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New teachers ready to find their seats

When school starts Tuesday, nearly 9,000 teachers will be ready to greet Pinellas County’s 111,000 students.

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published August 6, 2006


Mark O’Hara wanted to escape the storms of upstate New York. Rhonda Milner was looking for a new challenge. Shelly Morrow wanted to come back home.

All three are among nearly 800 teachers either new to the

NEW TEACHERSBY THE NUMBERS

31,791: New teachers needed in Florida this school year

11,821: Number of those attributable to class-size reduction

15,738: Number of those attributable to resignations, retirements

749: Number of new hires so far in Pinellas County

99: Number of Pinellas spots still open
Sources: Florida Department of Education, Pinellas County Schools

profession or new to Pinellas who, along with 8,000 other educators, will greet the district’s 111,000 students when classes resume Tuesday.

Despite the need to hire a record number of teachers this year, fewer than 100 vacancies remained by noon Friday, district officials said. They expect those openings to be filled by the end of today.

“I think we’ve got a great crop,” said Harriet Konstantinidis, who is in charge of hiring secondary and special education teachers. “We’re excited for them.”

More than half of the 749 new teachers hired so far will work with middle and high school students. About 340 will work in elementary schools.

The numbers are higher than usual, due in part to the demands of the 2002 class-size amendment. Additional vacancies were created by a higher-than-normal number of resignations this year, Konstantinidis said.

And while she expects a few more “eleventh-hour resignations,” schools should be well-staffed and ready to go by Tuesday, she said.

Earlier this year, the district established a target goal of 200 ''advanced contract’’ hires to meet its needs, said Debbie Wedding, director of human resources for recruitment and retention. Those contracts are offered to candidates interviewed both in state and out of state between December and April.

Among those offered advanced contracts was O’Hara, 24, who was recruited from Buffalo, N.Y., to teach social studies at Pinellas Park High. Like many out-of-state recruits, O’Hara, who completed a bachelor’s degree in education from Buffalo State College, soon realized he would have to relocate to find a job.

“There are seven colleges in the Buffalo area popping out teachers,” O’Hara said. “I applied to more than 30 schools and never even got an interview.”

Pinellas is benefitting from an overabundance of teachers in states such as New York, Ohio and Michigan, said Sandra Hopkins, the district’s senior human resources specialist. Those states often yield candidates in high-needs areas, including special education and secondary math and science.

They also have helped the district inch closer to its goal for hiring minority teachers, especially African-Americans, Hopkins said.

Among the minority educators recruited last spring was Milner, 33.

A former long-term substitute teacher from New York, Milner, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health education, will teach health at Tarpon Springs High. “They told me there weren’t a lot of minority teachers there,” Milner said. “But that sounded like a place I needed to be. I’m up for the challenge.”

Not all of Pinellas’ new teachers are transplants. Palm Harbor resident Morrow, 46, is transferring after 11 years in Hillsborough County to teach math at Carwise Middle School.

Part of the reason is higher pay, Morrow said. If approved by the School Board, an agreement recently struck by administrators, union leaders and other employees would give Pinellas teachers a 6.4 percent raise this year, increasing the average salary from $43,916 to $46,770.

But for Morrow, who says she expects to be a teacher until she retires, the transfer has more to do with working in the county where she went to school herself. “Some people come to Pinellas because it’s prestigious,” she said. “For me, it’s home.”