SEBRING — Trying to fill more than 100 teaching positions this summer has been especially challenging for the School Board of Highlands County, which may go back to sending staff out of state to recruit educators. Human Resources Director Vivianne Waldron said Thursday that about seven years ago the district had a teacher recruiter on staff who traveled to Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Louisiana, Ohio and Tennessee to find teachers for the district.
In the years prior to the 2007-08 school year, the district was scrambling to fill new teaching positions due to enrollment increases and the smaller class sizes required by the state’s Class Size Amendment.
Now, after a few years of declining enrollment, the student numbers have increased in the past two years.
With last year’s return of the secondary teacher planning period, the district has a larger roster of teachers to maintain.
“We are going to start really considering going out of state recruiting from this point on,” Waldron said. “Since things are back to this type of situation, we are going to have to consider out-of-state candidates.”
The district’s human resources department and school principals have about three weeks to try to fill the remaining openings before the first day of school on Aug. 20.
“We didn’t anticipate having to hire this many,” Waldron said. But, with retirements and quite a few resignations, including people moving out of the county, the district is hiring more than 100 teachers for the 2014-15 school year.
About 81 or 82 teachers have been hired and about 22 more are needed, she said.
“We have advertised and advertised and a lot of principals have extended their advertisements,” Waldron said.
Along with its own website, the district advertises it openings on national teacher job sites such as Teachers-Teachers.com.
The pool of applicants is much small this year; there are not as many education graduates and some who earn a degree in education don’t go into teaching, but find other jobs instead, she noted.
The annual teacher job fair, The Great Florida Teach-in, which is held in Tampa in July, was not so great for hiring teachers this year, according to Waldron.
There was not a good turnout, very few applicants, she said. In previous years, nearly 2,000 job seekers attended. This year’s estimate of 1,200 fell short of the actual attendance of about 300.
Last year the district hired 20 teachers at the job fair, but only one this year, Waldron said.
Will there be a teacher in every classroom on the first day of school?
“We will either have a teacher or a highly qualified sub,” Waldron responded. “That’s all I can say at this point because we are still advertising and principals are still interviewing.”
South Florida State College will start a new bachelor of science degree program in elementary education in the fall semester 2014. Those with an associate in arts degree and who have completed certain prerequisite education courses may be eligible to apply for the two-year program.
Lead instructor Kimberley Dos Santos said applications are now being accepted for the program that will start with a junior class (with an enrollment cap of 26).
The program will have its first graduates in May 2016.
The area school districts are excited and on board because they will have well trained education graduates “right here,” Santos said. “I think it is going to be a great thing for the community.”