The Philadelphia School District wants to ensure that every classroom has a teacher when students return to begin the school year in the fall, so officials have created a challenging new early-hiring approach.
The plan is for principals to have their staffs chosen by June 30. The goal is to hire a minimum of 800 teachers, said Kendra Lee-Rosati, the district's acting chief talent officer. To fill the vacant positions, the district would like to have 5,000 applications so that the best candidates can be selected.
Martha Woodall, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, notes that district spokesperson Fernando Gallard announced that the district wants "good people to apply."
"Great teachers and staff are critical to our focus on building a more equitable system of schools across our city," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement. "We are committed to hiring educators and support staff who believe deeply in the potential of all students."
Many of the 190 teaching positions that were vacant in October of this school year remain unfilled. Gallard would like to prevent that problem for the 2016-2017 school year. Teachers union leaders were pleased with the district's plan but were concerned that the goals might not be attainable.
President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Jerry Jordan pointed out that city teachers had not received a salary increase in four years, and their contracts lapsed in August 2013. Also, teachers are often forced to buy supplies for their classrooms with their personal money.
But Manager of Institutional and School-Based Recruitment Megan MacDonald said one recruiting tool that could attract excellent candidates would be emphasizing the opportunities available to change students' lives.
Since the hiring campaign began in January 2016, 1,000 applications have been received by the district. The schools are especially in need of candidates for areas that are difficult to staff, including secondary science and math, special education, and bilingual education. The starting pay for a teacher with no experience in the Philadelphia district is $45,360.
Jordan explained that teacher shortages are a national issue. But Hite restored full-time counselors and nurses at every public school, and many schools have done without either of these staff members for extended periods of time. In all, the district needs 60 new school nurses and 50 counselors. Starting salaries for these positions range from $45,000 to $51,000, according to the School District of Philadelphia.
Another challenge for the district is finding certified substitutes for the approximately 100 teacher and other staff member absences reported each day.
The Philadelphia Tribune's Wilford Shamlin III writes that the number of college graduates in the field of education has decreased. Still, Robert McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administration, was critical of the district's lack of follow-through when it came to hiring.
WCAU-TV and the Associated Press point to the $2-per-pack cigarette tax that began about a year ago as a money-maker for Philadelphia's schools. Mayor Jim Kenney has proposed a soda tax that would also assist in increasing school funding.
Additional specified teachers needed by the district are those with experience teaching grades 4 through 8, secondary math and science for grades 5 through 12, art, music, foreign language, and dual certifications in math, science, and special ed.