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Schools shop for talent at state Teach-In

Recruiters interview candidates at a job fair that attracted 2,000, and lines form for choice assignments.

Published June 17, 2003

KISSIMMEE - June Parlett of Tampa has wanted to be a teacher for 20 years. She got her certificate in 1983, but the job market soured just when she started looking.

So she went into nursing, then art, then computers.

But with teachers now in high demand, in part because of the state's constitutional mandate to reduce class size, the 55-year-old Parlett has decided to try again. She was among 2,000 hopefuls Monday at the Great Florida Teach-In, a job fair sponsored by the Florida Department of Education.

"I've had so many careers," Parlett said, while signing up for interviews with the Hernando and Pasco county school districts. "But I've never given up on being an art teacher.'

Recruiters from 57 districts and charter schools crowded into the Hyatt Orlando convention center for the three-day "Teach-In," which was a whirl of activity.

Applicants waited in long lines to sign up for 30 minutes of face time with recruiters from the districts that interested them. Meanwhile, recruiters from other districts approached with their best pitch.

Hernando County school administrators have to fill as many as 110 teaching vacancies by the fall. They tried to snare a few of the applicants standing in line for interviews with the Seminole County school district.

"We're not waiting for them," said John Elwell, Hernando's coordinator of certification, equity, recruitment and retention. "We're actually recruiting.'

In less than an hour, many districts had filled all their interview times. Some sliced their half-hour spots in half to accommodate the onslaught. Others decided to start the interviews early and extend them past the 6 p.m. close.

Citrus County, with 32 vacancies, had another administrator drive over Monday so the district could squeeze in a few extra interviews.

"We're overbooking," personnel director Steve Richardson said. "We're not hurting for applicants."

Most years, the state needs to hire about 15,000 teachers to offset retirements and accommodate student growth. But this year, the first in which class sizes are supposed to get smaller, Florida districts are looking to hire 22,000 new teachers.

Marian Lauria-Davis, the teacher recruitment supervisor for Hillsborough schools, said her district needs about 700 teachers. She hoped to find 50 to 60 candidates at the job fair.

As always, one specialty stood out.

"Special ed is at the top of the list, the middle of the list and the bottom of the list," Lauria-Davis said.

She cut short an interview with a reporter to talk to Pauline Hewitt after learning that Hewitt wanted to teach in that hard-to-find field. The two women spent five minutes coordinating schedules to make sure Hewitt would get an interview as soon as possible.

"Ultimately, what you really want is a job," said Hewitt, 40, a school psychologist from Jamaica who flew in for the Teach-In. She also had time scheduled with Palm Beach, Broward and Collier counties.

"I'm looking forward to getting a place," she said.

One of the most active operations belonged to Pasco County, which had 44 tables set up. Half were for personality-type reviews; half were to discuss jobs with those who qualified.

"We're sitting here waiting for high-quality teachers to score that score," said Myra Croft, a Pasco middle school assistant principal looking for a math teacher.

Conversations often overlapped, but somehow everyone focused. There was a lot of waiting.

Between interviews, candidates swamped the halls. They shared war stories. Some pored over maps and pay schedules. Some headed off to copy resumes and fax just-completed job applications.

Two people played Uno.

Occasionally, just by hovering, an applicant lucked into a time missed by someone else.

"You're science?" Hernando County middle school assistant principal Carmine Rufa asked, pointing to a woman who wasn't on his schedule until hours later. "Come on in.'

Few deals were sealed after the short interviews. But Sarah Green, a Miami-based adjunct professor of composition, said it wasn't hard to tell how you had done.

"He could have said, "Thank you for your time. It was nice meeting you.' Those you can forget," Green, 32, said after her interview with Hernando County middle school principal Dave Schoelles.

Instead, he invited her to Hernando County to meet with his wife, Tizzy, who runs the county's newest high school.

"The fact that I'm even going over to see it is very positive," said Green, who placed Hernando among her top five choices for a job. "Very positive."

Starting pay

Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties pay their teachers starting salaries that exceed the state average. Citrus and Hernando counties do not. The starting salaries listed below are for teachers with a bachelors degree and no experience.

Citrus -$27,600

Hernando - $26,600

Hillsborough -$30,502

Pasco -$31,000

Pinellas -$30,700

State -$27,850

- Source: Florida Department of Education

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