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  • Young Educators Attract Attention

    by Sybil Maimin

    “The future belongs to the young” was clearly demonstrated at a recent meeting at the American Jewish Committee, which featured two successful young educators who are shaking up the system with their innovative ideas and challenges to traditional methods.

    Cami Anderson, the energetic executive director of Teach For America (TFA), essentially a Peace Corps for teachers, explained that the young new teachers—recent college graduates who are sent to under-resourced schools in inner-city and rural districts—are expected to have the goals and plans necessary to accomplish their missions. They are encouraged to do whatever is necessary to deliver excellence and produce results.

    TFA was founded in l989 by Wendy Kopp, a senior at Princeton. Tapping the idealism and desire to make a difference felt by some of the nation’s top college students, TFA annually sends out over 1,500 teachers.

    Anderson self-described as typical of TFA volunteers, was a student activist at the University of California at Berkeley concerned with issues of equity. Turned on by TFA’s message, she volunteered for a two-year stint in Los Angeles where her innovations included an after-school theater club and monthly potluck dinners to bring parents into the school. She resumed her own education with a masters in education and public policy at Harvard and then returned to TFA in an executive position, fulfilling the organization’s goal of building a cadre of leaders who have the perspective and vision to effect systemic changes in education. Currently faced with an acute teacher shortage, New York City Schools Chancellor Levy has announced a teacher-training program modeled on TFA.

    David Levin, a TFA alum and Yale graduate, is the founder and principal of KIPP Academy, a three-year old, 250-student college preparatory public middle school (now a Chancellor’s charter school) in the South Bronx. It boasts the highest reading and math scores and fastest improvement amongst middle schools in the borough.

    Students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis without regard to previous academic records. Everyone must sign and comply with a “KIPP Commitment to Excellence Form,” which includes such student obligations as “work, think, and behave in the best way I know how.” Teachers’ commitments include “Always teach in the best way we know how,” and “we will do whatever it takes for our students to learn,” Parents agree to “always make ourselves available to our children,” and “check our child’s homework every night.”

    “KIPP’s very structured, disciplined approach has historically proven to work in disadvantaged schools,” explained Levin, and makes possible the academic achievements and character-building he seeks. Excellent teachers are key and intensive staff development is pursued. Not a licensed teacher himself and without advanced degrees, Levin questions emphasis on certification, trusting instead the commitment, passion, and innate qualities that make a good teacher.

    Teach for America and KIPP Academy prove that persistence and vision pay off, and both have been noticed by the more traditional public system. #

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