04/06/10 — County schools plan fair to attract new teachers

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County schools plan fair to attract new teachers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 6, 2010 2:01 PM

Marvin McCoy wasn't on a team in the NCAA and he didn't have to dunk or demonstrate any athletic prowess.

But he said he still had his own version of March madness.

"I have had several individuals coming in to complete their retirement paperwork," said the assistant superintendent for human resource services for Wayne County Public Schools. "Every week my calendar was full in the afternoons of individuals wanting to retire."

Some of the mid-year exits were due to medical issues. Fortunately, those could be replenished by December graduates entering the field.

But as the school year winds down, there will be more and more veterans with 30-plus years in education stepping down.

It's all part of the "Baby Boomer Exodus," said McCoy, referring to the Post World War II baby boom. The census demographic defined the category as anyone born between 1946 and 1964.

Just as there was an influx of births in that era, there is now a mass departure as more and more near retirement age, he said.

Vacancies are also created by other situations, such as military transfers.

But lacking a definite number of anticipated July 1 retirees, coupled with the precariousness of the state budget and how allotments will play out, McCoy said it is hard to speculate on how many teachers will be needed for the fall.

This recruiting season, however, he is a bit more confident that it will be one of Wayne County's best.

The economy will be a large factor in that, he said.

"Looking at Charlotte-Mecklenburg releasing 600 teachers and Wake County, 400 -- the two biggest school systems (in the state)," he said. "So I am expecting a large turnout for our career fair. Last year we had in excess of 200 attend. How many we have this year I won't know, but I can tell you with surety that we can be selective for those hard-to-find areas -- math, science and EC (exceptional children)."

Foreign language and English-as-a-second-language teachers have been largely absorbed by VIF, or Visiting International Faculty, a program that provides educators from other countries.

VIF has played a key role in the teacher pool, McCoy said, and that will only be enhanced in the future. The previous three-year commitment has been extended, allowing participants to stay up to five years.

Partnership East has also been a welcome addition. Introduced at Wayne Community College, the teacher education program affiliated with East Carolina University afforded residents the opportunity to obtain bachelor's degree credentials locally.

"They're still doing a great job of filling our K-6 openings, and we have some non-Partnership East teachers who were former (teacher assistants) but don't have a teaching position," he said. "They'll take a priority (in hiring). A few years ago, we encouraged them to go back to school and what they bring to the table is experience."

Of course, the ideal candidates for teaching positions will be those who are dual-certified, or have more than one area of specialty.

"We need people for math/science and social studies/language arts to make up two-people teams," McCoy explained. "And in the high school, science and math are critical areas."

This year's teacher job fair is planned for Saturday, April 17, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Goldsboro High School. Information booths will be set up for each school, with individual interviews to be held throughout the event.

In some cases, letters of intent may be signed, but contracts will have to wait until budgets and teacher allotments are determined.

Wayne County has fared better than many in the state, McCoy said.

"The superintendent did an excellent job of recommending that we would not hire anyone using stimulus funds because it was soft money," he said. "We had natural attrition last year after (a state bill) did not us allow us to hire retirees. ... Our attrition this year will open up and cause us to have to hire for those specific positions.

"My sense is that we'll have more people than we can hire when the dust settles."

That's a nice position to be in, McCoy said.

With an eye toward recruiting highly qualified teachers, the landscape looks favorable for the district.

"It's an educators, a shoppers, delight because we can be picky in selecting the best," he said.

Make no mistake, though. The teacher shortage is still a problem.

Baby boomers will continue to leave, seemingly in droves, and the state is still experiencing a budget shortfall.

And while the local district consolidated its two alternative schools this year, teachers from the former Belfast and Southern academies were absorbed throughout the system.

In other parts of the state, though, entire schools have been closed and teachers were displaced.

Some of those could be expected to make their way East, showing up at career fairs like the one in Wayne County.

"It's a win-win situation for us," said McCoy, who has long been more familiar with the reverse trend of local educators seeking more lucrative offers from districts like Johnston and Wake counties.

His advice to those attending the job fair? Show up prepared to compete.

"Come dressed to impress because they have to sell themselves to the principals and the principals will be looking," he said.

The district has also done its part to keep pace in recent years. In addition to a $2,000 sign-on bonus for licensed teachers, it now offers one of the best incentive packages around, McCoy said.

"We have received tremendous support from the business community, the Chamber Education Committee and WEN (Wayne Education Network) has been phenomenal," he said.

Incentives, for new as well as returning and veteran educators, span a lot of areas that should entice teachers to work in the district -- including discounts for child care, housing programs and loan closings, as well as automotive and retail deals.

It's all part of multiple approaches to attract teachers to area schools.

"We have already been out there recruiting at colleges and out of state," he said, naming Michigan as a particularly lucrative market. "Last year along we had 600 to 700 applications from the Michigan trip."

But the emphasis goes beyond hiring qualified educators, he added. Retention is equally as important.

One of the efforts in that area, he explained, has been the revision of a mentoring program to provide support for new and incoming teachers.

"My research is showing me that money isn't the big issue as to why teachers leave within the first three to five years," he said. "It's actually support -- administrative, mentoring and organizational support."