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    Walton invests $2.7 million in Teach For America Memphis

    By:
    Jane Roberts

    Athena Turner


    The Walton Family Foundation is investing up to $2.7 million in Teach for America here, part of a $20 million infusion in nine cities over two years that will allow the nonprofit to recruit and train nearly 4,000 new teachers.

    In Memphis, TFA will grow from 350 teachers in hard-to-staff schools here this fall to more than 550 by fall of 2015.

    “It allows us to be on the growth plan we have projected alongside our partners, including the Achievement School District, Shelby County Schools and charters planning to come to Memphis,” said Athena Turner, TFA Memphis executive director.

    Walton, based in Bentonville, Ark., has been one of the largest supporters of charter schools and other school choice reforms in Tennessee for more than a decade. This is the first time it has invested in TFA Memphis.

    “We have been thrilled with the charter school movement in the city,” said Ed Kirby, the foundation’s deputy director of K-12 education reform. “We’ve gotten to know some of the actors in education reform in Memphis and the state and it made sense to us this year to add Memphis to the geography we are willing to devote foundation resources to.”

    The foundation also is making a first-time commitment in Detroit and Indianapolis.

    TFA will use the money to recruit, select, train and support TFA members. It will also work to increase the diversity of corps members from 28 percent to 35 percent minority by the end of the second year and ramp up efforts to retain 75 percent of alumni in public education.

    Turner is in the early stages of creating a regional diversity plan that includes partnerships with LeMoyne-Owen College, University of Memphis and other colleges with teacher training programs.

    “We want to work with freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are from Memphis and get them shoulder to shoulder to see the opportunities in our work, then convince them that TFA Memphis is their next career step after college,” she said.

    “I see the grant doing a lot of things for us,” Turner said. “It holds us accountable while still giving us independence on how we get there.”

    Memphis is among the fastest-growing TFA cities. With the investment, it will be second to Los Angeles.

    Part of the attraction for Walton is the size of the effort here and the number of alumni working in education reform statewide, including ASD Supt. Chris Barbic and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman.

    “TFA does an amazing job of recruiting really talented people into K-12 teaching, particularly those who might not have gone into education if TFA had not recruited them,” Kirby said.

    “But what happens after their two-year corps membership may be even important.”

    In the past two years, TFA’s teacher training program has been ranked among the highest in the state, outperforming campuses that have been training teachers for decades, including the University of Tennessee.
    Scripps Lighthouse

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