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First-Year TFA LA Teachers Find Support In Alliance Network

James Leon

By The TFA Editorial Team

November 6, 2017

The first day of school came with all sorts of uncertainty for first-year teacher James Leon. But when he walked into Alliance Marine-Innovation & Technology 6-12 Complex this fall, one thing was certain. James had teachers and administrators who were ready to support him.

Alliance MIT counts a dozen Teach For America-trained educators and administrators among its staff – six corps members and six alumni, including the director of instruction and special education and the assistant principal.

“It was nice to know how TFA-friendly the campus and administration was right off the bat, knowing they’d been through similar experiences, could empathize with being a first-year teacher, and especially empathize with the TFA experience,” said Leon, a LA native and Tulane University graduate, who like many TFA corps members is earning a teaching certificate at Loyola Marymount University while working as a teacher full time.

The Alliance MIT cluster grew intentionally since the school opened three years ago in the San Fernando Valley. One of the three founding staff members, Josephine Pineda, is an Alliance and TFA alumnae. She worked with Leandro Otero, the director of TFA-LA talent and partnerships, to create a cohort that could provide peer-to-peer support, contribute to a growth mindset at her school and help her students beat the odds.

“Clustering corps members at schools with alumni is part of a larger TFA-LA strategy designed to support our placements schools as a unit of change – meaning that we want to steward our talent deliberately to support and accelerate a school’s ability to deliver on its vision,” said Lida Jennings, executive director of TFA-LA.

We checked in with Ms. Pineda and her team to learn about the cluster’s initial impact.

Josephine Pineda Classroom

Josephine Pineda (Los Angeles, 2012), Assistant Principal

Josephine Pineda was in the first graduating class of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. Nine years later, she is assistant principal at Alliance MIT after having served as a teacher at the campus located a few blocks from where she grew up.

She joined TFA-LA after graduating from UCLA because she wanted to improve educational opportunities for Latino/a youth, and TFA educators shared her sense of urgency. She was a founding teacher at Alliance MIT three years ago, and has shepherded it from 60 students to 570 students. It’s the fastest growing school in all of LAUSD, and it leads the region in middle school CAASPP scores.

"I understand how hard it is to be a corps member and the lens that they bring to the work. They want to make an impact and are social justice driven, when not all teachers are. That’s a huge difference. We share that understanding,” Pineda said.

Katie Murphy (Los Angeles, 2016), Resource Specialist Teacher

Katie Murphy grew up in Pasadena, the daughter of a fifth grade teacher and the cousin of students with special needs. She knew from an early age that teaching special education in a high-need school or juvenile justice capacity was where she could make the most difference.

While a senior at Azusa Pacific University, she heard about TFA while on the job as a teacher’s assistant. The kindergarten teacher she assisted, Rebecca Synott, was a 2010 alum and the most amazing teacher Katie’s ever seen. TFA-LA has taught her how to be vocal about the services her special education students deserve. 

“It is so beneficial to work with people who have been through what I’ve been through. When everything is new, it’s amazing to have an administrator who can say ‘I’ve been there, here’s a tip, here’s a trick, here’s the way I did it,’” she said.

Elizabeth Dean (Los Angeles, 2012), Special Education Coordinator

Elizabeth Dean is a UC-Berkeley graduate with a degree in international studies. Her education focused on poverty abroad, but she joined Teach For America to make on the ground impact on inequality in our country.

While her start was mission-driven, she stayed for love. She fell in love with the special education population, the families she works with and the students she works with. She feels like she’s part of a larger movement, but comes to work as the special education coordinator because of the impact she has on the individual lives of people. (You can tell her kids love her too if you watch the video of her nomination for Teacher of the Year.)

“I really like working at Alliance schools because I do feel I share a common vision and common mission with people I work with – TFA alums and non-alums alike. Here I can go to anyone on campus and not have to explain my beliefs, background or philosophy on education. We start with the same core values and can just jump in and start talking about problem solving and doing what’s best for kids,” she said.

Jonathan Tiongco, Founding Principal

If Teach For America had honorary alums, Jonathan Tiongco would be among them. A passionate and equity-minded school leader, he agreed to open and grow Alliance MIT from the ground up because it was a chance to do things the way they should be done. He pairs every rookie teacher with an experienced mentor to aid in their development, and appreciates the message alums send to corps members.

“They show that you can survive your first and second year of teaching. And not only can you survive, you can thrive in the profession, move up the career ladder, and do exceptional work. They show what’s possible,” he said.