$3 million gift will aid New Orleans teaching ranks

Teach for America, which trains high-achieving college graduates to enter troubled public school classrooms, is getting a $3 million donation to add 510 teachers in the New Orleans area, officials announced Wednesday.

The money will more than double the group’s presence in New Orleans and boost the ranks of TFA members statewide to 1,035, up from 525.

“It is a critical investment,” said Jack Carey, vice president of regional management for Teach for America for the greater New Orleans region.

The contribution is part of a $20 million gift from the Walton Family Foundation, which aids a variety of programs aimed at improving public education. The two-year investment will support the recruitment, training and professional development of nearly 4,000 first- and second-year teachers in nine cities, including New Orleans.

New Orleans is set to get the fourth-most new teachers from the contribution, behind Los Angeles with 723, Memphis with 551 and Detroit with 525.

Ed Kirby, deputy director of the foundation’s K-12 reform investments, said in a prepared statement that TFA’s New Orleans operation is doing a good job and more than 80 percent of its alumni pursue careers as teachers, school leaders and education policy leaders.

The group’s two-year budget is about $25 million.

TFA recruits college graduates, puts them through a five-week training program and sends them to troubled public schools for at least two years.

New Orleans has about 400 TFA members in 112 schools.

Many have flocked to the city since Hurricane Katrina, when leaders launched a major push to improve its long-suffering public education system.

Carey said he and his wife, who worked for TFA in New York City, moved to New Orleans to launch an elementary school.

The donation means TFA “will be able to bring effective teachers into some of the most under-resourced classrooms in the country,” Matt Kramer, co-chief executive officer of Teach for America, said in a prepared statement.

Officials said the foundation has donated more than $100 million to TFA since 1993.

TFA’s New Orleans region includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. John parishes.

The donation is nearly three times the $1.2 million in TFA aid that the state’s top school board approved in June.

However, the issue sometimes sparks controversy, as it did then.

State Superintendent of Education John White, a TFA alumnus, praised the aid as a way to help Louisiana’s public school system, especially since 60,000 students attend F-rated schools.

St. Martin Parish School District Superintendent Lottie Beebe, a BESE member who lives in Breaux Bridge, called TFA a “staffing agency” and said schools would be better served if they relied on teachers produced by colleges and universities.

Other cities with TFA operations that will share in the $20 million are Denver, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Newark and Washington, D.C.