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August 23, 2018

School officials battle teacher recruiting challenge

Contributed Photo
A 2018 Liberty High School graduate, Tatiana Younger works with a math class while enrolled in the Teachers for Tomorrow course.
I don't want us to hit the panic button, but I do feel that we need to take both conventional and non-conventional approaches. A good example of a conventional approach is raising teacher salaries significantly. This has got to be a priority moving forward into the next budget season.
— Superintendent David Jeck
By Tara Helkowski
Public Information Officer
Fauquier County Public Schools

Facing a nationwide teacher shortage, Fauquier public school administrators realized it was time to think differently about recruiting.

The Department of Human Resources stepped up its hiring campaign, incorporating nontraditional tactics to attract qualified candidates. And, the efforts have paid off. Just one week into the new school year, the system has filled 120 certified vacancies, leaving only 10 certified positions open.

Superintendent David Jeck believes in taking a patient, yet steadfast approach to fill the remaining positions.

“We are feeling the teacher shortage issue more this year than in any other year,” Dr. Jeck said. “Our principals are not going to settle for candidates who they do not feel are good fits in their buildings or with their kids.

“If that means we open with 10 vacancies out of about 1,000 teaching positions, then that is the situation we are going to have to manage. We shouldn't settle. Our principals understand this. It is not ideal by any stretch, but I believe it is the correct approach. We are blessed with excellent long-term subs. We are very fortunate in that respect."

Traditionally, critical teacher shortage areas have included special education, elementary education, ESL (English as a second language), science and secondary math. These days, the impact of the teacher shortage is being felt across the board, and all endorsement areas are difficult to fill.

Despite the challenges, Human Resources Director Janelle Downes is pleased with the progress.

“Out of 1,000 Fauquier County Public Schools teachers, only 0.03 percent are teaching courses outside of the endorsement area,” Ms. Downes said.

The teacher shortage is forcing school systems across the country and state to be creative in their efforts to attract and retain educators. Fauquier’s neighboring school systems report experiencing similar hiring challenges, with several having more teacher vacancies this year than at the same time last year.

The hiring challenge fueled the determination of the FCPS recruitment effort. The HR team held local job fairs quarterly and traveled to 37 job fairs in Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. As a result, Fauquier recruiters connected with more than 569 individuals and hired 34 qualified applicants.

Recruiters presented potential candidates with a total compensation brochure, highlighting the robust benefits package offered by FCPS.  The recent opening of the Fauquier County Employee Wellness Center has enhanced its appeal.

The annual local teacher job fair has been a recruitment staple for the past 19 years, attracting applicants from across the nation, including Hawaii and Alaska. More than 250 applicants attend each year and are interviewed by school administrators for on-the-spot hiring.

The HR team moved beyond traditional job fairs, recruiting at Warrenton Town Limits in June and at Chick-fil-A in July. County schools hired two teachers from the Chick-fil-A event. The human resources department also has leveraged social media in the hunt for new teachers by actively promoting openings on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Another way the school division is working to alleviate the teacher shortage is by investing in a teacher cadet program. Liberty High School is in its second year piloting the Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow course.

Designed to grow teachers locally, it serves as an introduction to a career in education. Students learn about topics such as school law and learning styles. They gain experience by shadowing a teacher daily for three weeks while working with small groups of students, grading and teaching lessons.

Students also shadow other staff members, including custodians, nutrition workers, administrators, office assistants and counselors to see how an entire school staff works together to educate children. The course culminates with each student creating a portfolio and participating in mock interviews.

Enrollment in the Teachers for Tomorrow course has nearly tripled from last year, expanding from one section to two. FCPS has hired three of last year’s teacher cadets to serve as substitute teachers and SOL testing proctors for 2018-19. Those positions will continue to provide students with teaching and school experience as part of their college journey.

This year, 19 percent of new hires (23 teachers) were graduates of Fauquier County Public Schools.

HR is working to identify potential certified employees from within the existing FCPS workforce as well. After hosting multiple career path meetings for classified employees, four bus drivers became teachers, and nine instructional assistants have moved into teacher roles this year.

Substitute orientations, customarily held to attract a temporary workforce, have helped school administrators identify candidates who are ready to teach, but not aware of the process to get started. Five teachers have been hired through those monthly orientations.

The Virginia Department of Education helps recruit and retain teachers with creative paths to licensure to attract career switchers. Virginia lawmakers made it easier this year for in-state teachers to renew their licenses and out-of-state teachers to get licenses here. As of July 1, renewable licenses get issued for 10 years, instead of five.

“We have to hire patiently and attract the best people,” Dr. Jeck said. “Sometimes that takes time. I've talked to other superintendents in the region who have dozens of vacancies, even into the hundreds.

“I don't want us to hit the panic button, but I do feel that we need to take both conventional and non-conventional approaches. A good example of a conventional approach is raising teacher salaries significantly. This has got to be a priority moving forward into the next budget season.”
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homeward611 · August 25, 2018 at 10:13 pm
My mother was a teacher, public schools for 30 years though in a different state. Salaries are lower than most ppl would like, especially when considering the amount of education (both time and cost) necessary. My mother worked in the city to make more money and she was lucky in that regard. A couple things to consider here though. First off that low starting salary of - what is it, $40-50k - that's for 9 months work. If it were the full 12 months it would be 55-70/annually. Many folks in many other industries start out around that range fresh out of school.
Also consider the benefits that come with a teacher role. At least in my mothers case, the teachers union she was in provided absurdly great health insurance. My father worked for Westinghouse, and we used my mothers health insurance for everything - not sure we really ever had anything out of pocket (or out of her paycheck for that matter). Not to mention a FULL pension at 30 years - again nothing out of her pocket for that.
Not trying to say teachers shouldn't make more money (I have 3 kids in the district right now and want the teachers happy 😊, just wanted to post some other information to think about here..
Also, maybe the school districts could save $$ by loosening the education requirements for the lower grades? idk
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