When Charles Glover, a Teach for America alum and bright-eyed Harvard grad student, was approached to launch TFA in Dallas in 2009, he hesitated. School had just started, and the undertaking seemed daunting to the then 25-year-old. But TFA founder and Highland Park native Wendy Kopp convinced him that he could not only change kids’ lives in North Texas through education, but he could trade Boston winters for Dallas summers in the process.
Teach for America, which hires college grads for a two-year teaching commitment in economically disadvantaged public schools, began its Dallas journey that year with an inaugural corps of 90, including DISD trustee (and mayoral candidate) Miguel Solis and Education Opens Doors executive director Jayda Batchelder. On February 28, it will celebrate its 10th anniversary in North Texas with a gala.
“We were the largest charter corps in the history of the organization at the time,” says Glover, who later became chief of human capital management at DISD and is now at The Meadows Foundation. “It was a fascinating time because Dallas ISD had just done a reduction in force of around 400 teachers. I think some of my naiveté and idealism is what allowed us to actually get done what we ended up getting done. This is a diverse community, and building those relationships became one of my primary goals.”
For Dallas, which has the third worst child poverty rate among major U.S. cities, this would prove an uphill battle. According to Solis, when he taught at Marsh Middle School that first year, 89 of the approximately 230 DISD schools were rated Improvement Required. Ten years later, that number is down to four.
“I think TFA has had a critical role in placing data at the forefront of educational practices,” Solis says. “But the thing now that, for me, is most encouraging is the idea of recognizing historical inequities through the lenses of race and socioeconomics, and identifying ways through education to directly address those inequities. TFA is now a national leader in employing undocumented Dreamers that have the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. They are helping build bilingual educators for a dramatically changing North Texas landscape.”
That landscape expanded to include Fort Worth in 2011, just before TFA DFW executive director Cary Wright joined the organization in Dallas. Over the past four years, he says, DISD has experienced nearly 13 percent growth in the number of students who are meeting performance standards on the STAAR test, making it the fastest-improving urban school district of its size in Texas.
Aside from improving student performance, TFA alumni—such as Solis, For Oak Cliff’s Taylor Toynes, and Cristo Rey Fort Worth principal Tasha Coble Ginn—have also had a broader impact on education leadership and policy. Some have even made major changes to the program itself. After her stint as a TFA teacher, Carey Leigh Evans, another Dallas native, worked as managing director for TFA’s recruitment and admission strategy, helping develop an algorithm and statistical model for selecting the most successful corps members.
Of course, when compared with traditional career educators, the two-year TFA model has its skeptics. But, Solis says, the goal of TFA is not to replace other teachers. It is to kick-start a movement that will elevate and change the face of education in North Texas.
“I think the biggest contention about TFA is that it is perceived by many who may be removed from the educational exosphere as a panacea,” Solis says. “But the honest fact is that TFA isn’t. They recognize that until we ensure that the current human capital pipeline, which traditionally comes from institutions of education, is provided the adequate resources and is reformed, that the national educational system will continue to be left with having to innovate in other ways, like Teach for America.”
For Glover, the innovating paid off. Dallas-Fort Worth became the highest-performing region from both an academic and teacher satisfaction standpoint. Ultimately, he says, it became seen as an asset and part of the community. “It becomes like an accelerant, a catalyst. You approach your work knowing every single child has the exact same aptitude. So they all have the exact same potential.”