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Lures added for teachers at poorest schools

Published March 3, 2005

Teachers aren't lining up for job interviews at Cleveland Elementary School, just off Interstate 275 near a public housing complex.

And teacher resumes aren't flying off the fax machine at rural Wimauma Elementary, where 97 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.

"Teachers flock to schools that are more well-known, typically that are socially and economically advantaged," said Byron Williams, an administrator in the Hillsborough school district's Office of Teacher Recruitment.

But it's children in high-poverty schools that most need experienced teachers, says assistant superintendent Gwen Luney. So the district, which is working to raise academic achievement among poor and minority students, is going to give those schools a leg up this year in teacher recruitment.

The district will offer a 10 percent salary increase to any teacher who agrees to work at one of the 23 Hillsborough schools where at least 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch. That's up from a 5 percent bump this year.

And the district will give those teachers a full day's wage, rather than a small stipend, for any training sessions they attend.

Principals at high-poverty schools also will get help. The district will give them first crack at interviewing and hiring job applicants, and special training in how to keep teachers once they join their staff.

"It's great that they have the awareness and see the importance of this," said Phyllis Rodriguez, the principal at Cleveland Elementary. "Unless we get these fine teachers in urban schools and they have a strong commitment to the students, we're not going to meet the challenges of the FCAT."

Cleveland Elementary has been lucky to find several excellent teachers, and many who join the staff remain for years, said Rodriguez, who has worked there 21 years. But some do not have the experience necessary to do well in a school where children have multiple needs - not all academic - and parents aren't as savvy as those in wealthier communities.

Wimauma, though rural, faces similar problems.

The school is about 85 percent Hispanic, and Spanish is the first language for many of the children. About 20 percent of the teachers leave every year.

Wimauma principal Eric Cantrell says he has to actively market the campus to find educators willing to take on the challenges at his school.

"This is not everyone's cup of tea," Cantrell said.

Unfortunately, the district has seen many of its poorest schools wind up with its least experienced teachers, Luney said. They often are desperate for jobs and take whatever is available. And principals hire them, having few alternatives.

Though "wonderful and great," Luney says, those teachers have not dealt with children who don't have books at home and parents who don't view education as a major priority.

Luney is hopeful a mix of pay incentives, training opportunities and support networks will attract veteran educators to impoverished schools. Once they see the opportunities, they will stay, Luney predicts.

"I think it will make a difference. I sure hope so," she said. "These children are not going to go away."

School Board members have signaled their support for such initiatives. During a meeting this week, they talked about additional ideas to attract and retain good teachers at poor schools. They include offering two-year contracts and promising a choice of positions when a teacher decides to transfer.

Cantrell welcomes the new attention to an old issue.

"I look at it like this. Basically, they're taking our back," he said. "They're taking our corner, and it's not just talk."

The district plans to have an urban schoolteacher expo in April, and will dedicate the first day of its annual teacher job fair in June to high-poverty schools.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or

[Last modified March 3, 2005, 01:00:10]

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