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Reinvigorating the St. Louis Alumni Pipeline

Strategic emphasis in the power of the alumni network.  

By Elizabeth Bleier

April 28, 2021

Elizabeth Bleier

Here in St. Louis, we’ve spent a lot of time over the last year reflecting on TFA’s progress and impact to date. As the organization as a whole reaches its 30-year anniversary and we enter our 20th year in St. Louis, we’ve listened to our community and looked at student outcomes across St. Louis to consider the progress we’ve made and the direction to take in the future. 

Since 2002, TFA has brought in nearly 1000 new teachers to St. Louis. Today a network of over 600 TFA alumni have remained committed to the St. Louis community and are living, leading and raising their own families here. This network includes roughly 300 alumni who serve as teachers and school leaders, including 22 principals. Five alumni serve as elected leaders, including school board members in St. Louis Public Schools and Kirkwood Public schools among others. And TFA alumni have remained in St. Louis and gone on to found and lead numerous other non-profit organizations that work with and support children in St. Louis; organizations like KIPP, the St. Louis Teacher Residency and College Bound. 

Congruently, while we have seen the impact that individual teachers and leaders can make on students at the classroom and school level, academic outcomes as a whole in our region are not where we want them to be. For example, fewer than one quarter of students attending St. Louis city public schools-including SLPS and charter schools-are proficient in reading in third grade. At TFA this has led us to think that we must fundamentally shift the focus of our work in order to ensure St. Louis students are able to achieve the outcomes that they and their families desire for them. 

In order to confront this challenge, TFA has set a new and ambitious 10 year goal for St. Louis and all of the regions it serves. By the year 2030, twice as many children in communities where TFA works will reach key educational milestones indicating they are on a path to economic mobility and co-creating a future filled with possibility. In order to reach this bold and ambitious goal, TFA as a whole, and we in St. Louis, must shift the focus of our work to prioritize resources and strategies differently. 

Our past model has focused on building the size of our network. But now that we have reached a scale of 600 alumni across the region, we are now looking at ways to best support and mobilize our network of experienced alumni teachers and school leaders to accelerate the pace of change for St. Louis students. We believe that investing in our veteran educators in our network is a natural course of advancement to confront the large challenges and inequities that our children face as the experienced TFA alumni are better positioned to move into leadership roles sooner rather than later. Right now many TFA alumni are achieving results at the individual or organizational level. We believe that by, first, helping more alumni develop the skills they need to move into leadership and second, connecting and mobilizing alumni to work together-to achieve impact not just individually but collectively across the system-we will be able to meet the 10 year goal and ensure strong outcomes for all students.

“We believe that investing in our veteran educators in our network is a natural course of advancement  to confront the large challenges and inequities that our children face as the experienced TFA alumni are better positioned to move into leadership roles sooner rather than later.”

Elizabeth Bleier

Interim Executive Director, St. Louis

By strategizing and engaging our efforts on alumni work-and in particular expanding the number, impact and tenure of alumni principals and teachers-we will begin to move the needle toward our 10 year goal. This upcoming school year we plan to offer several expanded and new programs aligned to two areas of focus. In St. Louis, this new strategy work will begin by working to increase the number, impact and tenure of alumni principals in St. Louis City schools and developing, supporting and retaining alumni teachers. In regard to school leadership, earlier this year, we hired a consultant to help us better understand our impact in the education system in St. Louis. One primary finding was that schools led by alumni leaders show higher-than-average rates of student growth. Recent research coming out of Vanderbilt University indicates that the importance of the school leader was even greater than previously understood. Over the next five years we plan to double the number of alumni principals, which will positively impact 9,000 additional students.

At the same time, we plan to work to retain and recruit veteran alumni teachers, keeping the folks we already have in St. Louis, and attracting new, experienced teacher talent to our city by launching an Alumni Teacher Fellowship. This is a model that has been adopted by several other TFA regions in recent years - and we believe now is the right time for this work to launch in St. Louis as well. The fellowship involves recruiting alumni teachers from outside the region to St. Louis to serve two years with a partner school district while receiving support and development from TFA. We plan to cluster these alumni fellows at schools led by TFA alumni. We will design and begin fully recruiting for this program this upcoming year, to launch in fall of 2022.

While school and teacher leadership will be the focus of our larger programs, we will continue to work toward connecting and mobilizing our broader TFA network, including those alumni not working directly in education. We see this increased emphasis in alumni work, as a strategic effort to deepen our investment in St. Louis students and a necessary move to accelerate the pace of change. In St. Louis we believe building and expanding our programming over the next few years in this way - will lead the region toward a more clear and effective demonstration of our overall impact in the St. Louis metro area, while centering on a concerted effort to reach more students!