Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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Welcome to Vegas, welcome to teaching

It's been a busy year for the Clark County School District, as it scrambles to find the more than 3,000 teachers it will need when classes begin in in less than two weeks. All figures are as of Aug. 13.

Total classroom teacher vacancies: 445

Elementary: 174 | Secondary: 271

Other licensed personnel vacancies (specialists and counselors): 195

Approved applicants currently available for hire:

Elementary: 1,908 | Secondary: 553

Special education: 157

Career fairs: 125

Satellite events: 115

Conference/campus visits: 29

Total contracts offered: 2,461

Elementary: 1,472 | Secondary: 989

Total contracts accepted: 1,690

Elementary: 989 | Secondary: 701

Hired pending acceptance of offer: 131

Elementary: 89 | Secondary: 42

Source: Clark County School District human resources division

After the chicken and tortellini but before the carrot cake, Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes asked all new teachers from somewhere other than Southern Nevada to raise their hands.

And up they went, from nearly all of the more than 700 rookies seated in the Cox Pavilion on Wednesday for a welcome luncheon and orientation.

"That's sort of amazing, isn't it?" Rulffes said.

Whitefish, Mont., was represented, as were Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Miami and Columbus, Ohio.

Indeed, 2,000 teachers showing up for work in Clark County this week are newcomers to the profession, and there's still a need for more.

With classes starting Aug. 27, the district this week needed to fill 445 classroom positions and nearly 200 vacancies for counselors and specialists. Those are about the same numbers the district faced at this time last year.

To Stephanie Vogel, who did her student teaching in Clark County this summer after graduating from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Las Vegas is the land of opportunity. There are few teaching jobs available in her home state of New Jersey, "and so many people are applying for that one position," Vogel said. "If you don't have experience or know someone, you're not going to get the job."

Like many other teachers at the luncheon, Vogel said she envisions staying in Clark County for three to five years before moving on.

The School District will have about 19,000 teachers on the payroll when school starts - and if the past holds true, roughly half of this year's new hires will leave within five years, often after gaining the requisite experience to land a job at a school back home. It's also one of the reasons the district has had to fill 3,000 vacancies for each of the past three years.

That's one statistic the district is determined to tackle this year, by offering incoming teachers more support, mentoring and opportunities for professional development.

Vogel said she's pleased with what she's seen so far and was warmly welcomed at Thorpe Elementary School. Rather than living alone, she's sharing a house with another teacher and a third roommate in Henderson. Vogel said roommates will provide a social network, which is important "because I don't know anybody here."

Vanessa Aragon, who will teach at Ries Elementary School, opted to live by herself. And that's proving a little bit scary for the new college grad, even in the gated complex where she's renting an apartment.

"I watch a lot of 'CSI,' which is probably not the best idea," said Aragon, who is also from New Jersey.

The classroom vacancies aren't because of a lack of approved applicants. The district's pool holds nearly 2,000 names for elementary school positions and 553 more qualified for middle and high school instruction.

The challenge is to fill each vacanc y with the right teacher, not just a warm body, said Martha Tittle, head of the district's human resources division. The standards were not lowered even when the district faced a steep decline in applications this spring , Tittle said.

Since September the district has interviewed more than 7,800 candidates, attended 125 job fairs and 115 other events , and made 29 visits to conferences and campuses. There were also several trips overseas for international hires, which yielded mixed results.

Nearly 2,500 offers have been made, with 1,690 acceptances.

The district typically fills several hundred vacancies each year with long-term substitute assignments.

Last year, the district realized the size of the freshman class of teachers exceeded the Cox Pavilion' s capacity and added a third day to the schedule of welcome luncheons. Gov. Jim Gibbons and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are to attend today's event.

At Wednesday's luncheon, Clark County School Board President Ruth Johnson told the teachers the district "doesn't just want your time - we want your hearts and your minds." Winning them over isn't going easy, given the cost of living in Clark County, which can be particularly challenging for a first-year teacher earning roughly $33,000.

Willard Clites, a Brigham Young University graduate who will teach fourth grade at Hal Smith Elementary School, said he had planned to teach overseas at a U.S. military base, but changed his mind after completing his student teaching in Clark County this summer.

"It was a great experience and it really got me thinking about staying," Clites said. "If they keep on doing what they're doing in terms of support (for new teachers), I think they'll hold on to a lot of people."

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