HAZARD — Teach for America came to Central Appalachia three years ago, aiming to help school districts in the region find qualified applicants for hard-to-fill positions, and the organization is continuing to achieve this goal by helping two local school districts this year.
The Perry County and Hazard Independent school districts partnered with Teach for America (TFA) this year, in hopes of getting help in finding applicants for math and science positions which have been open for months. This week, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, an organization striving to improve the quality of life and place in the region, gave an $18,000 grant to TFA-Appalachia to support the placement of up to six TFA corps members in the school districts.
“I’m really pleased and impressed with the applicants,” Jonathan Jett, superintendent of the Perry County schools, said Friday after finishing two interviews with TFA candidates. “We always struggle with finding applicants, and this gives us an exemplary applicant pool to pick from.”
Danny Maggard, chair of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, said TFA gives the school systems in the area opportunities to branch out to find applicants when they may not have the resources on their own to do so.
“Part of the problem is finding math and science teachers. Most people who are good at math and science go into engineering or something like that. This way, they’re finding qualified teachers in those fields,” Maggard said.
Jett said the district is trying to fill two positions for high school math teachers, one at Buckhorn and one at Perry Central.
Will Nash, executive director of TFA-Appalachia, said the organization has employed 36 teachers in 12 counties since it entered the region, and plans to bring in another 25 teachers this year.
“In partnership, we can work to close the achievement gap in Appalachia and reverse this trend where only 30 percent of our students are college or career ready,” Nash said.
According to a press release from the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, 80 percent of the teachers with TFA are working in “the critical shortage areas of math, science, and foreign language.”
“Perry County Central High School needs more highly qualified applicants to fill positions, particularly in math. Many times we hire candidates, but they are not able to fill the needs the schools have,” Jett said.
Perry Central was named a persistently low achieving (PLA) school by the Kentucky Board of Education in 2011, causing the district to change things in the school to help meet state standards.
“It’s really about the kids,” Maggard said, “and at the end of the day it’s about helping them.”