in Seattle and Federal Way and exploring the possibility of partnerships with other area districts.

Although the Teach for America motion got the most attention, another measure limiting the board members’ oversight powers and setting a clear demarcation between the duties of the board and those of the district superintendent was unanimously approved after a round of heavy revisions.

The proposal that was approved reflects compromise language worked out earlier this month.

DeBell called the approval “very important.”

“The next superintendent, I believe, will be looking for clarity” about the line between School Board and superintendent duties, he said.