Systems compete for new teachers

Support and bonuses among vows to rookies

July 07, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The summertime flurry to fill Maryland classrooms with qualified teachers - before the school district next door grabs them - grows more frenzied every year, as the gap between teacher vacancies and the number of newly trained graduates grows.

From traveling billboards to prime-time television commercials to free move-in money and discounts at the local Bagel Bin, school systems across the region have been forced to become more creative in the ways they attract and recruit candidates.

"School districts are trying a lot of different things," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the State Department of Education. "It's not easy out there for them."

Over the summer, the 24 Maryland school districts will need to hire about 8,000 teachers.

But the state's colleges and universities typically graduate 2,000 to 3,000 education majors - a disparity made worse because most school systems are strapped for cash and cannot offer out-of-state graduates huge salaries or hefty signing bonuses to relocate here.

So school officials have become adept at thinking outside the box, to send job candidates a solid message: You will be supported here.

"No, supply-and-demand is not on our side," said Matt Plevyak, supervisor of human resources for Harford County public schools. "All of the Maryland counties are in competition to get some of the candidates from New York and Pennsylvania, where they have a surplus."

To combat that, Harford County schools teamed with their employees' credit union to ease the way for new teachers to choose them.

The solution: an interest-free loan for up to $1,200 that new graduates can use any way they want.

"Many of the people just coming out of college are broke," Plevyak said. "Many of them are in debt, from school loans or some credit card debt. This way, they can use this money to get started that first month and still have some food money left over until they get paid."

Nearly 1,000 teachers short this year, Baltimore County officials also are trying to bulk up on the $1,000 signing bonuses, interest-free loans and other monetary incentives to get prospects to consider their school system first. They also make sure applicants know that once the money is spent, they will be supported by being paired with mentors to help them through the first year.

"Hiring good-quality teachers is becoming more and more difficult every year," said spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "And we're having to go further and further afield to find them and tout our advantages a little more loudly than we may have in the past. We want them to know we'll give them as much support as they need to get their careers off the ground here in Baltimore County."

Howard County's business community developed an innovative partnership with its school system to appeal to new and qualified teachers.

As of this year, teachers in Howard County will receive benefits that no other county residents or employees will have, such as discounts on cell phone and banking services and half-price tickets to theater performances.

Many aspects of day-to-day living are made a little more attractive for Howard's teachers, including reduced prices at athletic apparel shops, hair and nail salons and sandwiches at Bagel Bin.

"Our business community came to us and said, `We want to do something to show our teachers that we recognize as a community and as business leaders what you do for us,'" said Sue Mascaro, manager of teacher hiring for Howard's schools. "It means something to those teachers when we tell them about this [teacher incentive package]. It says if they come to Howard County, not only are we going to support them as a school system, but our business community is going to support them."

Charles Hom, 21, graduated in the spring from Towson University and, as a new teacher of math - one of the areas that systems are desperate to fill - had many attractive choices for employment. Hom said he chose Howard County because of the many ways the district's recruiters promised to support their teachers.

"I'm just waiting for the first day for them to throw all those incentives in my lap and I can just go over them all," he said. "For me, it didn't come down to money. It was just about me feeling really supported."

Officials in Carroll County know that many new teachers are looking for quick advancement, professionally and in terms of salary.

So they have developed an in-house course for new teachers, taught by Carroll's veteran educators, that goes over the practical things overlooked in traditional teacher education classes.

The yearlong course, "From Surviving to Thriving," is free to all new teachers and is good for three graduate-level credits - getting teachers closer to attaining the advanced degrees that bring them bigger paychecks.

"They will get things as simplistic or as complex as how to prepare for the first day, how to do a lesson plan, how to have a successful parent-teacher conference," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration.

Carroll officials hope the course will succeed on two levels: by preparing teachers for issues specific to Carroll County and by attracting ambitious and qualified teachers to the system.

"We're saying, `Listen. Come to Carroll County. We're going to support you,'" Guthrie said.

Anne Arundel County school officials also wanted to find new ways to attract teachers to their system.

An ad campaign that started with billboards and painted mail-delivery vans promoting the best qualities of that county's schools and neighborhoods turned into a glitzy, 30-second television commercial.

The ad aired several times a day from March to June on WBAL-TV - during soap operas and news hours - reaching prospective candidates while they lounged on their sofas at home.

"We had exposure all throughout the day," said Sharyn Doyle, supervisor of teacher personnel. "In my office alone, we had over 300 some calls [about jobs]. It was excellent. It really did help."

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