Non-profit Teach for America to place teachers in Kentucky

PIKEVILLE — The non-profit group Teach for America announced Thursday that it will recruit 90 new teachers to Kentucky, a move that officials said might help fill positions that have remained open.

The organization will recruit 30 teachers each year for three years, starting with 2011-12. The teachers will apply for open positions in Knox, Martin and Floyd counties, and other counties might be added.

The school districts will hire and pay the teachers. District leaders say the recruiting can help attract qualified applicants, which has been a problem.

A school in Knott County has had a math interventionist position open for two years. Martin County's Sheldon Clark High School sometimes has only one, if any, applicants for math and higher-level science teachers.

"One of the most frustrating things is having a position open and no applicants," said Floyd County Superintendent Henry Webb.

He said schools sometimes use stop-gap measures such as remote video conferences to teach certain classes, but he would always rather have a person in the classroom teaching students.

"Teach For America has been working to find the right entry point into Appalachia for a number of years, and we're grateful for the leadership of the state legislature and the Education Professional Standards Board in reaching this point," Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive officer of Teach For America, said in a written statement.

The General Assembly in May adopted a Teach For America-specific certification process, said Will Nash, a University of Kentucky graduate and native of Glasgow who has been named executive director of the program in Kentucky.

The two-year provisional certification, which recognizes the extra training and professional development Teach For America provides its corps of teachers, allows the program to bring in teachers who volunteer from across the country and different backgrounds to be assigned to struggling urban and rural school districts.

"It's a huge opportunity because every year 40 or 50 of the top grads in Kentucky went out of state" for Teach For America, Nash said. "This is a brain gain instead of a brain drain."

Nash was one of those volunteers in 2006. He said if he'd had the option, he would have stayed in Kentucky with Teach For America. He was placed in Baton Rouge, La., with plans to return to Kentucky after his two-year commitment and go to law school.

After the teaching stint, he said, "I felt a moral imperative to continue working for my students in long-term areas. It steered me into education."

Martin County Schools Superintendent Mark Blackburn said his district will hire with Teach For America for Sheldon Clark High School, a "persistently low-achieving high school."

"We decided to go into it because being in Eastern Kentucky it's very difficult to attract good teachers, particularly in math and science classes," Blackburn said.

He said he has confidence in Teach For America because they have a rigorous front-end screening process and attract ambitious people.

"What helps me in regard to those staff members is that they know that they need to produce results," Blackburn said.

The Teach For America teachers will go through the districts' normal hiring process.