As the start of a new school year quickly approaches, Liberty County finds itself short of teachers.
So the Board of Education has come up with some ways to attract the best and brightest.
The Liberty County School System announced July 1 that it is offering a $5,000 signing bonus to try to persuade people to consider becoming certified teachers in the areas of math, science or special education.
Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese said the district is similar to others across the state and nationwide in that there is a shortage of math, science and special education teachers.
“School districts in Georgia and throughout the nation are doing creative things to find people who may not have considered education as a chosen field,” Reese said. “Dr. (Valya) Lee (Liberty County School System superintendent) has some experience with signing bonuses, and other districts in Georgia are actually offering signing bonuses to attract teachers.”
At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Lee gave a presentation on creative staffing methods for critical-content areas. She said the school system is facing critical recruitment concerns, and the primary objective is to make sure that there are teachers in all the classrooms at the start of the school year. The first day of school for students is Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Reese said the Obama administration has been pushing the STEM initiative — using the common education acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and math — and that there is a need to attract people into those fields. He added that people interested in science, math and engineering want to work in the industry and that education is the last thing on their minds.
“We’re trying to look at creative ways and say to people who’ve majored in engineering, ‘Have you ever considered education as chosen field or profession?’” Reese said. “And this is one of the ways to try and encourage people to come to us.”
Those who sign and are not teachers still will have to apply for certification. Reese said the district is willing to help individuals get certified. Newly signed professionals will be paired with veteran personnel so they can receive hands-on training.
The biggest need for teachers is at the high schools.
“If you’re certified for sixth through 12th (grades), you may be teaching middle school. We’re going to offer that if you consider going to the high school, you may be eligible for the incentive as well,” Reese said.
He said he hopes it will cause a domino effect, in which after middle-school teachers move to high school, elementary teachers will want to go to the middle-school level.
Reese said that as teachers retire, there aren’t enough people coming in to replace them, causing the shortage.
Lee said the signing bonus is in keeping with federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title II Part A, which allows for schools experiencing difficulty in recruiting highly qualified, core academic teachers to use financial incentives.
Board member Carol Guyett asked what kind of contract comes with the signing bonus.
Lee answered, “It would be a standard teacher’s contract with the understanding that they would give us a minimum of two years in that subject area for us. We don’t want to give them $5,000, then they run the next school year.”
So far, the district has not been able to attract the people it wants because of how late in the year it is. However, district officials still anticipate responses within the next couple of weeks.
“We are competing with all our neighbors, and they are in the same boat. We want to make sure we can attract people,” Reese said.
Lee briefly talked about the Induction Pathway 4, or IP4, certificate, another staffing route. An IP4 certificate is for qualified teacher candidates who have not completed a traditional educator program. The certificate is valid for three years and in that time, one has to complete a program or obtain a professional level certificate.
The superintendent also presented an idea for approval by the board for staffing called the Non-traditional Long-term Substitute. It was approved 4-1, with board member Marcus Scott opposed.
These substitutes have a degree in a related content area but are not eligible for the IP4.
“For example, we have someone with an engineering degree who wants to come and teach. This would be an avenue for them to come in, have other teachers work with them on the pedagogy and classroom management,” Lee said. “We will put them in the classroom with the knowledge base and skill set so that our students have higher-quality instruction in the classroom. We will give them a certain amount of time to complete their certification. Once done, they will have to give the district two years.”
Lee said the district normally hires substitute teachers with degrees. This route would allow them to be hired like a first-year teacher but with less pay and a partial benefit package. She said the point is to keep continuity in the classroom.
The signing-bonus opportunity ends Aug. 31. To view details on the available positions, go to the Liberty County School System website, www.liberty.k12.ga.us, and look under the “employment” section near the top of the home page.