August 31, 2012

Wichita school district seeking teachers for hard-to-fill spots

The Wichita school district is employing some new strategies, including social media and a ramped-up nationwide recruiting effort, to find teachers for hard-to-fill vacancies.

The Wichita school district is employing some new strategies, including social media and a ramped-up nationwide recruiting effort, to find teachers for hard-to-fill vacancies.

School board members this week approved spending up to $50,000 for a district recruiter – retired administrator Don Dome – to attend job fairs and visit college campuses around the country to search for special-education teachers.

“It’s a huge shortage area for us. We have difficulties getting qualified special-ed candidates,” said Shelly Martin, director of recruitment and staffing for the district.

“This year we’re going to devote a large part of our recruiting efforts to out-of-state recruiting, focusing on colleges known for their special-education programs, ones that graduate a lot of special-ed teachers.”

Other high-demand areas include math, science, English as a Second Language and consumer sciences, Martin said.

The district recently launched a Facebook page – Wichitapublicschoolsjobs – to help advertise job openings for teachers and other positions within the district.

The page features a list of job openings as well as a schedule of upcoming job fairs, campus visits and other recruiting events.

Postings include one for chief operations officer, the $135,000-a-year position Denise Wren vacated last month, as well as jobs for teachers, paraprofessionals, physical therapists, psychologists, nurses, electricians, custodians and more.

The Wichita school district is the third largest employer in the area, with more than 9,000 full- and part-time employees.

Martin said the district started this school year with about 25 special-education vacancies. Some are being filled by teachers with bachelor’s degrees who are working toward special-education endorsements.

The challenge, she said, is that most Kansas universities don’t offer undergraduate programs in special education. Most teachers in Kansas get bachelor’s degrees in an area such as elementary education, English or math, then go back afterward for a special-ed endorsement.

Colleges elsewhere in the country, including Ball State University and several in Michigan, offer undergrad degrees in special education, Martin said.

“Those teachers are a hot commodity. Everybody’s after them,” she said. “If we can get (a recruiter) out there and tell them what Wichita has to offer, we feel like that will be pretty effective.”

Martin said the district likely could make up the $50,000 cost of the recruiting effort because it receives federal and state reimbursements for special-education teachers.

“We want trained, qualified teachers in those positions because we want the best for our kids,” she said. “But also, if we have a sub or a person without that (endorsement), we don’t get that reimbursement.”

About six years ago, district officials traveled to the Philippines to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill positions in math, science and special education.

They hired more than 40 Filipino teachers, but fewer than half were still teaching in Wichita three years later. Some state officials questioned the practice, urging districts to improve their efforts to recruit U.S. teachers.

Martin said the overseas experiment had “mixed results,” although a handful of the Filipino teachers still work in Wichita.

“It was quite a culture shock” for the teachers, she said. “You have challenges with work visas and requirements from their home country. … There just weren’t any guarantees with that.”

The district has hired teachers from Korea, Canada and elsewhere through “virtual recruiting,” Martin said. But these days they’re focused more on domestic efforts, including alternative certification.

The Facebook page, along with visits to local high schools and community colleges, are aimed at raising awareness about job possibilities in the district and encouraging more young people to consider careers in teaching. Because as baby boomers retire, she said, Wichita’s teaching shortage likely will continue.

“Our workforce is aging and people are retiring, so we’re looking ahead,” Martin said.

“If we don’t have a person there (for a teaching job), that means there are children without what they need. I take that very personally, and I want to make sure I have the very best person I can find.”

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