Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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New teachers get official welcome

Preparing for his new job as a teacher in the Clark County School District, 22-year-old Gary Dagres of Kingsman, Ohio, decided to do a little research into the community to which he had agreed to move, sight-unseen.

"I watched 'CSI' a few times," Dagres joked Thursday at the district's new teacher welcome luncheon at UNLV's Cox Pavilion. "My mom didn't like that much, when she saw the show and saw where I was going."

Dagres is just one of about 2,000 new teachers who have been hired for the 2005-06 academic year. The welcome luncheon is split over two days in order to accommodate the crowds.

And as of Thursday the district had 278 additional teaching positions still to fill, with 168 of those in special education.

In the past week the district has hired 12 high school math teachers but still needs 24 more. Also at the secondary level there are vacancies for 24 English and reading teachers, 11 teachers of English as a Second Language, 11 science teachers and nine Spanish teachers.

When classes begin Aug. 29, the district will need a full staff of more than 2,250 new teachers. Long-term substitutes will be placed in any vacancies that remain at that time, with the positions taken over by full-time teachers as they become available, said George Ann Rice, associate superintendent of human resources for the district. Hiring for the upcoming school year will continue through February.

Dagres is one of 72 new hires from the Teach for America program, which trains recent college graduates to work in high-need communities and at-risk schools.

He arrived in Las Vegas at the end of June and spent the past weeks attending Teach for America workshops and training sessions, preparing for his first day as a fourth grade teacher at Jeffers Elementary School.

He's already learned that there's a lot more to Clark County than what's represented on the popular television drama, and so far he likes what he sees.

"I just graduated college, and it's good to get started with my life here," Dagres said. "I'm excited to be part of this community."

The Teach for America teachers are a critical part of this year's new hires, said Lina Gutierrez, executive director of licensed personnel for the district.

"They get special training and go into our neediest schools," Gutierrez said. "That's what we need, individuals who are willing to give back to the community."

With the teacher shortage expected to be at a record high, the district's search went international for the first time, hiring 51 from the Philippines, 14 from Spain as well as several from Canada. The teachers were all hired on special three-year contracts.

One of the Filipino recruits, Florisa Osalvo, said she views her new job as a special education teacher at Robison Middle School as an opportunity to help students in both Clark County and her home country.

"I want to share my knowledge and skills that I already have with children here," said Osalvo, 27, who has been teaching for six years and is working toward a master's degree. "I also want to learn. In the Philippines special education is not as accessible for students as it is here because it is so expensive.

"I want to go back and share what I learn here with other teachers."

Clark County also offered a unique opportunity for science teacher Mark Sather of Owatonna, Minn., a city of 20,000 residents south of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Sather had been teaching students with habitual discipline issues at a an alternative school in a former utilities building with no laboratory facilities.

"In Minnesota you have biology teachers coming out the wazoo," said Sather, who has been assigned to Las Vegas High School. "I'll have better chances here."

Agustin Orci, the district's co-interim superintendent, welcomed the teachers at Thursday's luncheon by asking them to picture in their minds their own favorite teacher.

"You remember them because they valued you and they cared about you and you felt that from them," Orci said. "Twenty years or 30 years from now, when someone asks your student who their best teacher was, I hope you come their mind because you went the extra mile."

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