By Susan Luzzaro
The way that the Chula Vista Elementary school board does business began to change when three new trustees, Leslie Bunker, Francisco Tamayo and Dr. Eduardo Reyes, were elected in November.
Discussion on the dais at the April 15 Chula Vista Elementary meeting signaled one of the new directions. The district agendized a service agreement with the controversial organization Teach For America from July 2015 until June 30 2018.
Teach For America corps members are recruited for two-year teaching stints. The corps members have Bachelor’s Degrees and a 5-week training course before being placed in classrooms. They are recruited to teach in low-income areas.
Teach For America has commendable goals. Their 2012 non-profit tax form (990) states the organization’s “mission is to build the movement to end educational inequity by enlisting our most prominent future leaders in the effort.”
Several corps members have published articles critical about their training and experience. For example, in a 2013 the Atlantic article, former TFAer Olivia Blanchard, expresses frustration about the preparation she was given before entering the classroom:
“At the time, I appreciated TFA’s apparent confidence in me as a leader. I assumed that I would learn the concrete steps I needed to achieve this transformation during the training program. Instead I was immersed in a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and touchy-feely exercises.”
In an April 17 telephone interview, Chula Vista Elementary trustee Reyes had a lot of concerns about the Teach For America contract.
Reyes wondered, “Why was this even on the agenda—do we have a teacher shortage? Why are we bringing in non-credentialed teachers with only five weeks of training to get their practice on our kids?”
At the April 15 board meeting Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said he recently attended a meeting where people projected a teacher shortage in 2 to 3 years.
During the board meeting the assistant superintendent of Human Resources, Dr. Jeffrey Thiel, said the district was anticipating the need for hard-to-fill special education and bilingual positions.
In the interview Reyes said he was incensed at the idea that the district wanted to bring in people with little training and no experience “and place them in classrooms with our most at risk students, including special education students.”
In addition, Reyes said it’s his understanding that the turnover for Teach For America is about 60%, which he doesn’t believe equates to the level of commitment the district needs.
Reyes added that some trustees suggested that Teach For America would only be brought into charter schools but he pointed out that the resolution “clearly stated that the contract would have been for all district schools.”
Another thing that bothered Reyes about the contract was that the district was going to pay $5,000 to the Teach For America organization for each candidate teacher. “Why do we have to pay a headhunter fee?” Reyes believes the $5,000 would be better spent attracting fully credentialed teachers into the district.
At the April 15 board meeting, Dr. Jeffrey Thiel said the district’s first priority was to have fully credentialed teachers and that the district is actively working with colleges and universities toward that goal.
Teach For America, he said, “was just a fall-back position.”
Thiel explained that the district works as a contracting agent and that two Chula Vista Elementary charter schools have already employed Teach for America corps members. He said two charter middle and high schools had difficulty filling math and science positions.
Trustee Leslie Bunker questioned the idea of putting inexperienced teachers into the most difficult teaching positions. She noted that in addition to teaching responsibilities, they would be required to take university classes to become fully credentialed. She also said that she did not feel this resolution was “respectful of the teachers who had gone through the regular training.”
The Teach For America resolution died for lack of a motion. Reyes concluded the April interview by saying, “Personally, I don’t want to see this resolution again.”
Another noticeable change for the district was public comment. This is the portion of the agenda where the public can speak to the board on any subject other than those on the agenda. Since the election of the new trustees, public comment was moved from the end of the agenda to the beginning—which makes it easier for working people and people with young children to address the board.
Audio recordings of the district’s board meetings are now available on the CVESD website.
For years CVESD’s agendas have stated:
“THIS MEETING IS BEING VIDEO RECORDED. In accordance with the Brown Act, all public Board meeting recordings are available for review for 30 days following the meeting, after which they are recycled. Please contact the Super-intendent’s Office, (619) 425-9600, Extension 1311, if you wish to schedule an appointment to review a recording.”
By comparison, Chula Vista city council meetings have long been live streamed and continue to be available to the public. Audios for Sweetwater Union High School district meetings are also posted the day after a board meeting and then continue to be available on the district’s website.
Disclosure: The author’s daughter teaches in the CVESD district and is a member of the bargaining team.