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Teach for America recruits heading to Federal Way

Federal Way Schools may hire its first four Teach for America educators to appear in classrooms at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

Teach for America, a non-profit group, announced Jan. 18 its expansion to the Puget Sound region and so far has commitments to place its recruits in Federal Way and Seattle schools.

Federal Way has been involved with Teach for America for over a year. The district signed a three-year contract with the nonprofit, ensuring that the district would hire between four and 10 employees each year.

Teach for America actively seeks college graduates or professionals looking for a career change. The recruits may not necessarily be certified teachers, though the ones in this region will have conditional certification by the time they start next September, a Teach for America spokeswoman said. The recruits then compete for jobs in school districts — mostly in low-income areas — alongside other candidates.

Federal Way Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs Sally McLean said the district could have hired recruits for this school year. However, Teach for America needed to meet a minimum of placements in the region before it could launch a program in Federal Way. That minimum was met when Teach for America welcomed in to Seattle Public Schools.

Federal Way would look to hire Teach for America recruits to teach science and math classes. McLean said the district may fill a math and science teacher position each at the middle- and high-school levels.

District spokeswoman Diane Turner said that principals at Sacajawea Middle School and Federal Way High School have expressed interest.

Teach for America spokeswoman Rebecca Neale said that some recruits are set to graduate college in May, but around 15 percent of the organization’s total recruits are working professionals.

Teach for America recruits would be treated the same as any teacher: they would join the teachers’ union and receive the same starting salary, based on education experience. McLean said that new teachers with a bachelor’s degree start at a salary of around $34,000.

According to the state Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction, new teachers can get the first level of a teaching certificate — called a residency certificate — by holding a bachelor’s degree or by completing a state-approved teacher preparation program. The residency certificate is valid for two years of classroom teaching, after which it may be renewed for another five years.

Neale listed several advantages to hiring Teach for America recruits: the recruits come from diverse racial and economic backgrounds, and many have degrees in desirable — or hard to fill — areas like math, science and foreign language.

Teach for America provides training for its recruits. One of its goals is to close the “achievement gap” — the disparity in academic performance, as measured by state tests, between white students and minorities — which is also a major goal for Federal Way schools.

There’s an administrative advantage. Teach For America receives some 35,000 applicants each year, Neale said, and whittles that pool down to around 12,000.

Teach for America has “a presence nationally that we could never replicate,” McLean said. “They have the resources to recruit from a variety of college campuses.”

The nonprofit was founded in 1990 with programs in New York City, Los Angeles and Louisiana. It has grown to 39 urban and rural areas across the country. The Puget Sound program would be the first west of the Dakotas and north of Denver. Neale said that the nonprofit is in talks to bring recruits to other local school districts, but could not specify which ones.

Many Teach for America recruits remain teachers, Neale said. This year, 12,000 of 20,000 are choosing to stay on as teachers.

“Our mission is to build a movement and end educational inequity by enlisting outstanding college grads,” Neale said.

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