7/19/15 ABSS getting a jump on recruiting teachers

Alamance-Burlington School System holds a new teacher orientation Wednesday morning in Burlington. The district started looking for teachers to fill positions in late March.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

   Alamance-Burlington School System holds a new teacher orientation Wednesday morning in Burlington. The district started looking for teachers to fill positions in late March.

ABSS getting a jump on recruiting teachers
With the state budget delayed, school system starting earlier than usual
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 7/19/15  
Reprinted with permission.  

  Positions to fill

   There are reasons to worry about teacher shortages in the coming years, but this year, at least, the Alamance-Burlington School System has gotten ahead of the problem.

   “I would say last year and definitely this year improved,” said Dawn Madren, executive director of human resources at ABSS. “And one of the reasons is starting that process sooner than in the past.”

   Uncertainty about the state budget has become a new normal. It has not been ready by July 1 for a few years, but Madren said ABSS Superintendent Bill Harrison allowed her department to start looking for people without waiting for the state.

   The district posted vacancies as early as late March as teachers announced their retirements, Madren said, and it started looking for people to fill new positons being created in the 2015-16 ABSS budget in April, and opened up the rest in early June after the Alamance County Board of Commissioners approved its 2015-16 budget.

   “In previous years, it would not be uncommon for us to start filling positions in mid-July,” Madren said.

   The district had 55 vacancies to fill as of the past week, Madren said. It started out needing to fill 169 jobs for 2015-16.

   Of those, there are 53 new positions to the district, including art teachers so all schools will have one, additional teachers at high-poverty schools, and new teachers at the district’s new early college and for the A+ art program new to North Graham Elementary School.

   Eight of those vacancies are top priorities, Madren said, since they are in year-round schools, which start Thursday.

   Madren said ABSS also is contacting candidates for hard-to-fill positions, like math, science and exceptional children’s teachers, who came to recruiting fairs here and at colleges, but have not applied.

   Some ABSS schools were short several math and science teachers in 2014-15, Madren said, and depended on some long-term substitutes until the district hired new teachers who graduated in December.

   ON THURSDAY, KAYE Tomlin will start teaching fourth grade at North Graham for the first time. A Burlington native, she has been teaching for 15 years, but is new to ABSS. She considered Guilford County Schools, but applied at North Graham when she heard about vacancies there.

   “I loved the principal and all the things that were going on there,” Tomlin said. “I felt like I belonged there.”

   She said she heard a lot of good things about ABSS and Harrison. There is also a pay bump compared to the charter school she came from.

   “That was nice,” Tomlin said. “I really did not know that going in, so money was not a factor.”

   THIS IS NOT an unusual attitude among teachers, according to market research, said Alisa Chapman vice president for academic and university programs with the UNC System.

   “They have very altruistic motives — of course, teacher pay is very important,” Chapman said. “They want to make a difference and have a positive impact in the lives of young people.”

   Nevertheless, there are a lot fewer teachers coming through the education schools in the UNC System. From 2010 to 2014, the number of students entering UNC schools of education declined by 27 percent, Chapman said, and fell by 12 percent just from 2013 to 2014, which means fewer teachers will be available in the next couple of years.

   “We are very concerned about the trend data we have seen in enrollment declines,” Chapman said. “The impact of those declines will be felt by our public schools in the next 12 to 24 months.”

   The system has a systematic effort to improve recruiting on campuses. Chapman said each UNC school is bringing her a plan tailored to its own circumstances. There is also a state effort to keep teachers in the profession and reduce turnover with programs to support beginning teachers with training and mentoring.

   “If (schools) don’t have to fill the positions because of turnover, then we can begin to balance supply and demand ,” Chapman said.

   REDUCING TURNOVER IS part of the local strategy, too. New local teacher pay supplements will increase the length teachers stay with ABSS, Madren said, and if teachers leave the district and come back, they have to start all over.

   Personal support for teachers also is part of the district’s plan, said Donna Westbrooks, the new ABSS director of teacher recruitment .

   “I plan on going into the schools and observing beginning teachers especially, and letting them know I’m not just a voice on the phone, but a person who can offer them feedback.”

   BEGINNING TEACHERS ARE getting some good news, Madren said: Word has come from the Legislature that new teachers will make $3,500 per month on 10-month contracts. They had been expecting $3,300.