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Bringing Teach for America to Pittsburgh generates opposition

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By Bill Zlatos
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

Pittsburgh Public Schools is thinking of hiring up to 30 recruits annually for the next three years from Teach for America to work here next school year — an idea that upsets the teacher's union and some parents and board members.

“We have some areas where we're really struggling to fill positions,” said Superintendent Linda Lane at Wednesday's meeting of the school board.

Teach for America is a nonprofit group based in New York City that recruits, trains and develops college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in high-need urban and rural schools. It has about 11,000 teachers in 48 cities in 35 states, said Nicole Brisbane, the group's managing director for new site development. Philadelphia is the only city in Pennsylvania where it has a presence.

Pittsburgh would pay Teach for America $750,000 with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hire up to 30 secondary school teachers in areas such as math, science social studies and foreign languages. The district would pay their salaries, which would be $40,000 next school year for teachers with a bachelor's degree.

“We've been very clear with the district that we are certainly not for Teach for America,” said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, before the meeting. “This is causing quite a stir with our teachers.”

She said Teach for America staff are neither certified nor trained in college how to teach. Also,they would be committed for only two years here.

Board members Regina Holley, Thomas Sumpter and Mark Brentley Sr. recommended delaying a vote on a contract with Teach for America until next month. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

Lane said the partnership would help the district fill slots at schools like Pittsburgh Westinghouse where some candidates don't want to work.

Board member Theresa Colaizzi said she supports the contract.

“What I'm looking for is passion, and that passion doesn't necessarily come certification and a degree,” she said.

Pamela Harbin, 50, of Point Breeze said residents on Monday will present an online petition signed by 886 people urging the district to delay a vote until after Dec. 2. That's when four new board members will be sworn in.

“I would like the new board members to vote on these critical issues,” said Harbin, the mother of two children in the district.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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