Now this is interesting because you can go to their website and there's a lot of blah, blah about "join our movement" but not specifics about what their ed agenda is. I think you need the TFA secret handshake for that but given a huge number of TFA core members teach in charter schools, I think it's safe to say TFA is ed reform all the way.
So how does this work in practice?
Well, an explanation can be found in e-mails from within SPS and TFA. To whit, conversations between Hamilton principal, Chris Carter, and former chripy local TFA recruiter, Janis Ortega.
Ms. Ortega wrote to Mr. Carter in October of 2010, asking to meet him as yes, he is a former TFAer.
So they did meet and she follows up and says: "In follow-up to our conversation, I've attached a partial list of other teachers and school leaders in the area from data self-reported through surveys." Always tracking.
She continues: "I'm glad we also had the chance to connect briefly on the Executive Director position in Seattle-Tacoma. I really hope you'll seriously consider applying!" Again, also always recruiting.
She ends by saying "Finally, I've drafted a quick blurb below that you can copy and paste to make an introduction to Larry Gossett and Chris Bennett." I love that she writes her own introduction letter for someone else to use. (Mr. Carter also sent the introduction letter to Ron Sims.)
In the next e-mail, in late October, she continues her request that he offer public comment at the Board meeting where the TFA contract was being voted on.
What is interesting here is that another TFA person, Victoria Yuan, outlines the process for signing up and says this: Please let Janis know if you foresee any difficulties with calling right at 8am on Monday and we can arrange for someone to sign up on your behalf.
Now that almost sounds like Ms. Ortega would be arranging someone to be Mr. Carter and sign up for him rather than signing up and then ceding their time over to him. And that wouldn't be right to have one person pretending to be another to get space on the speakers list. (I'm sure if this were to happen via e-mail, Board staff would question whether the person making the request is actually the person signing up to speak).
This is now the second time that TFA has pushed for getting people on the speaker list in less-than-a-fair manner. The Board has changed the length of time people can speak. They have changed the times for Board meetings. Both these have made it more difficult for the average person to speak to the Board. When you have machinations from a group the district is doing business with over the speaker list, it becomes all the more troubling.
Mr. Carter, wisely, says, "Though I am a supporter and advocate for TFA I am little uncertain (sic) about speaking in front of the board only because I have to balance my SPS principal leadership with my school based leadership, most notably with my staff." He goes on, "I know the "snapshot" of my speaking to the board can be easily perceived/translated into not supporting teachers. I hope you understand. Please let me know how else I can support the efforts."
He does offer to write a letter (which I would think he knows is unlikely to get back to his staff).
Ms Ortega writes back and says she understands his priorities. She also says, "I am happy to be a thought partner if you need one as you write to the Board, just let me know." This is a pattern of TFA handlers. They watch over every TFA, whether current or former, like hawks and never miss an opportunity to craft the message.
She goes on to ask him to be a member of the audience for the School Board meeting.
In January 2011, Ms. Ortega writes to him and says, "I said this when we met but I'll say it again - the strength of our organization is contingent upon the engagement of our alum." No kidding. She also is "bummed" he didn't apply for the TFA local director job. He replies and says, "I just haven't followed up. I assume information is on the website? When does it close?"
Then in April of 2011, Mr. Carter writes to the person who did get the head of TFA local job, Lindsey Hill, and asks her to call him because " I need to ask you about certification and TFA candidates. I plan on interviewing tomorrow." Now why Mr. Carter would ask a non-SPS person rather than HR is unclear.
- The majority of these e-mails were sent and read during the school
which I find interesting given that Hamilton is a pretty busy place and
yet Mr. Carter had time to read and answer these e-mails that have
nothing to do with the running of Hamilton and everything to do with
helping an entity get a footing in this region. You would think that
kind of communication would be done through a private e-mail account and
not on district time.
- You would also think that Mr. Carter would not be discussing looking for other employment on his school account.
- I suspect that if I asked to see Mr. Carter's e-mails to Sims, Gossett and Bennett, he wrote them on district e-mail during district time. Is this what our principals are supposed to be doing - making contacts for outside entities using district e-mail and time?
- Ms. Ortega also infers that someone can call the Board office and pretend to be someone else in order to get that someone else on the speakers list. I hope no one within the district is encouraging that behavior as it is unseemly and unfair.
- Ms. Ortega also offers to help Mr. Carter craft his own message to the Board. Again, a little unseemly for an entity that is doing business with the district to offer to help a district employee write their thoughts to the Board.
- Most troubling is the issue that Mr. Carter goes to a TFA administrators to ask for help on TFA applicants and reveals when he is interviewing candidates. Is this standard practice? It seems odd that Mr. Carter wouldn't go to HR for this kind of help. It also seems that if Mr. Carter needed specialized info on a particular applicant that even if he went to an affiliated entity, he would have cc'd someone in HR as well. He did not.
I did write to the the Superintendent and Board (I would have cc'd Carter's boss, Marni Campbell, but could not find her e-mail address easily.) . I told the Board I did not expect them to intercede on the issues about Mr. Carter's behavior as that was a personnel matter but they needed to know about the attempts to manipulate the Board speakers list and how TFA is working within our district.
They need to take this into consideration when the TFA contract comes up again. I find the actions of TFA staff to be unseemly.
The Superintendent has not responded.