June 6, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Recent graduates of some of the nation's top colleges will work in Hartford's classrooms this fall as part of the Teach for America program.
The Hartford Board of Education agreed Tuesday to hire 25 young teachers who have pledged to work two years in Hartford, one of the state's lowest-performing school systems.
Hartford becomes the third Connecticut city to sign onto Teach for America, joining New Haven and Bridgeport in a program that recruits bright young graduates to work in some of the nation's neediest public schools.
Teach for America has about 4,400 members teaching in more than 1,000 urban and rural schools across the nation.
"We're thrilled to be joining Hartford public schools and the Hartford community," said Emily Barton, executive director of Teach for America - Connecticut.
The program came to Connecticut a year ago with a contingent of 50 recent college graduates. Most taught in New Haven, with a handful assigned to a small charter school in Bridgeport. The program had to get special legislation allowing it into Connecticut, a state noted for its rigorous standards for entering teaching.
The program will bring 20 more teachers to Bridgeport schools in the fall, Barton said.
In the three Connecticut cities, the young teachers will be working in schools that struggle to overcome some of the nation's largest achievement gaps, with low-income children often trailing far behind middle-class students.
In Hartford, 17 teachers will be assigned to elementary schools and eight to secondary schools, officials said. The teachers will undergo training sessions this summer, will be granted temporary teaching certificates and receive further training as they work toward full certification.
"This is an outstanding pipeline of high quality teaching candidates," said Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski. "All their training is around closing the [achievement] gap, and that's very consistent with our goals."
Some critics have raised questions about Teach for America, contending it is putting teachers with little or no experience in some of America's most challenging classrooms.
Nevertheless, the program has been popular at many of the nation's most elite colleges, attracting thousands of applicants willing to delay law school, medical school or other careers for a chance to help low-income schoolchildren.
Program officials said applicants last year included 10 percent or more of the senior classes at schools such as Notre Dame, Amherst and Yale.
The program was founded 17 years ago by Wendy Kopp, who came up with the idea of a national teacher corps when she was a senior at Princeton University. It now operates in sites from big city districts such as New York and Chicago to rural schools in South Dakota and the Mississippi Delta.
In New Haven, officials said the Teach for America candidates helped fill areas of high need, such as teaching jobs in science and mathematics. "The corps members come to us with exceptionally strong content knowledge," said Andrea Lobo-Wadley, the school system's director of personnel and labor relations.
Some educators worry, however, that the new teachers lack experience and may not continue their teaching careers. That is a problem in school systems, like Hartford's, that already have high rates of teacher turnover, said Cathy Carpino, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers.
"Teach for America, in concept, is wonderful, a good way to get young people into the profession," she said. But, she added, "Generally, they stay for two years. It looks great on their résumé when they apply to law school. Hartford doesn't need that. It needs people who will stay."
However, Barton, who heads the Connecticut program, said nearly two-thirds of the program's alumni nationwide are still working in education.
Among those alumni is Christopher Leone, principal of Hartford's Pathways to Technology Magnet School. "Teach for America does a wonderful job of recruiting individuals serious about changing the face of education," said Leone, who began his career in Baltimore schools after getting a history degree from Union College.
"I plan on doing anything I can to help [the new teachers] be successful," he said. "I think it's a great program."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at