Glades pushing to recruit teachers

Special to Glades County Democrat/Photos courtesy of Glades County School District
The Glades County School District is focusing anew on teacher recruitment efforts this year. From left, primary grades teacher Kristy Sewell, West Glades Elementary School Principal Doreen Sabella and Superintendent Scott Bass worked with media consultant Jim Stafford on Wednesday, March 1, on new promotional materials to help in the push.

GLADES COUNTY — After what Glades County Schools Superintendent Scott Bass called an “abnormal year” for teachers leaving in 2017, he’s not taking any chances this year on running short of qualified people. The school district, at his prompting, is undertaking an extra-intensive effort in 2018 to attract good teachers to the rural county, which has only three public schools.

Mr. Bass got the Glades County School Board to ante up $25,000 this budget year for professional assistance in the recruitment effort. A media consultant was on board providing that help last week as staff went to work in creating a video and promotional materials for internet advertising.

Getting people on board to teach here wasn’t such a problem until recently, he said. “We have been very fortunate up until last year. In the past three years, I would say, we have seen other school districts in Florida start seeing an issue on recruiting and retaining teachers,” Mr. Bass recounted.

On top of the usual handful of retirements in 2017, he said, “we unfortunately had some teachers who chose to move and go to other districts; we had some teachers who had to move out of state for different reasons, and it was just kind of a unique year.” The final count of needed teachers last spring reached about 25, Mr. Bass said. The district has only around 120 total, plus it experienced some growth and the board added positions, making the shortage more pronounced.

“But we see, though, that this year has started just like any other year,” he reported. “You have some turnover and we’ve been having trouble finding teachers to fill those spots.”

As far as openings the district is seeking to fill, the superintendent said the numbers are uncertain at the moment. “We don’t know exactly yet what we’re looking at; we’re just trying to be as proactive as possible,” said Superintendent Bass.

The shortage of teachers is not confined to just rural areas, either. “We are just not seeing the number of individuals wanting to go into education as a career, and it’s not just a Glades County problem, it’s not just a problem around Lake O, it’s a problem statewide,” he explained.

Mr. Bass blames not only public perceptions of the difficulties involved in teaching but, more so, changes being made in public education nationwide by federal and state lawmakers. He says it’s more than lagging salaries and increasing burdens on teachers, pointing mainly at the performance tests that have been instituted for public schools.

“It is the legislation that has been placed on our public education system that is driving students out of education,” he said.

He added that damage done by Hurricane Irma last fall was a factor, and also cited the flu epidemic. “And now, most recently, the tragedy that happened in Parkland has everybody on pins and needles about coming to school, but yet we’re going to judge our schools and the job that we do with our students based on a test. There’s no way to measure the social and emotional growth that we promote for our students by taking a test,” Mr. Bass pointed out.
He says all those things work to deter potential teachers.

The district hired James Stafford Photography of Lake Placid to help produce recruitment materials. “Jim did a video for us, and it will be airing soon. I have seen the rough cut of it. It looks really good. He does a great job,” said Mr. Bass.
Asked about the content, he answered, “We’re highlighting some of the good, positive attractions about Glades County. You know, right now we (offer) the highest-paying starting salary in the Heartland districts. We also will credit any teacher all of their years of experience,” unlike many other districts, he said.

Mr. Bass added that Mr. Stafford will continue to work with the district. “We are looking at also some additional social media advertising things with Jim.”

Teacher shortages, though, if they do occur, don’t always mean classrooms with more students in them. “We have been very fortunate in that we have some collaborative partnerships with Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern College,” he said. “We have been able to get some student interns who have basically finished all their coursework and are just in the last stages of their undergraduate work, and we’ve been able to place them in classrooms.”

He also sat down and talked with some of the new teachers to learn what’s being done right in Glades and what needs to be improved upon. Mr. Bass said mentoring by more experienced teachers has been key, and that he’s gained more understanding through his conversations.

“Our climate and culture this year compared to last year and years in the past has just been tremendous in all three of our schools. I think a lot of that had to do with … so many new teachers coming in. Our veteran teachers saw that, and they said, ‘You know, we’ve got to step up and … take these new people under our wings and try to help them … get acclimated and move forward to make a difference in our schools.’”

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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