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Schools work to hire, retain teachers

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Critical time for teaching

SIKESTON -- Area school districts are bustling to fill the vacated teaching positions with the best candidates.

"We're trying to fill as many of them as we can within the next two weeks," said Kevin Miller, Charleston R-I superintendent. The district has five positions left to fill. "We try to lock it down when we can, but of course we're still trying to find the best candidate that we possibly can."

Joyce Mays, director of human resources for Sikeston Public Schools, said now is a critical time for new hires, which she hopes to have finalized within the next few weeks. The school will add about 45 teachers to its staff. Five positions are still available.

That's a larger number than usual, due to new positions and internal transfers to accommodate building changes as a result of the bond issue.

"There are more pieces to the puzzle," Mays said.

A report issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in April, stated there were 68,120 total teachers in 2006. Of those, 8,866 were new hires. During the 1998-99 school year, about 25 percent of teachers left during their first three years.

Oftentimes, younger teachers will quit their job to raise a family, Miller said. They may also change careers or relocate because their spouse was transferred or they want to work closer to home.

Retirement is a bigger cause for vacancies -- six Charleston teachers retired this year. "A majority of ours are retiring," Mays agreed. "There are just more teachers getting to that bracket."

It's the same case in Portageville, which has one of three total vacancies left to fill. That's lower than average, said Brenda Birdwell, the secretary for the superintendent.

Areas including special education, math, science and technology are usually the hardest to fill, said Rosalyn Wieberg, assistant director of Educator Recruitment and Retention for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Because of these difficulties, some of the schools use retired teachers on a part-time basis to fill those positions. Both Charleston and Portageville are searching for speech pathologists. "We've been looking for one of those for three years," Miller said. "We would really like to find someone for that position."

Portageville couldn't find a new Spanish teacher, either. "In both of those positions, the teachers that have retired are coming back and working because we couldn't find teachers," Birdwell said.

Sikeston was "very fortunate" when it came to hiring a new Spanish teacher, Mays said. A student teacher applied for and received the job. "We encourage them to apply so they can get their name in the hat," she said. "For the most part, your student teachers are as local as you can get."

Once teachers are hired, schools want to keep them. So individual districts, as well as the state, offer several incentives. Charleston's pay schedule "rewards teachers very well for longetivity," Miller said. There, raises are based on a percentage of the base salary instead of a flat amount for each year.

Professional development is another technique used, which has advantages and disadvantages. "It makes the teacher in many instances feel more prepared and better appreciated by the district," Miller said. "The downside is, the more prepared they are, the more attractive they are to another district."

The state offers scholarships, some tuition reimbursements and other programs. There is also a required two year mentoring program in place for beginning teachers, Wieberg said.