The Teach for America contract with the San Antonio Independent School District was renewed for five more years by  school board trustees Monday night. The unanimous vote means TFA will continue to provide professional services to the district, which will increase its per capita spending on new corp members over the next two years to keep pace with state and national levels.

The decision came after an extensive presentation by Toni Thompson, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources. The district’s own analysis and report proved to be a convincing, data-driven argument for the contract renewal. 

TFA has been a valuable source of alternatively certified teachers over the last five years as competition for traditionally certified teachers has intensified, Thompson said.

Gladys Hernandez, seen here working with TFA at Bowden ES, is now a STEM coordinator at the DoSeum. Photo courtesy of TFA.
Gladys Hernandez, seen here working with TFA at Bowden ES, is now a STEM coordinator at the DoSeum. Photo courtesy of TFA.

“We will always look for strong, traditionally certified teachers first,” said Thompson.

Area universities and regional state schools produced 2,290 new teachers last year, while Bexar County alone needed 3,144 to fill available jobs, Thompson said.

San Antonio has a particularly hard time drawing recruits from Texas State, the largest generator of new teachers, and UT-Austin. Graduates of those programs usually opt for Austin or their home city.

“This isn’t a new need. It’s a need that’s been in existence for 25-30 years,” said Thompson.

The shortage has left San Antonio to look to alternate certification programs for as many as half of its new hires, a statistic that led board members Olga Hernandez (D6) and Steve Lecholop (D1) expressing surprise.

Over the last five years, TFA under its local executive director, Laura Saldivar-Luna, has provided as many as 109 teachers in the 2012-13 school year to only 47 this year.

The 2015-16 numbers reflect tightening standards at TFA, while in previous years the decrease has been at the request of the district. When state budget cuts hit in 2011-12 school year, the district’s TFA hires dropped from 100 to 65.

Laura Saldivar-Luna, courtesy photo.
Laura Saldivar-Luna, courtesy photo.

Saldivar-Luna has worked to make TFA’s highly regarded professional development programs available across the district, drawing appreciation from the board. She made a vigorous commitment to ensure that the district experiences the many benefits of TFA’s presence, beyond the two-year commitment of individual corp members.

Among those benefits are $4.3 million of state funds going to the San Antonio corps, most of whom are assigned to SAISD. Right now 85% of TFA corp member funding comes from public and private sources outside the district. The renewed contract will raise the district funding to $3,500 per student per year for the 2016-17 cohort, and $4,000 for the 2017-18 and subsequent cohorts. This will bring San Antonio’s funding up to comparable rates with other districts across Texas and the nation.

Board member Ed Garza (D7) expressed concern over the contract’s commitment to hiring 60-100 TFA corps members per year at this increasing rate, wondering if it wasn’t pledging beyond its means and district needs, considering that SAISD only hired 47 corp members this year.

Superintendent Pedro Martinez expressed confidence in the budget.

“We don’t anticipate this to be a financial issue for us,” said Martinez.

Nonetheless, board member Olga Hernandez (D6) wanted to make sure that the district was not being charged for corp members who dropped out before their commitment was fulfilled.

Olga Hernandez
Olga Hernandez

Thompson and Saldivar-Luna assured the board that by the time the district received its yearly invoice at the end of September, most of the (considerably small) attrition had already happened, and was not included in the invoice.

Thompson’s presentation highlighted not only the financial benefit of TFA, but the value added elements of this particular source of alternative certification.

According to Thompson’s statistics, 49% of the current cohort are certified in more than one area, and 40% are certified in what are considered high need areas for SAISD including science, math, special education, English-language learners, and bilingual education.

James Howard
James Howard

The feedback from administrators has also been glowing. Principals continue to give high ratings to corp members in their schools, and TFA teachers regularly win the district’s Rising Star awards for first year teachers. The two year commitment was troublesome to board member James Howard (D2) who had misunderstood the original contract, thinking that the TFA corp members were committed to three years. He also wanted to make sure that TFA was not supplanting other “home grown” sources of alternatively certified teachers, such as instructional assistant programs, and that the praise being given to TFA was not supplanting the praise due to veteran teachers.

“I just want people to know, you know, that all of our teachers are dedicated. And all of our teachers are doing an energetic and fantastic job,” said Howard.

Howard ended his discussion in support of TFA, which he demonstrated by RSVPing to the organization’s five-year anniversary event at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 11.

All of the board members present had positive things to say about TFA, but none was more glowing than Lecholop, a practicing attorney and former TFA corps member.

Steve Lecholop
Steve Lecholop

“My biases are based in reality,” said Lecholop.

He went on to praise the work being done by corp members and alumni around the country not only in the classroom, but in community support and leadership as well.

*Top image: Toni Thompson, SAISD associate superintendent of human resources, presents a report on the district’s contract with Teach For America. Photo by Bekah McNeel.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.