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Districts tackle teacher shortages with higher salaries, mentoring

Serious shortages in math, science and special education teachers have been reported in more than 40 states

Facing a ballooning teacher shortage in recent years, Clark County School District in Nevada launched a social media and email recruiting strategy, sending messages to self-identified school teachers over LinkedIn and reaching more than 2.5 million on Facebook.

“When you have a staffing crisis, you have to come up with something different to do,” says chief recruitment officer Michael Gentry, who was hired last year. “My only mission, every single day, is to recruit teachers.”

Serious shortages in math, science and special education teachers have been reported in more than 40 states, and more than 30 states are seeing serious shortages for ELL teachers, says research by the Learning Policy Institute. The profession is losing about 200,000 teachers a year. The biggest shortages are in schools that serve low-income and minority students.

To reverse the trend, some districts are increasing pay or benefits. Many teachers start out their careers with expensive college loans to pay off and they need incentive to become teachers, says Tiffany Cain, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association.

Respecting the profession also matters, says American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. The last decade has been about “‘blame and shame teachers’—suggesting they’re responsible for everything in life.” She also advocates for higher teacher wages.

Negotiations, bonuses

Clark County, for example, negotiated a higher minimum first-year teaching salary of $40,900 for this school year, up from $34,637 the previous year, to attract candidates. The district, which employs more than 18,000 teachers, paid for it by belt-tightening in areas such as maintenance, delaying the purchase of a new human resources management system and funds saved through teacher attrition, Gentry says.

The district also revamped its hiring process to prevent delays that may allow time for a qualified candidate to take a position elsewhere.

Principals can now conduct interviews and extend offers contingent on a 50-state background check and positive references, instead of waiting for the vetting process to start. The vetting process disqualifies about 5 percent of verbal offers.

“The way that this game works is: The company that moves the fastest wins the game with the best candidates,” Gentry says.

The efforts helped Clark County start the year with fewer vacancies. In 2015-16, more than 900 teaching positions were open at the start of the year. When school started this fall, only 319 vacancies existed, an average of less than one per school. Many are filled by long-term substitutes.

Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee has recruited teachers from out of state, offering $2,000 moving bonuses for teachers who are more than 100 miles away and accept positions that are difficult to fill.

The district uses an application tracking system, which streamlines job postings and responses to multiple, national sites. “It’s amazing how many resources come back to us,” says Phyllis Casebolt, the district’s director of education quality in human resource.

Focus on retention

Others school systems are focusing on retention. “You cannot recruit yourself out of the problem,” says Anne Udall, chief strategy officer with the nonprofit New Teacher Center, which runs teacher mentoring programs in 37 states.

Mentors are released from their regular classrooms, full- or part-time, and complete about a week of training. Then they work with beginning teachers for two years. In one Southwestern district, new teacher retention grew by 30 percent after two years of the center’s support.