TWIN FALLS — Teach for America wants to extend its Idaho reach outside of the Treasure Valley, but it’s unknown yet whether that could include Magic Valley schools.
The national nonprofit, which trains people to work in low-income rural and urban schools, started serving Idaho in 2015 and now has 40 teachers in seven communities, all within the Treasure Valley. Plus, more than 60 alumni are teaching across the state.
The topic of future expansion came up when the organization’s Idaho executive director, Tony Ashton, presented in early February to the state legislature’s House Education Committee.
The nonprofit is trying to figure out which Idaho communities are interested in partnering with the organization and where there are opportunities to work alongside community groups, Ashton said Monday.
Preliminary conversations with school districts are underway, Ashton said. The goal is to expand to a new community during the 2020-21 school year as a long-term commitment.
Two to three years ago, the Jerome School District reached out and had a preliminary conversation with Teach for America, Ashton said. The nonprofit has also talked with the Twin Falls School District, he said.
Twin Falls School District Superintendent Brady Dickinson was among a handful of south-central Idaho superintendents who attended a meeting recently with Teach for America to get more information, school district spokeswoman Eva Craner said. There’s no agreement in place between Teach for America and the Twin Falls School District, she said.
A couple of years ago, Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne heard about Teach for America and contacted the organization.
The Jerome School District was — and still is — being impacted by a statewide teacher shortage and Layne was looking for other options for finding teachers.
Teach for America officials came to visit, Layne said. “I learned at this time that they were only in the Treasure Valley.”
Layne said he hasn’t had much contact with Teach for America since then. But about a month ago, Jerome School District curriculum director Janet Avery was among the group of Magic Valley school leaders that attended the meeting with Teach for America.
Layne said his understanding is there would be some costs to working with Teach for America, such as paying for the organization to provide some of the teacher mentoring support. But he said he’d certainly consider working with Teach for America if they expanded into the Magic Valley.
Idaho’s teacher shortage is hitting south-central Idaho the hardest, particularly in rural areas. With fewer applicants for teaching jobs, schools are increasingly hiring people who don’t have traditional teaching credentials in order to fill vacancies. Teach for America is among the alternative options for filling teaching jobs.
Teach for America in Idaho started in its first year working with the Nampa, Caldwell and Homedale school districts, with 12 teachers in total.
“We’ve slowly expanded,” Ashton said.
Teach for America wasn’t seeking to grow beyond its initial three school districts, he said, but interest grew via word-of-mouth.
Now, Teach for America teachers are in 23 Idaho schools, including expansion over time beyond the initial three school districts to also include Payette, Weiser and Melba school districts, and a charter school in Garden City that serves low-income students.
Across the United States, Teach for America corps members are recent college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years.
Teach for America is about 30 years old, and has a rigorous recruitment and selection process to attract “exceptionally talented folks” who have the potential to be leaders in education, Ashton said. About 85 percent, he said, weren’t planning to go into education or become teachers.
The organization serves 51 regions across the country. In about a week, a conference with Teach for America’s 16 rural regions will be held in Idaho, Ashton said.
Corp members’ initial training is generally a summer institute that spans five to eight weeks.
During their two years of teaching, Idaho corps members receive support through Teach for America and complete additional coursework through Boise State University. Some corps members choose to enroll at universities to pursue a master’s degree.
Corps members operate on a temporary teaching license, but receive a permanent, renewable license by the end of their second year teaching, Ashton said.
Teach for America has faced some criticism. Critics say idealistic college graduates who think they can change the world are sent into tough classrooms after only weeks of training.
However, 85 percent of alumni continue working in education or with low-income communities once their two-year commitment ends, according to Teach for America’s website.