A few good teachers still needed

Principals say they're not too worried about filling the vacancies, now at 122.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published August 14, 2007

Pasco schoolteachers headed back to business Monday, their day filled with meetings, decorating and checking classroom supplies.

Several principals, meanwhile, kept their eyes open for just a few more teachers.

With just a week to go before classes begin, Pasco County schools had 122 vacant teacher positions.

In a district with almost 5,000 teachers, the number of openings might seem small.

"It's not even two per school," assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose said. "But if it's your child's class, it's an issue."

The district, DuBose said, never stops recruiting.

That's sure true for Chris Dunning, principal of Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday. Call the school and ask for him, and the receptionist asks, "Are you calling about the positions?"

The school has two - one in math, another in special education - and Dunning is still looking for the right people to fill them. He hoped to have someone on staff by Monday, though he can't make an offer until Friday at the earliest.

District rules require all teaching jobs be advertised five working days before the job can be filled. These two positions came vacant at the end of last week.

"Obviously, I would rather have them here today. There's a lot of stuff to do," Dunning said. "When a person comes in after, they're behind the eight ball. But we'll be able to catch them up."

Until he hires the teachers, substitutes will do the job. The district has hundreds of subs in its database, some of whom have worked in the schools for years.

"Some of our subs are better-known than a new teacher would be," Dunning said.

He and other principals said they did not worry too much about failing to find good teachers for the vacancies. This year, the district is more strictly enforcing federal rules that mandate certified teachers who are highly qualified in their subject area, which could limit the pool somewhat.

In fact, human resources supervisor Anita Mullins said, many career changers who are coming to teaching are not aware of the highly qualified requirement, in which they must show proficiency in the topic, usually with a test.

The issue also has caused some confusion with teachers coming in from other states, where the federal law might be interpreted differently.

Still, Mullins said, the numbers of good available teachers remains strong, with many people moving to the area throughout the year.

B.J. Smith, principal of Seven Oaks Elementary in Wesley Chapel, has hired more new teachers this year than any other principal. She said the selection has been excellent so far, and she expected that trend to continue.

She refused to panic just because she has one more job to fill at her school.

"A host of young graduates graduated from USF this past weekend," Smith said. "This is just part of what we do."

It's not as simple as walk in the door, hold the right qualifications and get a job, though.

"It's finding the right fit for the team that the individual is working with, as well as for the school," said Cypress Elementary principal Teresa Love, who filled her final vacancy Friday.

A school can't have all inexperienced teachers, for instance. Personalities come into play, as well as instructional strengths and weaknesses. So even a teacher who might succeed at one school might not work out at another.

"Just because someone has not been picked up yet as a teacher does not mean they are not desirable or qualified," Love said.

Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, speculated that the vacancies might be due to the district's inability to complete contract negotiations. With Hillsborough's new wages in place, she said, Pasco might not be competing.

"I think people are making decisions with their pocketbooks," Webb said.

Some of the openings come from shifts within the district. One of Paul R. Smith Middle's two slots is vacant because a teacher took a job at another Pasco school.

Dunning said he wished the district would have a policy barring transfers two weeks before the start of classes. That way teams could make plans without worrying about losing a member.

Other districts, including Hillsborough and Orange, have such provisions. But such provisions would be part of the employment contract and, as DuBose put it, "right now we've got bigger issues," not the least of which is reaching final pay terms in the contract.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

By the numbers

With classes starting next week, area school districts still have numerous teaching slots to fill. Teachers report to work this week.
County Vacancies Positions filled
Pasco 122 4,966
Pinellas 122 8,314
Hillsborough 172 14,831
Hernando 28 1,624