08/10/11 — Teacher spots nearly all filled

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Teacher spots nearly all filled

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 10, 2011 1:46 PM

With only a couple of weeks remaining before students return to the classroom, school officials say they are confident all teaching positions will be filled.

Despite growing numbers of retirees each spring, not to mention anticipated cutbacks from the state making the replenishing process more precarious, the district will make it work, said Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resource services.

The school system has an estimated 1,246 teachers and 481 instructional assistants, with 266 educators in the beginning teachers program.

"When we looked at this year and where we stand, having 71 people total to retire at the retirement ceremony, the question is, how many of those were teachers?" he said.

"Viewing my list, I had 31 teachers, classroom teachers, on that retirement list but then I had 12 that changed employment and they could be moving, relocating with the military or moving to other school districts to be closer to home."

Between retirements mid-year and early summer, McCoy said there were a total of 66 openings last year. But that didn't factor in state cutbacks.

"We had basically a 15 percent cut from the state with allotments," he said, explaining that the state says, based on student population, schools are authorized a certain number of teaching positions. That could change, though, after the 10-day count at the start of the school year.

In the meantime, Wayne County Public Schools is making preparations, interviewing for specialty areas and classroom teachers almost daily.

"There are some teachers, we had one to come in to retire last week," McCoy said. "I had some teachers that resigned from their schools last week while we were at the (administrative) retreat, to take jobs closer to where they live. That's something we can't do anything about."

Fortunately, in some cases, there has been "internal movement" where instructional assistants completed their teaching degrees, graduating in time to move into positions vacated by retirees.

By contrast, there are inherently some roles that can't be as easily filled, those on short-term disability or workman's comp, for example.

"That's a vacancy that can't be filled by a teacher with benefits," McCoy said. "It's hard to find people to come and work without benefits.

"This is where the military really helps us out because they have benefits ... sometimes (a military spouse) will come in and say, 'I don't need the benefits. I just want to teach.'"

McCoy is also responsible for hiring in support areas at the schools. Guidance counselors, health and physical education and specialty areas are currently at capacity, he said.

Jobs in the secretarial and custodial areas are a bit trickier to fill, he said, as state funding continues to ebb and flow.

"We'll make it work with what we have," he noted. "Our operation sends support, rotating support to the schools where they're needed.

"We have a couple custodians -- more than a couple -- out on short-term disability. We're awaiting their return but you don't know if their return is going to happen ... their position cannot be filled with anyone with benefits."

McCoy said he just completed internal transfers, repositioning some staff, shifting others around as needed. He remains optimistic every school will have what it needs.

"Basically in two weeks, I will know where we stand, to say, 'This is a definite shortage area,'" he said. "Like for instance EC (exceptional children), there will be pending shortages in the EC program but that's statewide. I think we're faring well with the math and science (teachers).

"So actually by a week from this Friday, we'll have a firm grasp on all of our positions and the schools."

He noted that there has been an "abundance" of candidates for K-6 teaching positions this year, with interviews currently going on around the county with them.

"We had approximately 60 beginning teachers, which almost mirrored our retirement/resignations and that training is going on now for the mandatory 10-day training for ones going into the classroom," he said.

Typically, recruitment efforts include attending career fairs and visiting states where the teaching shortage is not as critical. As the school year draws nearer, though, technology becomes a valuable resource.

The state's Department of Public Instruction has a human resources management capability, allowing school districts to view a database of applicants and make contacts.

Interviews could continue up to the start of school, McCoy said. Teachers are slated to return to the classroom on Aug. 18, with students to arrive on Aug. 24.

In many respects, the district is more fortunate than some, he said, thanks to internal transfers and attrition, preventing job loss to those currently employed in the district. As for last-minute changes and departures, McCoy said the bulk of those could be attributed to the economy and people opting to find employment closer to home.

"Yes, that takes us by surprise, but I understand that," he said. "However, the vacancies left by those people were an easy fill by the vast number of teacher candidates in the field. We're prepared to start full."

Despite the hectic summer months and efforts in anticipation of another school year, officials are excited, McCoy said, citing last week's annual Summer Institute -- a four-day conference geared to provide tools and resources educators -- as an example.

"New and veteran teachers showed up. We had more than 300 information booklets printed and we had none left over," he said. "The teachers were motivated and going through the sessions, receiving teaching strategies to help them be more effective in the classroom. We're looking for great things from our teaching staff."

Sixty first-year teachers attended, McCoy said, as well as second- and third-year teachers and instructional assistants, the latter a particular area of concern as the state budget plays out.