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Yo, Teach! Tony Danza poised to head back to class

The Associated Press, Thursday, August 13, 2009, 8:15am (PDT)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Following stints as a sitcom star, talk show host and Broadway leading man, Tony Danza is going back to school — to teach.

Pending approval by city school officials, the actor known for his roles on "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" will begin teaching at Northeast High School this fall for a reality TV show. The series, called "Teach," is slated to air on the cable channel A&E.

"I'm so scared. You have no idea," Danza said in a phone interview Thursday. "I can tap-dance, but I don't know if I can make kids learn yet."

Danza, who would be co-teaching a 10th-grade English class, said he has already boned up on the district's curriculum, re-reading "Of Mice and Men," "Julius Caesar," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Animal Farm."

Not everyone is impressed. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky called the show a way "to pimp our kids' education to an unemployed sitcom actor who wants to kick-start his stalled career on the backs of students who'll be distracted by cameras and microphones."

But Mayor Michael Nutter is urging school commissioners to approve the deal. In a letter made public Wednesday, he noted students would be given opportunities they wouldn't normally have — including production internships on the show — and the district might see a bump in teacher recruitment.

"There are too many negative images of our city's young people and schools on television," Nutter wrote. "I believe that 'Teach' represents a unique opportunity to highlight many of our city's dedicated teachers and administrators, and the talented students they serve."

Philadelphia has a struggling, low-income school district with about 167,000 students. Although test scores have improved seven straight years, only about half of the students are considered proficient at reading and math.

School officials will vote Aug. 19 on a resolution that would allow at least 13 episodes of "Teach" to be shot. The district would get $3,500 per episode, plus expenses, and the right to object to footage.

Officials believe the entire school community could benefit from the series, which would "put a spotlight on teaching in an urban environment," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

Producers are clearly expecting approval; Danza already rented an apartment in the city's Northern Liberties section and has been attending new-teacher orientation.

Co-executive producer Donny Jackson told school commissioners at a meeting Wednesday that the series would be "responsible television."

"Our goal with 'Teach' is to highlight and celebrate the rarely seen challenges and unsung achievements of one of the greatest resources our nation has to offer: the public school teacher," Jackson said.

The jovial Danza, who is pushing 60, would not divulge his long-ago grade-point average. He graduated from a suburban New York high school in 1968 and received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Dubuque in Iowa in 1972.

It was after one of his most recent acting gigs — playing Max Bialystock in "The Producers," both on Broadway and in Las Vegas — that Danza began considering teaching. A producer friend suggested the TV show, he said.

Danza said he understands teaching will be hard work and that "the tremendous responsibility of doing it on TV is very daunting." He noted that a pilot episode shot in a class in Yonkers, N.Y., was so intimidating it gave him "the worst flop sweat I ever had."

"My goal is to really be a good teacher," Danza said. "If we can be really real about it and really honest about it and put the kids first and really show what a teacher goes through, it might be something that is a positive."

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