Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Most jobs filled when teachers quit schools

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

Local school districts are faring considerably better than their counterparts across the state and nation, where more baby-boomer teachers are retiring and younger teachers are leaving because of the stress of working in low-performing schools, costing many school districts huge amounts of money as they try to find replacements for the new school year.

Locally, 306 teacher positions had to be filled and 22 positions are still vacant, with special-education teachers being among the hardest to find in most neighboring districts, as well as across the state.


PCSSD

The Pulaski County Special School District needed 202 new teachers this year, more than last year, with 22 teachers still needed as of Thursday. Seven of those still-vacant positions were for schools in Sherwood and Jacksonville.

North Pulaski High School was still looking for an English/journalism teacher and a special-education teacher, but principal Sonny Bull said the special-education slot has been filled.

According to the district’s enrollment numbers, it appears PCSSD needs a half-day English teacher and a half-day biology teacher.

Taylor Elementary is still seeking a literature specialist. Arnold Elementary was sent a surplus teacher last week to fill the vacant primary classroom teacher position. Jacksonville Elementary has filled its open position for a Saturday-school teacher, Principal Gary Beck said.

Jacksonville Middle School Boys needed two special-education teachers, but Principal Michael Nellums said one had been hired.

Substitute teachers are being used in those classrooms until the positions are filled, Deborah Coley, PCSSD’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said.

According to Coley, the hardest positions to fill in PCSSD this year are special-education slots, but most of the time the district has plenty of hopeful applicants.

“We usually have more applications turned in than we have positions open for,” Coley said. “We have a lot of applications come in for elementary teacher positions, too.”

Coley said the district had trouble finding a Spanish teacher last year, but this year the gap is in special education. “Filling upper- level science positions are sometimes hard also,” she added.

Some of those 22 vacancies are because the district had teachers on contract leave earlier in August for other jobs, Coley said.

PCSSD schools have 1,366 certified teachers on 38 campuses, several of whom have been with the district for more than 20 years.


CABOT

The Cabot School District hired 70 new teachers this year after seeing 15 retire from the district in May, some after teaching in Cabot schools for more than 20 years.

Of the 70 new teachers, most were replacements and 22 were hired for new positions with the opening of the new Stagecoach Elementary School, Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said.

“We are fortunate in that we are able to attract quality applicants to Cabot,” Thurman said. “There are positions that are more difficult to fill, but we’ve been able to maintain a very high standard for new faculty members.”

The more challenging positions to fill within Cabot are special education, gifted and talented, counseling and media, Thurman said, adding the district is beginning to have problems finding secondary- math applicants.

Cabot schools employ 680 certified teachers and usually have an abundance of teacher applications every school year, especially in the P-4 (birth to fourth-grade) certification area, Thurman said.

Typically, once new teachers are hired in the Cabot district they don’t want to leave. Cabot recognized 18 people last year for working in the district for 15 years, 16 for 20 years, nine for 25 years and six for 30 years.

Those who leave do so when they retire or when they are moving away from the area, Thurman said.

According to Lisa Baker, the district’s director of personnel, the general consensus among newly hired teachers during a new teacher in-service held in August was how proud they were to be part of the Cabot district and the amount of support provided to the teachers.

“Most everyone said they couldn’t believe they were in Cabot,” Baker said, “Every year we get such quality teachers. We take care of them and try our best to support them in everything they do,” she said.


Beebe

The Beebe School District hired 17 new teachers for this school year, Superintendent Dr. Belinda Shook said. That number is higher than usual this year because of the pre-kindergarten program the district started, as well as a larger group of students at the secondary level, Shook said.

Of the 17, five were hired for the pre-K program, 11 were hired as full-time instructors and one is part-time.

“We added a couple of positions for a EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) Lab, and that was a choice we made to add the position,” Shook said. “We hired a part-time math teacher for remediation; a fourth art teacher because our art program has grown so. We also added a few new special education teachers and an additional third- and fourth-grade teacher.”

The district usually needs to hire only about four new teachers each year, Shook said, and most of the vacancies have an abundance of applicants. The hardest areas to fill are for secondary math and special-education teachers.

“We receive many applications because we are centrally located and have numerous colleges around us,” Shook said.

“We have a really good atmosphere and are focused on academics and the students. Having good students is a plus, too. We have great students who go here, and that makes teachers want to come here,” Shook said.

She said she is pleased with the excellent group of new teachers. “We’re fortunate to attract those who want to be here with the kids and do a good job,” Shook said.

Beebe schools have 185 certified teachers and see an average of five teachers retire each year, the superintendent said.
As for teachers leaving the district, Shook said most employees have been in Beebe their whole career – like herself, but it depends on their personal situation.


Lonoke

According to Superintendent Sharron Havens, 17 new teachers were hired for the 2007-08 school year, the average number the district needs yearly.

“We usually need to hire about 15-20 each year,” Havens said.

At Lonoke Primary School, a pre-kindergarten through second-grade campus, three new teachers were hired. At the elementary school, four new teachers were needed for third- through fifth-grade. Lonoke Middle School has two new teachers this year and the high school has eight.

Havens said some teachers transferred around the district, but only 17 new people were hired. While most positions fill easily, Havens said a choral-music teacher was the hardest to find for this school year.

“Math and foreign-language teachers are sometimes a problem filling, too,” Havens said. “And a vocational agriculture teacher is sometimes difficult, but we found a new teacher from the Cabot area this year.”

Statewide

Although there are more than 31,000 teachers in Arkansas’ 251 school districts, according to the Arkansas Department of Education, the state is among those that continue to need teachers in critical-shortage areas.

According to the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Reten-tion at ADE, academic areas in need of teachers include math, foreign languages, special education and English as a second language. There is also a shortage of minority teachers in the state.

For the 2007-08 school year, ADE listed the following areas as critical academic teacher licensure shortage areas: art, middle childhood math, science, English/language arts and social studies; foreign language, secondary science, secondary mathematics and special education; gifted and talented, library media, and guidance and counseling were listed as teacher- endorsement shortage areas.

Nationally, according to the most recent Department of Education statistics available, about 269,000 of the nation’s 3.2 million public school teachers, or 8.4 percent, quit the field in the 2003-04 school year; 30 percent retired and 56 percent left to pursue other careers or because they were dissatisfied.

According to the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, 1,900 teachers, an unaudited figure, re-tired this past school year.