City To Double TFA Hires

Contributed PhotosOne was on track to be a dentist. The other worked at a privileged school in New York City. Both were inspired to change course — and teach at a “turnaround” middle school for troubled urban kids.

Tyrone Mayorga (at left above) and Stephanie Sun (at right), both of whom graduated from college in May, will join the staff at the new Domus Academy, one of two “turnaround” schools that are being reconstituted as part of a citywide school reform effort.

The two are part of a new wave of Teach For America (TFA) recruits set to start work Sept. 1 in the New Haven Public Schools. 

As school district plows into the first year of a school change effort, it is doubling the number of young TFA teachers in city classrooms compared to last year.

The school board last week renewed a contract with Teach For America (TFA), a leading national not-for-profit focused on luring talented young people into urban classrooms and narrowing the racial achievement gap. TFA is linked to a national school reform movement into which New Haven is putting into practice when school starts Sept. 1.

The new contract allows for an increase in the number of TFA recruits in city schools. The agreement is a sign of an expanded relationship between the not-for-profit and the city as the reform effort gets under way, district and TFA officials said.

The teachers union president welcomed the new recruits—and said he hopes they will buck a TFA trend and stay with the district long-term.

TFA expects to place 20 to 25 new hires into city schools this fall, in addition to the 10 who are returning for their second year, according to TFA’s statewide director, Edna Novak.

That would be a significant increase over last year, when the city hired 12 new TFA recruits, and employed nine second-year TFA teachers.

New Haven Public Schools started working with TFA in the 2006-07 school year. The public schools have drawn from TFA heavily in the past, but less so in the past two years. The district hired 36 new TFA recruits in 2006-07, 25 in 2007-08, 11 in 2008-09, and 12 in 2009-10.

Novak said the number of TFA recruits in New Haven schools shrank in part because TFA was expanding to Bridgeport and Hartford, and partly because TFA teachers had a tough year in 2007-08 in New Haven schools.

So far this summer, the Board of Education has placed 11 new TFA recruits into classrooms in the public school district, which has about 1,700 teachers.

A New Challenge

Many recruits join TFA straight from college or graduate school. In lieu of a standard certification, they attend a five-week summer TFA training course to prepare for the classroom—then take classes during the school year to earn their Connecticut certification. They commit to teaching for two years, and have access to one-one-one coaching and teaching support during that time.

The district often uses TFA recruits to fill shortages in subjects like science and math. Last week, the school board hired five first-year science teachers for the following schools: Truman, Davis Street, Barnard, Beecher and Wexler/Grant.

Mayorga and Sun will be two of eight classroom teachers at the new Domus Academy. They’ll take on one of the most challenging assignments—to help “turn around” a struggling school for kids who have failed in traditional settings. Domus Academy, formerly known as Urban Youth, is the site of a new experiment: For the first time, the public school district has hired an outside group—Domus, a not-for-profit that runs charter schools in Stamford —to take over a low-performing school.

Mayorga, who’s 22, just graduated from Boston College. A philosophy major, he was on a pre-med track to become a dentist—until he got involved with a community service group. The Long Island native started teaching health workshops for inner-city kids—and loved it. He decided to break from the pre-med mold and continue that service work. At Domus, he’ll teach science for grades 6 to 8.

Sun, who’s 21, graduated in May from New York University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and anthropology. During school, she got the chance to teach some classes at a private school in the city. The school served affluent students, “putting them on really high paths in life,” she said.

“I realized that my passion was needed elsewhere,” Sun said in a phone interview Tuesday. Sun, who’ll teach English in grades 6 to 8, spoke on a conference call with Mayorga. The two are temporary roommates in Stamford while they go through TFA’s summer training course. They brimmed with enthusiasm about the task ahead.

During the weekdays, they’ll teach from 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. On weeknights, they’ll plan for their classes—and do their own set of homework, too: They’ll be taking a year-long course at Southern Connecticut State University to earn a Connecticut teaching certificate. The classes run all day on Saturdays. The new roommates said they’re ready to work hard.

Growing Partnership

Under its contract with TFA, the school board agreed to pay TFA $2,500 for each first-year teacher, and another $2,500 for each second-year teacher, that the organization recruited. The fee subsidizes the professional development that TFA provides to its teachers during those first two years, Novak said.

The contract was approved at last week’s Board of Education meeting with no discussion.

The fees are paid for with federal stimulus money, according to schools spokeswoman Michelle Wade.

Wade said the partnership has grown this year: Last year, the district paid for 21 TFA teachers; this year, the school board agreed to pay the fees for up to 30. The district may not need all 30 slots, but “the expansion offers us more flexibility with TFA if/when our needs require us to look to them for more candidates,” Wade wrote in an email.

Teacher recruitment is one main plank of the city’s school reform effort, which aims to cut the dropout rate in half and close the achievement gap by 2015. Besides the TFA partnership, the New Haven school district has taken trips to Puerto Rico to look for bilingual staff, and has expanded its job postings to reach a nationwide applicant pool.

Novak said the city’s reforms fit nicely with TFA’s focus.

“With the reform in the district, and how aligned it is with what we focus on in TFA,” she said, “we’re going to continue to see a stronger presence of TFA” in city schools. She said she hopes that presence grows naturally, as new TFA teachers succeed in the new “reform environment” and “want to remain a part of this for a long time.”

That growing presence comes at a time when TFA is booming nationwide. This fall, it expects to have over 8,200 “corps members” teaching in 39 urban and rural settings, the largest in its 20-year history. A “corps member” is a TFA teacher in his or her first or second year of the program. In a down economy, TFA received a record 46,000 applications this year, including 17 percent of Yale seniors, according to a spokeswoman.

“We Wish They’d Stay”

New Haven teachers union President Dave Cicarella welcomed the incoming class of TFA members. He laid out the pros and cons of having them lead city classrooms.

TFA members tend to be highly educated, motivated and hard-working, he said. “They’re terrific in terms of their content knowledge.” And “they care a lot” about the kids. “I’m very supportive of them.”

“The concern that we do have,” Cicarella said, “is that many of them don’t stay—they do the two years, and then they’re gone.”

Of the 36 new TFA recruits the district hired in 2006, only two remained for the 2009-10 school year, according to schools spokeswoman Wade. Updated numbers were not available.

While most teachers who enter the schools through traditional certification have chosen teaching as a career, many TFA recruits leave teaching for other careers, Cicarella said. “Not enough of them stay beyond the two years.”

“We wish they’d stay,” he said.

Cicarella said another common criticism—that young TFA teachers have trouble managing classrooms—isn’t quite fair, because a lot of new teachers face the same problem in their first or second years.

Others have questioned TFA’s effectiveness, because its teachers start the job with little training and leave the profession just when they’re getting the hang of it. A 2005 study by Linda Darling-Hammond found certified teachers “consistently produce stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers,” including TFA recruits. If they get certified after two or three years, TFA recruits boost student achievement as well as other certified teachers, she found—“however, nearly all of them leave within three years.”

To its defense, TFA points to three recent studies that show TFA teachers performed as well or better than traditionally certified teachers.

Mayorga and Sun said they have talked about how rewarding it would be to see their sixth-graders graduate from high school.

“We’re in it for the potential that we can see in these kids,” Sun said.

They both said they’re open to teaching long-term.

“If it’s good for me,” Mayorga said, “I’m willing to stick with it.”


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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 18, 2010  9:14am

Check this out The corporate vampires are comming.

Monday, July 12, 2010
Is Teach For America A Program For The Poor Or For The Rich?

I’m going to start with full disclosure: I have never liked Teach for America. If that’s going to bug you, you might want to move on to the next blog.

Why do I dislike Teach For America? Because it has nothing to do with permanent investment in our schools, or thoughtful reform of education. Because it is one of many organizations that seem to exist more or less to give privileged young people the “life experience” that will qualify them to go on to their next advanced degree. Because it relies for its prestige on the idea that people who are middle or upper class naturally have something special and intangible to offer to the poor. Because it activates our not so thinly-veiled social contempt for people who chose the hard work of teaching public school as a career, often doing it for decades in places where they are forced to buy books and classroom supplies out of their own salaries.

I dislike TFA because public education does not exist to give graduates of elite colleges and universities a couple swing years so that they can later go on to great graduate schools and fabulously well paid careers. I dislike TFA because I am a teacher, and I am quite clear that you don’t learn to teach in five weeks, much less teach students who have a range of social, economic and developmental problems; who are often hungry, in pain, angry or frightened; and who come in unruly waves of 40-50 every 45 minutes. So thank you Michael Winerip for interviewing numerous elite college grads who are struggling with the “stigma” of having been rejected by this glitzy non-profit because there aren’t so many paralegal and entry-level Wall Street jobs this year; and thank you for using this as an opportunity to take a look at this popular NGO that makes a lot of claims for itself that are thinly documented.

As someone who is a career teacher, I am offended by the notion that anyone can step into a classroom and teach effectively, even though they are inexperienced and virtually untrained, because they are oh-so-smart and have successfully gotten into Harvard or Zenith. And teaching public secondary school is harder than teaching, or being a student in, college. Public school is open to the public, folks, and nobody does a sort for you to separate out the ones who are ready to learn, or who already speak English. Magnet and charter schools can be even harder to teach in, since in their initial years they are often the dumping ground for students who have been expelled from and flunked out of other schools.

But let’s be clear: mostly I dislike Teach for America because it is not school reform and it claims to be. It is a neo-liberal romance about the ways in which volunteerism by elites can replace a political and fiscal commitment to lifting Americans out of poverty by supporting, and investing in, the schools that poor people attend. Worse, TFA is a spiritual extension of those internship programs that these eager young things with BA’s larded their records with to get into elite colleges and universities in the first place. The logic is: if it looks good for me, then it must be good for “them.” As Winerip comments, “Teach for America has become an elite brand that will help build a résumé, whether or not the person stays in teaching. And in a bad economy, it’s a two-year job guarantee with a good paycheck; members earn a beginning teacher’s salary in the districts where they’re placed.”

And they don’t stay in teaching. Perhaps the worst aspect of TFA is that it views teaching as a kind of boot camp for entering the leadership class. TFA’s website claims that “corps members and alumni are creating fundamental change,” but what that change comprises, and what counts as change, is not clear. The website cites research “that Teach For America corps members’ impact on their students’ achievement is equal to or greater than that of other new teachers. Moreover, the most rigorous studies have shown that corps members’ impact exceeds that of experienced and certified teachers in the same schools.” But in fact, if you click on the link that supposedly leads you to that research, you find that “Studies of TFA teacher vary widely in both their findings and the strength of their methodologies.” Hmmm. And actually, although you can get citations for these studies, the documents themselves have not been uploaded to the website.

What the website doesn’t tell you is how many of those teachers quit in the first six months. As Winerip notes, according to one study, “by the fourth year, 85 percent of T.F.A. teachers had left” New York City schools.” That’s change for you. My guess is the rate of attrition is higher and faster in the Mississippi Delta, currently identified by TFA as a location in great need of amateur teachers. According to one of my former students who entered the program over five years ago and is still teaching in the troubled urban system he was assigned to, his cohort lost half its membership in the first year, and he is the only original member of his team still in teaching.

TFA has not helped to build a permanent corps of excellent teachers who will train other career teachers or use their classroom training to become effective principals. Hence, it has nothing to do with a program of fundamental, structural reform for our nation’s public schools. It has nothing to do with how schools, and school systems, might use their centrality to communities to address issues that are currently crippling education, such as unfunded testing mandates, the effects of poverty and unemployment, teaching critical thinking rather than rote memorization, or state budget cuts that eliminate books and raise class sizes. TFA does, however, seem to be a training ground for education bureaucrats, such as Chancellor Michelle Rhee of the District of Columbia, who continues to blame most of her system’s problems on undocumented teacher incompetence.

Rhee recently laid off over 250 teachers: how many of them will be replaced by TFA fly-by-nighters, whose salary is paid by a combination of private and federal dollars? I don’t know about other states, but because of drastically reduced property tax revenues, Connecticut is currently laying off young teachers who have actually committed to teaching as a career, not as a temporary stopgap before law school. Other states are waiting anxiously to hear whether Congress will pass a bill that would fund the Obama Administration’s new education initiative, and whether they will actually receive the millions of dollars they were promised for system-wide education initiatives. Will these funds be replaced by well-intentioned and untrained young people from elite schools who are here today and gone tomorrow?

posted by: concerned on August 18, 2010  9:28am

1) I wish the article made it more clear that the TFA hires were not made in lieu of hiring certified, likely more permanent faculty.  I know of several newly minted, bright, dedicated teachers who hope to work for a lifetime in New Haven (or at least in the area) who have interned for a year as part of their programs, gone through the interview cycle, and still haven’t heard back on whether or not they’re hired for this fall.

2) Anyone who thinks Mayorga is permanently ditching the prospect of medical/dental school for public school teaching in low income areas, as opposed to building a more killer portfolio for his med school applications, is pretty naive.  Which is why I’m not convinced the program is always the best, when certified young prospective teachers are waiting in the wings to take these jobs instead.  There’s an unpleasant whiff of “self-interested missionary” on some of these kids, when that’s the last thing children in troubled schools need for success.

posted by: Somewhere in CT (maybe New Haven, maybe not) on August 18, 2010  9:53am

The article nails it. They leave. New Haven doesn’t need to work on recruitment (One school had 300 applicants for 50+ jobs???!)

New Haven needs to work on KEEPING GOOD TEACHERS. Hell, New Haven needs to work on KEEPING EXCELLENT TEACHERS.

I know dozens of teachers who have left NH because of administration. Dozens.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on August 18, 2010  10:28am

Concerned - What kids need for success is a great teacher wherever they may come from.  I’d much rather have an effective teacher in front of children for two years than a bad teacher stuck there for a lifetime.

Why do people assume that being home-grown or having a teacher staying in place results in great education for children?  Surely to have a long-term excellent instructor is the best of all, but there are way too many people who graduate from local ed schools, stick around forever, and who do not know what it takes to be effective in an urban school setting.

And “certification” does not equal “qualification”.  Instead of valuing criteria such as “seat time” or CEUs, why aren’t teachers certified based on how well they actually teach and how effective they are at bringing kids up the academic ladder? 

To that end, check out this astounding new study about teacher effectiveness data in LA,0,2695044.story

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on August 18, 2010  11:28am

I forgot to also post the predictable reaction from the LA Teachers Union to the article…If it didn’t show the bullying hardball tactics of the teachers union so well, it would be comical to read the reaction from Duffy, the union leader.

TFAers, while green, represent the energy, raw talent, dedication, and competence of the kind of individual we need to attract to public education.

Read this and weep (or laugh)!,0,6701929.story

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 18, 2010  11:51am

Good article, although it’d be nice if you could link to things instead of posting them.

I would take the school reform more seriously if a major part of it was a homebuyers program for NHPS teachers to encourage educators to live in the neighborhoods where their students live and within walking distance of the schools they teach at. This would cut down drastically on the amount of surface parking needed around each school, which could be replaced with taxable land for the city, an educational garden for the school, or any green space that would reduce the burden on our sewer system by absorbing rain fall instead of funneling it into the sewers. Every planned parking space that we don’t build is $7,000 back into our pockets that can be used for more useful things than storing cars.
There could even be a small business subsidy or incentive provided as part of the homebuyers program that could be made available to spouses of teachers that own or want to own small businesses in New Haven if it were affordable. Both could even be combined into a single mortgage payment with a live-work unit.
This would help teachers understand why some of their students can’t do their homework and would rather turn to the streets as a way of protecting one’s self-stick up kids are less likely to steal your backpack on your way home from school if they think or they know you can defend yourself with a weapon or with a group of friends and after a certain point school becomes irrelevant in comparison to survival. People would be surprised how many kids grow up scared of their neighborhood and as a way of not getting picked up, mugged, and beaten regularly they will then turn to the street and to cliques for protection, which often leads to dropping out of school which then leads to criminal activity due to lack of employ-ability.
Additionally, having a sizable middle class population of educators and business people in our neighborhoods would help counteract these vary issues by provided employment in our neighborhoods, constant eyes on the street, and less vacant lots and abandoned buildings.

posted by: Teachergal on August 18, 2010  11:52am

Ok, I’m going out on a limb now but after working with two brilliant TFA college grads who taught in NHPS, I was horrified by their treatment by administration. Yes, they were weak in areas, but were given minimal support to help them succeed. One cried her way through 2years and was criticized frequently despite the fact she worked very hard and tried many strategies to improve her craft. The other left after 7 months of the same treatment. In both situations, there was no support with discipline…..problem children are just not effectively dealt with in most NHPS and calling parents generally does little to change student behaviors especially when dealing with older students with years of misbehaving w/o consequences.

If we’re really serious about improving student achievement classrooms need to be places where students can learn…....that means not letting those students who need constant attention and no control of self rule the roost.

So, how about hearing from some NH administration, where are you and why don’t we ever hear from you? Last year our suspensions were down but guess what the behaviors were horrendous. Just because administrators are not suspending, as directed by Mayo, doesn’t mean the problem behaviors don’t exist. What it means is that they are not being documented or more importantly dealt with. This affects EVERYONE!

posted by: ROBN on August 18, 2010  1:14pm


All very interesting writing, but clearly not yours. When you post something without clearly bracketing the text and quoting the source you’re plagiarizing (whether intentional or not, that’s what it is).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 18, 2010  3:23pm

posted by: ROBN on August 18, 2010 1:14pm

All very interesting writing, but clearly not yours. When you post something without clearly bracketing the text and quoting the source you’re plagiarizing (whether intentional or not, that’s what it is).

I did post the source,May be it didn’t post.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on August 18, 2010 11:28am

I forgot to also post the predictable reaction from the LA Teachers Union to the article…If it didn’t show the bullying hardball tactics of the teachers union so well, it would be comical to read the reaction from Duffy, the union leader.

How about when the administration lie and bully
the teachers.You remember the rubber room.In fact I will bet that the rubber room will be here in the New Haven system.

Justin SniderContributing editor at The Hechinger Report
Posted: June 30, 2010 02:57 PM BIO  
Rubber Rooms: Gone From New York City, But Alive Elsewhere?

Hey fix How come you main man Klein And Bloomberg are trying to cover this up.

Kids are big losers in Mayor Bloomberg, Joel Klein’s school test scores game
Juan Gonzalez - News

Friday, July 30th 2010, 4:00 AM

posted by: AJD on August 18, 2010  4:24pm

If you want to work on retention, how about work on creating incentives for highly qualified and motivated people who want to also support a family.  Things like: a real salary would do wonders.  If our kids are the future, then we need to invest in them.  The only way that will happen is to attract the best. I’m not saying wall street salaries, but how about enough to buy the $300k starter homes in the area? That means a yearly salary of about $75k in take home pay, in the first year teaching.  Then go up from there, based on performance. 

Where can we get this money? Cutting administrators salaries some, and then I’d be willing to pay more in taxes *if* it was going directly to a program like this.  I want to invest in our future, but I also realize it will take blood sweat and tears.

posted by: Career Teacher Year One on August 18, 2010  6:54pm

I wanted to chime in as someone who is myself in the first year of dedicating my life to teaching in high-need public schools and battling the educational inequality in this country—someone who at first faulted TFA’s big name and “temporary fix”, but who now supports it in a very significant way. I wanted to cite my perspective as a Career teacher in Year one, because all teachers have to start out as new teachers—with normal-route teachers signing their first year-long school contract right along side TFA teachers (who have signed an additional two-year commitment).

posted by: Caring Teacher on August 18, 2010  8:18pm

To: JH,
Teachers in new haven DO realize the living conditions and home life of their students.  It’s the powers that be who turn the blind eye. TFA is a good idea in a limited way.  I worked with a TFA teacher with great content knowledge.  However, the teacher had little knowledge of developmental stages as well as teaching pedagogy.  This did him in.  He was unwilling to take advice from administrators, teachers, and coaches.  He went to an Ivy League School, so he didn’t need any help.

posted by: observer on August 18, 2010  9:45pm

Our commentators figured it out!  TFA is vastly overrated and they are not the solution to recruiting new teachers into the urban classroon.  As has been noted, these new recruits don’t last and most of them leave before their two year commitment is up.  For many of these folks, teaching in the inner-city is today’s equivalent of being in the Peace Corps in the 1960’s.  They want the experience as a resume builder and nothing more.

posted by: Tim Holahan on August 18, 2010  10:11pm

It would be valuable if the Independent could follow up on a regular basis on the progress of these two teachers, and of this year’s crop of TFA recruits. The News Hour on PBS did such a series many years ago (also focusing on TFA recruits, I believe), and it was fascinating.

In her recent “Death and Life of the Great American School System”, Diane Ravitch marshals considerable evidence to indicate that teachers make their most important gains in effectiveness over their first three years of classroom teaching. The most conclusive data we have on improving teacher effectiveness, Ravitch says, is that letting a teacher get those first three years under his belt will enable him to teach better thereafter.

This story raises more questions than it answers. Who wants their child to have to suffer through a year with an unseasoned teacher? No one, of course, but somehow new teachers have to be introduced to the system. What is New Haven’s policy on distributing new teachers throughout the student body so that no one group of students is spending multiple years with new, less-effective teachers? How are new teachers mentored? What professional development is available to them?

I wish I was hearing more public discussion of questions like this as New Haven launches into its vaunted School Change Initiative.

posted by: NHPS Teacher on August 18, 2010  10:50pm

I have worked with several TFA personnel (i refuse to honor them by calling them teachers), and each one is overly arrogant, refuses to accept advice/help/criticism from veterans.

  They are told that they are going to “save those poor black and hispanic kids.”  they are fed a meal of lies about the reality of how difficult and frustrating it is to work for NHPS, and then run out before the bill comes.

  none of the TSA personnel plan on making this their career.  Administrators don’t support veteran teachers, why would they support the TSA temporary workers. 

This is just another trendy program that the BOE read about and decided that NHPS needed to be involved.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 18, 2010  11:15pm

Caring Teacher,
I think that the vast majority of teachers in NHPS are competent, and would be effective teachers if their students were as well prepared and supported outside of school as their suburban counterparts. I would agree that most teachers are probably aware of the problems that face many inner city students in their neighborhoods, and the main point of a home buyer’s program would be to help stabilize neighborhoods through the presence of a larger middle class population.

If teachers lived in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods then they could sell their cars, which according to the AAA cost $10,000 per year per car to own and maintain. The average family in America owns 2.5 cars. Getting rid of just one car would allow a family put $10,000 into a mortgage which could buy $100,000 more of a house. Or that money could go towards nicer furnishings, healthier food, more durable appliances, etc. New Haven’s neighborhoods have a massive potential to become great mixed use and mixed income communities that are walkable and connected by transit to other neighborhoods and districts. The infrastructure of adaptive building types and walkable streets is already there, we just have to re-conceptualize their use.

posted by: RichTherrn on August 19, 2010  5:36am

I would also point out that there IS a homebuyer program, especially aimed at those who teach and live in urban areas, and in shortage areas from the state of CT, the CHFA Teachers Mortgage Assistance program. It is only for first time homebuyers, so many of our teachers who are on second careers may not be able to take advantage of that.
-Richard Therrien
_NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on August 19, 2010  7:54am


Whether or not you believe that TFA is an effective force in the reform of our public schools is certainly a legitimate debate.  I have seen enough data to convince me that TFA indeed is an important part of the formula through its delivery of idealism, determination, smarts, into dismal classroom environments. TFA proves a point.  Beyond catalyzing better performance in public school classrooms, it also creates thousands of future leaders who will go on to other things but take with them the firm belief that we as a society can do a lot better for poor students in our country.  They in turn will influence the structure of public education when they become involved in the political process.

But to take issue with their motivations as you do, is attributing to some of our best young people, the worst of intentions.  Pretty cynical and flat out wrong.

posted by: Teachergal on August 19, 2010  8:24am

Tim’s suggestiion for the NHI to follow these new 2 new TFA teachers is a great one.

If they weren’t going to be so busy working 24 hours a day and going to school on Saturdays I’d recommend a blog, 7:15 till 5:00, im hoping that includes some time for lesson planning, grading, and care for classroom environment OR burn-out will come much more quickly. Who knows, with the way this current generation is sooo good at multi-tasking, maybe one of them would volunteer to do it. It would be a great story to follow!

posted by: Anon on August 19, 2010  10:30am

And why the UFT isn’t suing for ATRs to be hired before these newbies is a mystery to me. Or is it?

The DOE claims that ATRs are given a fair shake in hiring? Humbug . . .

posted by: AJD on August 19, 2010  11:22am

@Johnathan Hopkins

That may work for New Haven, but it won’t work in most cities throughout the country.  Most places just aren’t densly populated enough, and most people don’t want to live like that. 

And besides, have you tried to have no car with a young child? Try taking a bus with a kid in a stroller? It’s terrible.  I’ve tried.  I’ve taken mine down to NYC by train—it’s hard, even when the child is well behaved.  Throw in a temper tantrum, which will happen to all parents, and life gets much much worse.  I’m just not sold on the ideal of everyone having no cars ever.  Yes, less cars (we only have one, and I walk to work, and we drive less than 10000 miles a year) is always good.  But no cars? No thank you.

And, an extra $10,000 giving an extra $100,000 mortgage? No. No. And again, No. That thinking is what got us into the housing bust.  You should only get a mortgage for 3-4 times your yearly income.  So an extra 10,000 is only an extra $40,000 house. 

If you want to induce me to be a public school teacher, I’d want at least $60,000 a year to start.  That would get us a very small condo.  Not a house, no yard, and not in a neighborhood where I’d like to raise my kids.  That’s the problem.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 19, 2010  1:13pm

The big problems with cars only present themselves when we, as a society, use cars instead of legs. Over the last 60 years, our housing developments, shopping centers, office parks and recreational facilities have been built increasingly further away from each other to the point where most Americans cannot walk to a corner store to buy a gallon of milk and children can’t walk to a neighborhood baseball field.
The costs of providing the infrastructure to move massive numbers of cars on highways, streets and roads and then the costs to store them the 95% of the time they are not in use is enough to bankrupt municipalities, lead to 45,000 automobile related deaths per year, and create soaring high asthma rates. We can’t pay for the infrastructure, nor can we pay for the resulting consequences of a car-dependent society.
The solution is not to ban cars, but to create desirable and affordable alternatives so that people don’t need to own as many cars, or don’t need to take their car out of the garage more than a few times a month. Car rentals are a good supplement to improved local and regional transit networks, improved bicycle facilities, and pleasant walking paths along tree lined sidewalks.
Also, the housing bubble was arrived at due to rising costs in housing that corresponded with rising costs in healthcare, transportation, and daycare. By creating a built environment that is less dependent on cars, we would greatly improve the health of our populace through better air quality and more daily exercise. And if coupled with an aggressive restructuring of farm subsidies to be aimed at local agriculture instead of industrial food manufacturing, we could cut healthcare costs to minuscule percentages of people’s income. Where the transportation cost savings would come from in a non-car dependent society are obvious. When people live in more walkable neighborhoods, the services and amenities can be shared in public facilities, which would allow us to greatly reduce the cost of housing by having smaller yards, and less interior square footage because families would have access to public parks, pools, gardens, playgrounds, and this would make the entertainment room, family room, and 1/2 acre lot unnecessary. Daycare costs can be reduced by many families returning to a one-income household, which would be possible with a lower cost of living that I’ve outlined above.
“not in a neighborhood where I’d like to raise my kids”
I would argue that undesirable neighborhoods exist because people like you don’t live there. Beginning in the 30s, urban centers like New Haven began losing their population to suburbs thanks to a growing middle class. After world war 2, the federal government provided cheap mortgages to families for new suburban housing, which accellerated middle class urban flight. In the 50s and 60s thousands were displaced in New Haven due to urban renewal and many people moved to the suburbs as a result. By the late 60s, the effects of massive losses of jobs, services and middle class residents lead to high crime rates, which further encouraged more people to leave steadily until the mid 1990s when people began reinvesting in cities and we’ve been hobbling on since then. The middle class moving back into inner city neighborhoods will come before a sizable drop in crime and unemployment. Hopefully we will get our act together and make this transition as smooth as possible for families with smart policing, adequate incentive and proper support.
The support systems for this type of transition are not yet in place, but that is what we should work towards.

posted by: EdReform on August 19, 2010  1:44pm

As a veteran teacher who has taught with a number of TFA’ers, my experience has been mixed.  All work extremely hard and begin the year with great enthusiasm.  Some have been effective in the classroom and have successes that rival those of their better prepared but also inexperienced colleagues.  None are as good as the better veteran teachers I know.  What’s unfortunate is that few will ever become those veteran teachers.  Kids need adults who stay in their lives and who commit to them, especially in education where the learning curve during a teacher’s first few years is incredibly steep.  And for the best teachers, that learning curve never completely flattens.  I’m a far, far better teacher today than I was 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. 

If New Haven really puts “Kids First,” then its hiring practices should reflect that.  In a year when there have been numerous reports of trained teachers’ inability to find placements, there’s no excuse for hiring untrained and underprepared young people in a program that builds in turnover.  New Haven has refused internal recommendations to hire veteran teachers from outside the district because of the cost.  I’m assuming the increase in TFA hires is because of the savings.  This isn’t “Kids First”; it’s “Dollars First.  Kids Last.”  And it’s not right.

posted by: Caring Teacher on August 19, 2010  3:20pm

To: J. Hopkins
We have been and will continue to be a society that goes from here to there.  Infrastructure is how this country was built.  In a city as small as New Haven with NO economic drawing power, you can’t possibly expect a 9th year teacher making 44K to afford to be able to live in New Haven.  I love NH, but could never afford to raise my family with what I make (I also work another job 20 hours during the school year& 60 hours in the summer.  Let me know what neighborhood (safe) I can afford.  The problem with the world today is that there are for to many ideologues that have all the answers

posted by: RichTherrn on August 19, 2010  3:31pm

The criteria to hire and judge teachers is whether students learn, not what others think.

In the case of middle school science, a collaborative effort tries to find the best teachers to do that… We hire experienced teachers, alternate route teachers, TFA, old, young, etc… this year, as in most years, it has been mixed. Some years we have less applicants than positions, some years we have more.

Some TFAs stay more than 2 years, and we’ve even hired some from other districts… as is the case with traditional and other alternative certified teachers.

Good teaching, especially in middle school science, requires a passion for teaching and students learning, more than the subject. It requires knowing and dealing with students backgrounds,parents, and lives, but not making excuses and always working hard to craft great lessons and reach every student. It requires collaborating with administrators and peers.

NHPS science teachers are among the best (our 8th grade science scores are the evidence), and TFAs and all others have helped our students learn important science skills, and that is what counts.
-Richard Therrien
-NHPS Science Supervisor

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 19, 2010  4:12pm

Will new haven try this next.

Turning Teachers Into Indentured Servants.

posted by: caring teacher on August 19, 2010  4:28pm

Richard is on target.  In a nutshell, when students realize teachers care and are invested in them, they are ready to learn.  This is a key component to engage students as well. Kids are sponges, if teachers are dry and boring, there is nothing for them to soak up.  Students (black, white, green) need teachers that are approachable, have a sense of humility, and can teach kids how to be intrinsically motivated,

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 19, 2010  4:52pm

Maritime trade and travel allowed us to build small walkable communities with harbors along strategically located land in relation to the water. Railways out west were built be Chinese slave labor and allowed us to populate the midwest and west coast. Rail in the northeast was built mostly privately with growing industrial wealth. Rail made cities and towns possible, and privately built trolley lines made the first suburbs possible. Following the second world war the federal and state governments built highways, suburban housing and extended utilities into the rural hinterlands of urban areas. In the 50s and 60s, the federal government funded the reorganizing of cities like New Haven to be more car friendly with highways, parking garages, wider city streets, and mass demolition of housing to be replaced with suburban model structures. There is nothing organic or free market about the automobile and its correlating infrastructure. It is entirely different from maritime and rail infrastructure. Rail generated and centralized all the wealth that highways decentralized and spent.
New Haven has an enormous amount of untapped potential for development. Many of our neighborhoods have abandoned houses and vacant lots that are ready to be developed. It is just a matter of getting the right information out there, adopting a new zoning code, and lobbying for policies that level the playing field between suburbs and cities.
Safety is a difficult issue to discuss because its complex. For example, the crime rate in New Haven during middle class urban flight in the mid-20th century was lower than the crime rate in most of New Haven’s suburbs today. New Haven will become safer when the middle class begins to move back in. To make this a smooth transition, like I said, we need to put support systems in place like home buyer’s programs, more historic rehab tax credits, new zoning, walking police beats, better biking infrastructure, etc.
Affordable housing can be found in apartments above stores on the cities main thoroughfares, in apartments in multi family houses, in apartment buildings or in small single family houses. Upper State street went from decay in the 1980s to a safe and vibrant neighborhood through lots of private investment. I think Winchester Avenue, Congress Ave, and western Chapel Street will need similar investments. Grand Avenue is also in the midst of a revival and the blocks running perpendicular to it would be a great place to look for housing.

posted by: Somewhere in CT (maybe New Haven, maybe not) on August 19, 2010  7:26pm

Career Year One. Be careful.

Mayorga….is he related to the Mayor’s assistant? Jessica?

posted by: AJD on August 20, 2010  10:59am


Thank you for your summary of transportation modes throughout the past 150 years.  Amazingly, I knew that, and agree with you that they helped create smaller communities.  But… that was then.  We now have 50+ years of development that is hard to change.  Not impossible, but hard.  And, I live 2 blocks from Winchester Ave.  If I moved over to Winchester, I could not sleep at night.  I’ve had one friend, an elderly single woman whose house on winchester was broken into multiple times while she was at home!  I am NOT putting my family into that situation.  And I think my skin color would ostracize me from that neighborhood, seeing how every time I visit someone in the Dixwell neighborhood, I get stares.  Is that right? No.  Am I worried that it would lead to problems for my family? Yes.

But… the focus of this article is teaching, not transportation or how to urbanize New Haven.  The ultimate line comes down to money. There isn’t enough of it.

I don’t want to live in an apartment for the rest of my life.  As Caring Teacher pointed out, you can not find a single family home in this city with a salary of 44k.  (In a sensible mortgage, that means a home for less than 132k.)  My wife and I want a yard where our daughter can run around in.  We want to be able to raise our daughter, which means we don’t want to do child care.  So one of us will always be with her.  That limits when both of us can work.  We just can not make that work on a teacher’s salary.  So, our solution? I’m going to be teaching at the college level, where they pay what will allow us to live how we want.  Would we buy a home in New Haven, live with only one car, try to buy locally? Yes.  But you can’t do that on a K-12 teacher’s salary, and still have a situation for our family that we want.

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on August 20, 2010  11:49am

@AJD et all:  I haven’t read all the comments because I’m a New Haven teacher and I’m busy planning engaging units of study for my 9th graders.  However, I scanned down to the bottom of the page and saw that AJD doesn’t think you can afford a single-family house on a teacher salary.  Alas, you can!  I bought my house for under the price you mentioned and I have a backyard.  My mortgage is significantly less than most rents in town.  I’m neighbors with my students (not to mention my mailman) which improves my effectiveness in the classroom.  My students respect me because they know I’m a real New Haven person, with a garden and a dog and a life.  In addition, I can actively communicate with their families if I need to.  I model the kind of city living that is possible for you, for me, for them, for anybody who wants to work at it.  If you’re wondering where I live, see the article about the most recent Gardener of the Week for a hint.  And while I love riding my bike, I carry so much crap to work with me everyday, I make the 5 minute commute in my car.

posted by: caring Teacher on August 20, 2010  12:59pm

Maybe that’s the problem Les, if you don’t live in New Haven, you shouldn’t be respected.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 20, 2010  1:56pm

Demand in Westville, East Rock and Wooster Square raises housing prices to a point where they are inflated and unrealistic for the cost per square foot. In order to make these “desirable” neighborhoods more affordable, we have to broaden the market and introduce competition. This requires making today’s undesirable neighborhoods more desirable. I think this can be accomplished by creating home buyer’s programs through the schools and historic rehab tax credits for large numbers of teachers in NHPS; there could also be incentives or subsidies for spouses of teachers to open small businesses or stores in the city. The city should also begin an aggressive effort to repair sidewalks, plant street trees, stripe crosswalks, add bike lanes, and get the police department to do more walking beats. The idea is to create as much activity on the street as new families are moving in to inner city neighborhoods to deter crime by having more ‘watchful eyes on the street’ and people engaged with police, which would have a secondary effect of greatly improving the circumstances that many NHPS children face outside of school. Over time, businesses and stores would presumably employ people from the neighborhood thus putting a dent in one of the route causes of crime. After several years Winchester Ave could be comparable to Upper State Street. This would even out housing prices in today’s “desirable” neighborhoods and increase demand in today’s undesirable neighborhoods.
I understand you not wanting to move to Winchester Ave tomorrow on your own, but advocating for the types of support systems that would allow you and many others to mimic the types of investments that improved Grand Ave and upper State Street seems like a good way to get what you want-an affordable house with a big yard in a safe neighborhood.
Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven currently is renovating half a dozen houses along Winchester Ave to be sold as owner-occupied 2-family houses. In the next 2 years, Winchester will be going through a lot of changes and it’d be great if others could get in on it. Here is an example of what NHS does: frank.jpg

posted by: Caring Teacher on August 20, 2010  3:12pm

There is not 1 street I would feel safe nearby any of the schools I have worked in.  There are far more issues than what JH mentions. New Haven simply lacks resources, leadership, and most importantly, VISION.  Unless you live in a troubled neighborhood, please spare us the hero mentality.  I know for a fact, people would not be welcomed in the neighborhoods I can afford.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 20, 2010  7:56pm

Caring teacher,
My posts on here are merely summaries of my actual proposals so of course lots of issues, solutions and outcomes are barely touched upon, but I don’t think anything I’ve said is unreasonable, incorrect or inconceivable.
The issue of safety is both real and imagined. Many people put an entire wall around New Haven and say its too dangerous, many others would say outside of downtown and Yale is too dangerous, lots of people say only certain neighborhoods are okay to live in, plenty of people say parts of their neighborhood aren’t safe to walk in and still others would simply say that they avoid interactions with specific people on their block. It depends on how you interpret crime stats, what kind of biases and assumptions you have, and how much effort you are willing to put into a community.
Italians weren’t initially welcomed in Wooster Square when it was an Irish neighborhood, should they have returned to starvation and economic depression in southern Italy? Should the middle class in this country continue to redline urban neighborhoods until they bankrupt the country through debt accumulation or simply plummet into poverty from car payments, gas prices, day care service, mortgage payments, and health care costs? As individuals this process can be scary, but together in large amounts a re-inhabiting of cities could be quite successful, which would consequently prepare people for more social living and interdependence instead of the isolation model of the last 60 years that has caused our national impoverishment, social degradation and cultural erosion. We should be focusing on how to create the collective move back to cities, and the motivation will most likely need to come from the public, which can be accomplished when the facts are out.

Here are the facts:
Crime in New Haven is at a 35 year low
The majority of victims of violent crimes are on parole or have records
Most street crime happens during hours when middle class families are asleep
You have a better chance of dying in a car accident in the suburbs then being killed in New Haven
The middle class is being squeezed by housing, healthcare, transportation and day care costs
The housing stock in New Haven is one of the most resilient, adaptive and solid in the world
Walking, biking and transit use are realistic transportation options
The current pattern of only investing in places that are already successful will just continue to make some places unaffordable and other places decay further.

posted by: John (who actually got a MASTER'S DEGREE in teachi on August 21, 2010  5:05pm

I think that with TFA now entrenched in schools that need experienced teachers most, that we have effectively seen outsourcing reach a field that it never has before. Effectively, that’s what TFA does, replace qualified teachers with less qualified ones, now allowing a disgusting business practice to begin to affect America’s children.

I can admit that the taste in my mouth may be slightly bitter, as I actually spend 2 years, rather than 5 weeks training for my potential career in teaching. Also, like many of the entitled twenty-somethings in the program; I actually intend to make a lifelong career of teaching, rather than use it to pad my resume.
(Yes, I know that some of these folks will stay, but the numbers are minuscule). Sadly, it is what one of the comments said above (if it looks good for me, then it must be good for “them.”). Having had to sit through a concert in Hartford surrounded by dozens of TFA folks, believe me…entitlement runs rampant.

Teaching was always a job that I thought was safe from the idea of replacing qualified workers with those with less credentials. I find it rather disheartening that the schools where students would benefit from the most qualified teachers are now lining up to hire the LEAST qualified ones.

posted by: Leslie Blatteau on August 22, 2010  5:12pm

caring teacher:  since you called me les, i wonder if you know me…  your counter-argument is interesting, “if youre not from new haven, kids wont respect you,” but i dont think it holds up.  we know respect comes from the relationships you foster within the boundaries of the classroom.  i think the bigger issue is that since many new haven teachers dont live in new haven and dont think their students’ neighborhoods are good enough for them, this judgement causes a real disconnect between teacher and student.  students know that their teachers dont respect where they come from.  how do you know there is “not one street” you would feel safe in?  how much have you walked the neighborhood or taken a bike ride around it?  how many home visits have you made?  its not a hero mentality.  its a city-dweller mentality.  i love our city and i believe in its young residents.  sure the litter gets on my nerves, but it beats the burbs by a longshot.

posted by: caring teacher on August 23, 2010  4:55pm

Sorry about calling you Les, I don’t know you.  I love New Haven myself, I just haven’t found what I consider an appropriate house that I can afford near the school I work in.  Most of the kids are bussed in and don’t live in the neighborhood. Just because you like living in an urban area doesn’t mean you should dis people who live in the burbs.  I won’t comment anymore after this.