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Looking Back, Looking Ahead: 10 Years In and Our 10-Year Goal

Stephanie Devine reflects on ten years of progress and the future of TFA Appalachia.

By Stephanie Devine

February 1, 2022

As TFA Appalachia (TFAA) looks back on its first decade, we have so much to be both proud of and grateful for. Since 2011, we've brought over 180 teachers to Eastern Kentucky - over 40 of whom remain in our alumni network - and have retained over 300 alumni across our four state geography of Kentucky, West Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia. Before assuming the Executive Director role in 2019, I spent five years as a teacher coach in Eastern Kentucky. I could tell you hundreds of stories of the profound impact these teachers have, both as classroom leaders as well as community members, and how the impact of the corps experiences changed their life trajectories. From those in their 10th year teaching at their placement school, to the state's youngest County Judge Executive, to entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and social workers - because of TFAA, hundreds of our nation's brightest leaders are working to end educational inequity in our region, across many sectors and diverse communities. 

In our teachers' partnerships with local districts, we've seen innovations like Advanced Placement courses, new extracurricular and foreign service opportunities, and historic results on standardized assessments. While this is critical, I remain proudest of our deep relationships with the Appalachian leaders who have welcomed us into their schools, wrapped their communities' arms around our corps members, and supported them to lead, learn, and thrive in the region. Our high principal and teacher satisfaction rates, as well as teacher retention rates, are foundational to the progress our teachers make with students on academic, postsecondary readiness, and personal goals. 

And while our work in Central Appalachia has made us a true anchor institution in the educational landscape, the world around is changing at a rapid pace. Teacher shortages are growing across the country - and particularly in rural regions like ours - while the pandemic continues to impact student performance. In a complex talent and economic market, students are finding it harder than ever to justify postsecondary degrees that will put them in student debt for decades, all while the labor shortages in all sectors are growing at staggering rates. Perhaps most challenging of all, Central Appalachia continues to be a stereotyped, misunderstood, and undervalued geography in the national dialogue. 

Given all this, we could have an easy choice to shrink back, "hold steady," or step away from these challenges, but I'm proud to say that our TFAA community - corps members, alumni, staff, advisory board, and supporters - all choose instead to think boldly and expansively about what this moment calls us to do. Thus in 2020, we set a rigorous ten year goal: that by 2030, twice as many students in Central Appalachian communities where we work will achieve postsecondary readiness and success, putting them on the path to economic mobility and a future filled with possibility. While the goal is daunting, we know it's possible. Across the country, multiple large districts have doubled progress on key educational milestones in the past decade, and even in Central Appalachia, we have examples of rapid improvement when leaders, teams, and families work together to pursue big things for kids.

In particular, we know that here in our region, the reasons students don't make it to and through postsecondary programs - whether through a certification, associate, or four-year degree - are multifaceted and complex. Over the next ten years you'll see TFAA grow and expand who we are and what we do to rise to that challenge. As we imagine a bright and limitless future for kids in the region, we believe that five strategic drivers will be mission critical: 

1. TFAA will become a national proof point of rapid rural educational improvement. By finalizing our ten year goal and working with other local organizations to achieve it, we're re-setting the bar for the role TFAA will play in our rural communities. We also continue to inspire dialogue in the broader education system about what collective impact can do to drive real, fast progress. 

2. Re-imagine and rebuild regional policy landscapes. Given the role that policy plays in understanding what's true and what's possible for kids and schools, we're intentionally holding space (such as AppalTank, a policy program launching this summer) for our teachers and alumni to learn more about how policies are set, how to read them, and how to work with their community to make great decisions for kids at every level of the system. 

3. Increase rigor and opportunity for students in local K-12 education systems. As always, recruiting, placing, and training high quality teachers is top priority for us. By working to continuously improve our teacher training model (including our new summer school program, Takeoff) while increasing our offerings to our communities, TFAA is part of the ongoing movement to spread best teaching practices across the region. One example, our College Success Coach program, is an innovative offering to increase and strengthen the amount of support our high school students receive on technical and adaptive postsecondary readiness skills. 

4. Create structures that increase the salience and retention of our local school-based staff.  Especially in today's landscape, keeping great teachers is more important than ever. We are proud to be in the second year of the Mountain Teacher Fellowship, which provides ongoing training and financial support for our highest performing corps members who commit to at least two more years in the classroom. 

5. Shift national narratives to the power, possibility, and potential of our students and communities, attracting top talent to live and lead here. We recognize it will take leadership in all sectors to solve for the complex reasons our kids don't make it to and through postsecondary. Our new Central Appalachia Alumni Leaders (CAAL) fellowship seeks to keep and recruit proven systems leaders in the region. 

In the next ten years, we know it will take a collaborative, cohesive set of contributions to achieve the ten year goal. As you read these drivers and our updates, I hope it becomes clearer than ever that TFAA cannot stand alone to drive progress towards 2030; it will take a set of aligned community members, leaders, organizations, and constant input from our students to ensure that we are operating in ways that center equity, opportunity, and the limitless potential of Central Appalachian youth. Whether you're interested in teaching here, being part of our philanthropic support circle, were a student here yourself or want to apply to the CAAL fellowship, there is a role for everyone to play in pursuit of our ten year goal.