Miami Herald: Struggling Miami-Dade schools will get more teachers

Mar 2, 2010

The Miami Herald published this article on March 2, 2010.

A grant from the Knight Foundation will help put high-achieving young teachers in Miami-Dade’s neediest schools.


Teach for America — Teach for America — the national program that places top college grads in high-need public schools — will triple the size of its teaching corps in Miami-Dade County, the nonprofit will announce Friday.

The scale-up to about 350 teachers is being made possible by a $6 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“We view Miami as a critical community for the country,” Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp told The Miami Herald Editorial Board on Thursday. “We know from our experience in other communities, that if we can attain full-scale, we can be a part of truly moving the needle here.”

School administrators across the district welcomed the news.

“We would love to have more Teach for America teachers,” said Martha Chang, the dean of academic affairs at Miami Edison Senior High. “If they are even half as good as the two we already have, we’ll be set.”

Teach for America corps members are recent college grads from diverse backgrounds. Some have studied education. Others have strong leadership credentials.

It’s a competitive program. Last year, more than 35,000 people applied for 4,000 spots. The applicant pool included 11 percent of all seniors at Ivy League universities.

After being accepted, corps members must complete a rigorous, five-week training program. They then land full-time jobs in school systems across the country, where they receive the same salary and benefits as other first-year teachers.

“The big idea for Teach for America is to build a movement to take on what we believe is our country’s most fundamental crisis: that where you are born determines your educational and life prospects,” Kopp said.

The program has had a presence in Miami-Dade since 2003.

This year, about 100 Teach for America teachers are serving in 35 of the county’s high-need schools. Most of the secondary-school teachers are clustered at Miami Central Senior High, a long-struggling school.

“They’ve come in with an attitude that’s been contagious,” principal Doug Rodriguez said. “They are intelligent, prepared, motivated. The culture of the school has changed because of them.”

And they get results. The number of students who passed the state math test on their second or third try doubled at the school, an accomplishment credited largely to the Teach for America staff.

The Miami-Dade branch of Teach for America is small compared to some other large, urban school districts. New York and Chicago boast 1,000 and 400 corps members.

Local Teach for America administrators said they were ready to bring the Miami-Dade program to the next level.

The Knight Foundation was happy to help.

“It’s an extraordinary thing that they do,” said Dennis Scholl, the Knight Foundation’s Miami program director. “This is a movement. You can feel it.”

Locally, Teach for America plans to double the number of teachers next year. The goal is to have more than 350 corps members by 2014, said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, who leads the Miami-Dade program.

“When we hit critical mass, we are going to have a rallying cry that is indisputable,” Fishman said. “It will actually change the current in the city.”

For the community, that means more teachers like Kimberly Williams.

Williams, a graduate of Miami University in Ohio, has helped her students at Central make substantial gains on their math tests.

“I’m feeling confident,” said Saul Scruggs, a freshman. “I never felt confident about math before. But I know I’m gonna pass the FCAT.”

On a recent morning, Williams reviewed the formulas for circumference, area and volume with her freshman algebra class. She ended the lesson with a short quiz.

“But what if I don’t know the answer?” one boy asked as Williams distributed the test papers.

“You do know the answer,” she replied.

The boy looked down at the problem, thought for a moment, and looked up to his teacher.

A smile spread across his face.

“I guess I do,” he said.