Nearly halfway into the city school system's academic year and still unable to offer required Algebra II and geometry classes because of a teacher shortage, Reginald F. Lewis High's principal, Federico Adams, took a desperate measure: He turned to a private company.
Adams told the Baltimore school board this month that he had canvassed the community and local colleges for prospective teachers without success.
Obtaining a math instructor through the tutoring firm, which also provides temporary instructors, he said, was the only chance that about 30 of the North Baltimore school's seniors - who have not taken those required courses - would be able to graduate in June.
Although the city school system uses temporary instructors from private agencies for special-education vacancies, which are difficult to fill, it is unusual for a principal to go to such lengths to find teachers for regular curriculum courses, officials said.
Diane Bell-McCoy, a board member, praised Adams "for going after an innovative solution to make sure your seniors can graduate," just before the board approved a $23,000 contract for the private instructor's services for the second semester. Board Vice Chairman Brian Morris asked whether the agency had other teachers available.
Principals are free to look for teachers so long as no board policy or state regulations are violated, said Jeffery N. Grotsky, the system's chief of staff. "Principals sometimes have to do what they have to do," Grotsky said.
School officials have had problems finding enough qualified candidates willing to work in city schools. Faced with a persistent shortage of teachers recently - 200 vacant slots in September and about 150 as of last month - officials have had to resort to increasingly extreme measures.
William Boden, the city schools' human resources director, said that his department has hired more than 200 teachers in the last four months but has not made much of a dent in the number of vacancies because so many teachers have left the system for various reasons.
"We're on top, pouring water in, and at the bottom you've got a hole in the bucket," Boden said.
School system recruiters have been looking for teachers in eight states other than Maryland, including in urban school districts that have recently laid off teachers.
Recruiters also have been going overseas to find teachers for next school year. They have gone twice to the Philippines in the last three months to hire teachers for math, science and special-education positions.
There are about 6,500 teachers employed by the system, according to the teachers' union. Boden said the system needs to hire 1,000 teachers by next school year to fill positions it expects will be vacated by teachers who retire or quit.
School officials cautioned that solutions such as the one found by Adams are only a temporary fix. "This is certainly a Band-Aid," Grotsky said. "The problem is much bigger."
Teachers union officials oppose the use of contractual teachers and the system's overseas recruitment effort.
"I don't think they do what they need to do to find teachers" through conventional means, said Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
Diane Brock, president of Reginald F. Lewis' Parent, Teacher and Student Association, said she was pleased that Adams found a math teacher, but that the principal should not have had to do the human resources department's work.
"That's not acceptable," said Brock, who directed Adams to the company, owned by a friend. Principals "have other jobs they have to perform inside the school."
Strive Educational Services is a small Baltimore firm that provides tutoring services through about 20 individual subcontractors. Brock's friend, Jeffrey Wright, the founder of the company, said in an interview that he has placed teachers in a Catholic school in Atlanta.
The woman who will be sent to teach math at Reginald F. Lewis next semester holds a bachelor's degree in math, computer science and social science, according to the contract approved by the school board.