Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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EDUCATION:

Recruiting blitz on even as teachers await layoffs

School District has dozens of openings in specialized subjects

Here’s one of the paradoxes facing the Clark County School District: Even as hundreds of teachers await word on whether their positions are being eliminated, recruiters are on a nationwide hunt to fill hundreds of critical, hard-to-fill jobs.

Among them are 19 math, 27 science and 22 special education teaching jobs at the middle school level, and 32 math, 28 science and 43 special ed teaching positions at the high school level.

Those numbers are expected to increase this summer as teachers quit, retire or move up to administrative positions. Filling those vacancies isn’t as easy as shuffling the existing pool of teachers, because not everyone is qualified for the high-need areas, nor does everyone want those jobs.

The teachers sought by the district are supposed to be “highly qualified,” meaning they have demonstrated competence in the subject areas they teach. In most cases teachers earn endorsements on their licenses by passing national exams.

The district intends to eliminate about 540 teaching positions in grades 1-3, a result of class-size increases approved by the Legislature to help close a $145 million deficit in state funding. The majority of those teachers are unlikely to be qualified to fill vacancies at the secondary level.

The district will try to find them alternative teaching positions before the school year begins in August.

But it’s almost certain that the district will still need to hire math, science and special ed teachers by August, as well as school nurses, speech pathologists and other licensed personnel.

Over the past 10 months, the School District has sent volunteer recruiters — pulled from the administrative ranks — across the country to look for teaching talent. There have been 32 trips in all, costing about $85,000 in federal grant funding. (And no, that money can’t be redirected for another purpose. If the district doesn’t use it for recruiting, it loses it. )

They’ve gone to places such as a national science teachers convention in Philadelphia and a conference in Boston of educators who teach English as a second language. And there was a recent job fair for allied health professionals in Los Angeles, prime territory for finding much-need school nurses.

Wherever possible the district tries to hire local candidates, but there aren’t enough qualified people to fill the need, said Martha Tittle, the district’s human resources chief. And with massive layoffs and school closures taking place in urban districts nationwide, the timing is ripe for Clark County to potentially land top talent.

As tough as the situation is right now for Southern Nevada educators, it’s almost certainly worse in places such as Ohio, Florida, New York and parts of California, where severe budget cuts in public education will likely mean teacher layoffs in thousands, rather than hundreds.

To be sure, when layoffs loom, flexibility in a teacher’s resume is a benefit — and the region’s colleges are stressing that in their curriculums.

UNLV’s College of Education expects this year to graduate 300 students who will be seeking teaching jobs. Thanks to a partnership with the Clark County School District, the university’s students spend their final year of study working in classrooms with veteran teachers as their mentors, said professor Sandra Odell, chairwoman of the curriculum and instruction department.

The College of Education recently added a requirement that students at least begin the path to certification in teaching English as a second language before graduating. And all students in the elementary education program are urged to earn an endorsement to teach special education, as well.

The vast majority of UNLV’s education graduates have gone on to full-time teaching jobs, many of them in Clark County, Odell said. However, UNLV students “like all Nevadans are concerned about the economic crisis our state, schools and university are facing,” Odell said. “We’ve gone from a school district that was hiring 3,000 new teachers as recently as a couple of years ago to the potential that they will be hiring very few.”

That’s one of the reasons why Nevada State College encourages its education students to train to teach English as a second language, and urges them to consider specializing in high-need fields, said Lori Navarette, dean of the program.

NSC expects to graduate about 40 education students this year, all of whom are doing their internships in local schools. Navarette estimated that a quarter of the graduates would be eligible to fill high-need positions in special education, math and science.

A federal appropriation secured by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid covers the cost of education students’ tuition beginning in their junior years if they major in math or science.

Julie Foley, who will graduate in a few weeks with a degree in elementary education from NSC, said she’s staying optimistic about her career prospects.

“We’ve seen this happen before — enough people leave over the summer that the district still needs to hire,” said Foley, who spent five years as a long-term substitute teacher in local public schools before deciding to return to college. “I’m a little nervous but I think it will all work out at the end, I really do.”

To improve her chances of getting hired, Foley is working on a certificate to teach English as a second language. But she didn’t consider giving up her goal of teaching elementary education for training for a more in-demand area.

“I like the elementary-school age because you see the kids change so much from the beginning of the year,” Foley said. “You have to do what you love.”

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