For the last several years, the Philadelphia School District has been closing schools and laying off teachers, yet now it is planning to hire at least 400 new teachers for the 2015-2016 school year, writes Kristen A Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The critical positions that need to be filled are secondary math and science, special education, art, music, and upper elementary school. Because the public schools feel they must compete with charter schools and private schools, the application process has been changed, the hiring timeline has been shortened, and applicants will submit more information at the beginning of the hiring process. Candidates will know within four to six weeks of applying whether they are eligible to interview for jobs with the appropriate principals.
“We wanted to streamline the way we do hiring of teachers,” said Kendra Rosati, the district’s director of recruiting. “And we wanted to increase the quality of people. We need to have excellent teachers in front of our kids.”
Philadelphia schools have a reputation for having a complicated hiring system, which, along with the district’s other ongoing problems, has made recruiting teachers difficult. At the same time that charter schools and other districts were making their hiring decisions, many candidates for city school positions did not know if they were eligible to interview with principals until the summer. Rosati added that the district was working diligently to change this trend. Up until the process reform, candidates used an online application that did not include a resumé nor a cover letter. Both are included now, along with reference information, a sample lesson plan, and a video of the applicant teaching.
Most of the new hires will be replacing teachers who are retiring or resigning. Meanwhile, the School Reform Commission is planning to cancel the present teachers’ contract. The teachers may be asked to pay for part of their health insurance, which would result in a $50 million savings for the district each year. The Commonwealth Court recently ruled that the contracts cannot be changed, but there is still a chance the district will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Last fall, according to Shannon Nolan of Philadelphia Public School Notebook, the district had 75 full-time and part-time vacancies, which was up from 40 at the same time in 2013. This increase, said Rosati, was partially because of 50 jobs that were added one month into the school year.
In October, the district does what is called “leveling”, which is adjusting the staff to meet the actual student enrollment. The Notebook has been following the number of teacher vacancies so far in this school year and has found an on-going trend of 100 vacancies per week. In December, it is not unusual to have an increase in vacancies because of January resignations. The district has to quickly recruit through online advertising and word of mouth, along with communicating with local universities with education programs to build a pool of candidates.
The new online application portal and shortened hiring timeline are sure to make filling vacancies easier. Now, says Rosati, she has the dual focus of continuing to fill vacancies as they open up until the end of the school year (she has hired eight to ten teachers per week since Thanksgiving) and also beginning the hiring process for the additional 400 teachers predicted to be needed for the upcoming school year.
Rosati added that most of the teachers who were laid off from the summer 2012 and 2013 had been recalled.