Twelve of Charleston County's lowest-performing schools need a boost to improve student achievement, and district leaders believe they've found part of the answer in a national nonprofit that will recruit and place strong teachers in some of those sites.
The school board agreed 5-3 on Monday to spend $240,000 during the next two years to put up to 30 Teach for America corps members in yet to be determined schools. Members Chris Collins, Elizabeth Kandrac and Elizabeth Moffly voted against the majority.
"The issue is placing the most highly qualified teachers in schools that are struggling," said schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley. "By supporting Teach for America, you will be supporting strategic staffing of some of our most persistently struggling schools."
College graduates of all majors compete for spots in the Teach for America program, which places them in challenged urban and rural schools for two years. McGinley said she doesn't typically endorse first-year teachers going to at-risk schools, but Teach for America has a strong track record of performance in selecting the best and brightest.
Board member Toya Hampton Green said this would be among the board decisions she felt most proud to support.
"This is a cultural change," she said. "It's more than just the number of teachers coming in, it's the ripple effect they'll have."
South Carolina approved a new alternative teacher certification for the nonprofit last year, and the group has placed 30 of its teachers in five rural districts this year. Teach for America staff will not displace existing Charleston teachers.
It's not clear where the $240,000 will come from, but school leaders said they would figure that out by this spring. Officials said these teachers will go to schools that need an infusion of positive energy and role models.
Teach for America staff will be hired for hard-to-fill subjects -- such as foreign language, math and special education -- and the district's contract with the group also will include a diversity target.
Some board members questioned the cost and need for the program, as well as the difference it would make.
"Same thing, different day," Kandrac said. "We always have something new that's going to save our kids."
In other business, the board signed off on new evaluation criteria for McGinley. Kandrac and Moffly voted against the majority.
The criteria are similar to what the board used this past year, except more aligned with the district's goals.