TFA's Tactics Within SPS

As we have previously explained at this blog, TFA is not a teaching corps development program.   They certainly want their members to stay in education (but the majority do not remain teachers).  They want them to be principals, superintendents, administrators, School Board members and even, yes, deans of colleges of education.  And not to mention, to find a place on the  stage of national and state administrators and elected officials.

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 day 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.
This is how TFA works.

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.  


StopTFA said…
TFA creates great schmoozers
StopTFA said…
WTH is a "thought partner"?! Ugh, sounds like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
basically said…
macampbell *at* seattle
StopTFA said…
I am hopeful that Mr Banda will see the disruption and enmity TFA breeds in our district, and moves to terminate it.
CT said…
Ugh - every time I read any of those TFA emails, it just makes me sick. I'm reminded of the slimy smarmy used car salesman who will say anything to get you into that car, even if it is a lemon.
Other words that come to mind - infiltration, assimilation, and brain washing.
Anonymous said…
I think a "thought partner" helps produce "group think."

Anonymous said…
I have students at Hamilton under Principal Carter.

There is a dreadful teacher at Hamilton who should be counseled out (or drummed out) of the profession.

Imagine Principal Carter puts Dreadful Teacher on notice to improve.

Does Dreadful Teacher take Principal Carter's criticism to heart? Or is it too easy disrespect him?

"I received a three-year degree from a proper college of education, and I interned under a skilled veteran teacher with two decades of experience. Principal Carter's entire classroom training consisted of five weeks of boot camp. I've spent 16 years in front of classrooms. He's spent two." Etc.

(I don't know how many years Principal Carter spent in the classroom. I'm offering hypotheticals.)

In the faculty lounge, what can Dreadful Teacher's colleagues do but nod in agreement? So Dreadful Teacher believes "I'm not the problem. He is."

I don't know whether Principal Carter has observed Dreadful Teacher, or whether he is aware of how detested this teacher is among parents, or whether he even perceives that Dreadful Teacher is, in fact, dreadful. I haven't spoken with HIMS teachers to gauge whether this hypothetical disrespect exists within the building. It's pure conjecture -- but not at all hard to believe.

I feel the principal's most important role is Head Of Instruction. A TFA principal is an impediment to improving the teacher corps -- not an asset.

-More Convinced By The Day
unsigned said…
The 2010-2011 HIMS school climate survey was at 30% for the "School Leadership" category (previous year was 51%). The District average was 58%. It's hard to support TFA when you see numbers like that.
Anonymous said…
"slimy and smarmy" - a metaphor for politics in America.

More than anything we need integrity and transparency. It's disheartening.

Hidden No More said…
Carter wasn't willing to let his teacher's know of his support for TfA, but he was willing to quietly reach out to politicos.
Anonymous said…
My experience in dealing with Principal Carter consisted of an interview in the summer of 2007 when he was the new principal at the African American Academy.

I asked him if he was really going to use Everyday Math (which had just been adopted) and Connected Math Project. He was certainly intent on using what he believed the district wanted him to use and had no interest in what would be a better choice for AAA students.

He told me that he would contact me in regard to the teaching position I had applied for within a day or two. ... He never contacted me.

It made little sense to me that the SPS claimed to me about closing achievment gaps and assisting educationally disadvantaged learners .... yet continued to select extremely poor instructional materials for those groups.

Mr. Carter has done well for himself (in the highly political SPS) .... kids at AAA on the other hand ... oh yeah there is no longer an AAA.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
This was posted on the APP blog in November, 2011:

Wow, have you seen the Hamilton school report yet?

I think the climate survey is much more telling:

HIMS Climate Survey

Let me call attention to a few changes from '09-10 to '10-11 on the Staff Survey

Conflict among the staff is resolved in a timely and effective manner:

Went from 24% (bad enough) to 11% !

The staff has an effective process for making group decisions and solving problems:

Went from 37% to 12% !

We implement a clear plan of action when a student struggles socially:

Went from 55% to 24% !

The principal sets high standards for teaching practice:

Went from 75% to 43% !

The principal encourages and supports open communication:

Went from 61% to 33% ! Lest anyone think this is just typical, the district average on this one is 64% satisfaction.

There is more, go take a look. Often the staff are the first ones to see things falling apart, and their opinions are very telling. HIMS is NOT working well right now. The vast majority of the problems here land squarely on Chris Carter's shoulders.

November 26, 2011 4:52 PM
beth stevens said…
I have no problem with these interactions. I am surprised that you have the time to waste making the district go through thousands of emails to give you a bunch so that you can try to craft some half-baked story about how bad TFA is. If you spent half as much time volunteering in struggling schools or working with other parents to support current teachers, no matter how they got into the classroom, I guarantee our schools would be better off for it. Spending hours going through emails to expose something that doesn't seem like a big deal seems like a huge waste of time. Seems like your priorities are out of whack.
Anonymous said…
@Beth Stevens:

Melissa's and Charlie's priorities are my priorities also, and I hardly consider them "out of whack." We all are, or have been, parent volunteers in Seattle Public Schools for countless hours over plenty of years.

We all spend plenty of time supporting teachers, and certainly our kids and their schoolmates. In addition to that -- speaking for myself -- I will not rest until our schools are free of TFA and its scab school training. I, and not you, will decide if that's the best use of my time. Thank you.

-- Ivan Weiss
Charlie Mas said…
Ms Stevens, if you do not believe that these emails are representative you are free to make your own review. Until then, you have no basis for believing that they are not, in fact, the least inflammatory messages in the basket.
Anonymous said…
It is a tired retort - Go out and volunteer! Do something! - it's because parents are involved with their schools, volunteering, that they see many of problems. Despite efforts to bring about improvements, there are still problems. This goes for struggling schools and so called good schools.

If nothing else, daylighting emails may make employees more careful in how they conduct SPS business, which is a good thing.

parent (and volunteer)
Long Time Volunteer said…
Political machinations that will affect my child's classroom at local, state and national levels IS my business.

I really get tired of assumptions that complain and don't support our schools.
Long Time Volunteer said…
I meant to say:

I really get tired of people making assumptions about people complaining and not supporting our teachers and schools.
Beth, I tutor students every single week and I do work for our schools. (And my children are long gone from SPS.) I tutor not just to help kids but because working around adults all the time is tiring and I missed the interaction with students.

I will take credit, as an example, of my advocacy for our schools- Roosevelt High has security cameras because the principal, Brian Vance, Pegi McEvoy and I pleaded, cajoled, warned and begged for them for the last 5 years. We three kept up a consistent voice for the safety of students and staff in one of our largest high schools in our district (and the only comprehensive to have zero cameras).

They got them installed last summer.

When I went by Roosevelt on the day of the shootings last week, a security officer smiled at me (I was co-president there for two years)and said, "Have you seen our new cameras? We used them today."

As for the "thousands of e-mails", I guess you don't know that you can craft a public disclosure request to make sure it narrow. There was no fishing expedition.
And by the way, I didn't say one thing about TFA teachers or their effectiveness. In fact, this post has nothing to do with that and everything to the lengths that TFA will go to get what they want.

It's distasteful at the least and unethical at that the other end. That we have district employees aiding their tactics, using district time to aid their tactics and working on other job options on our taxpaying dime, that's worthy of outing.
Anonymous said…
Beth Stevens is saying in effect to look the other way. I guess a lot of people did that when Potter was operating his little scam, huh?

Anonymous said…
Am wondering here....Is this Janis Ortega of TFA related to Estella Ortega of El Centro de La Raza fame? hoping not... Truly, Miz Mannerz
mirmac1 said…
No, Ortega is like Smith.

However, first time I ever saw Estella Ortega at a school board (even AFTER she signed onto various Ed Reform "coalitions" was to sidle up to Mr. Banda when he was selected. Yeah, whatever.
Anonymous said…
Not that it really matters - but just FYI - according to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Ortega is no longer employed by TFA - she's persuing a Doctorate at Harvard.

a reader
StopTFA said…
Yes, I recall when Ortega and Enfield were all a-tizzy over this new bond of sisterhood.

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