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Schools Lack Full Slate of Teachers

Loudoun County Public Schools needs more special education teachers.

Despite year-round recruiting efforts, Loudoun County Public Schools is expected to start the fall without a full slate of teachers for the academic year.

Loudoun County Public Schools has been hiring about 500 new teachers each year since fiscal year 2002. They needed 630 additional teachers this fall. On Monday, they had hired 586, and were still looking for 44. They also were trying to fill about 74 other school vacancies, such as secretaries, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and custodians.

The numbers represent "full-time equivalent" teachers and employees, accounting for part-time and full-time jobs.

"At one point, there was a surplus of applicants so we could pick and choose who we wanted," said Matthew D. Britt IV, assistant superintendent for Personnel Services. "Now it is reverse. We have to beat the bushes to get the applicants in the pool."

FOUR RECRUITERS use nearly a dozen ways to lure the best and the brightest to Loudoun County, the fastest growing county in the nation, he said. "We have a dynamic recruiting effort. We travel internationally. We go to colleges and universities all over the United States."

The recruiters interview and screen applicants before the principals conduct interviews and make recommendations. Britt's office makes the actual job offer to the candidates.

He said the toughest challenge is finding technology education — formerly called industrial arts, special education, Spanish, high-level mathematics and sciences, English as a Second Language, family and consumer science — formerly home economics, earth science and American Sign Language. On Monday, they still needed one technology education, one American Sign Language, and nine mathematics teachers.

Mary Kearney, director of Special Education, said she was short 31 special-education teachers out of the 140 new

positions she had to fill before school opens Sept. 7. Last year, she started school without 20 special-education teachers. She worked with Shenandoah University to prepare "career switchers" to close the gap. Teachers who were certified to instruct social studies, English or other subjects took two courses and became "provisionally certified" to teach special education, said Kearney. They were required to pass "Legal Trends in Special Education" and "Characteristics of Students of Disabilities" for the provisional certification, and nine to 10 courses over the next two years to become fully certified.

Kearney said there is an abundance of teachers who specialize in certain subjects, and they switch careers when they can't find a job in their fields. The "career switchers" spent two months taking the courses and served as substitutes when they were not taking classes. When the teachers were at Shenandoah, other substitute teachers were used in the special-education classes, she said.

This year, the same courses were provided this summer so "career switchers" could start teaching Sept. 7, the first day of school, she said.

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT offers early letters of intent as incentives for special-education teachers to sign up in advance. The letters serve as a guarantee that the instructors would have a job in Loudoun. Unlike some other states, Loudoun does not provide higher pay incentives or bonuses for special education and other hard-to-fill teaching jobs. Britt said he has recommended higher pay, but the superintendent of schools and the School Board have not endorsed the concept. "We don't see any great interest from the majority of the board," he said.

Britt objected to bonuses. "They get them in the first year and then they leave," he said.

Kearney said the shortage of speech pathologists in the special-education field is compounded by hospitals and rehabilitation facilities competing for the same pool of candidates.

She said the demand for special-education teachers has grown because of the area's escalating student population, teachers moving away, and "burnout."

"I've been in this business for more than 20 years, and that is always a factor," she said. "Burnout is a part of it, because you have students who have needs. … Because of the commitment, sometimes people feel like they need a break."

Kearney, who has been a special-education teacher, said the teachers in that field generally need a break after three to five years.

Those interested in becoming a special-education teacher in Loudoun should call Kearney at 703-771-6430. "The areas where we have the greatest need is individuals who are willing to work with speech and … children with autism, severe disabilities and students with multiple disabilities."

Others should call the Department for Personnel Services at 771-6424.

Britt said he had an unusual need this year to hire 19 new Spanish teachers. The School Board expanded the foreign-language program so all county elementary schools could offer the subject. The district has relied on the Visiting International Faculty, a cultural-exchange program representing foreign teachers, to find instructors. His office hired 10 Spanish teachers and other classroom teachers through the program. "We have 12 returning teachers and 33 new ones," he said. "Students love them because they bring their culture with them or highlight their culture in specific lessons."

THE SEARCH for teachers also involves the traditional approach of working with colleges and universities. "We make daily calls," Britt said. "If they have names of people who have not received jobs, we call them right away." Loudoun also gets permission to be listed on the institutions' Web sites.

The recruiters also use employment agencies and go to Web sites, such as teachersteachers.com, to find candidates, he said.

They try new strategies, such as the on screen advertisements at Regal Cinemas that started to appear two weeks ago, he said.

Britt said the school district hosts three job fairs locally, which draws 500 to 600 candidates. "People from all of the United States come to them," he said.

Another approach is the use of video conferencing. "We go to Kinko's here, and they go to Kinko's where they are … and we actually interview right there."

Kearney said teachers are attracted to Loudoun, in part, because it represents job security.

Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of schools, said the area's high cost of housing has not deterred teachers. Many commute from West Virginia or western Loudoun, where housing is more affordable, he said.

The school district's excellent reputation is another factor, he said. "We have a commitment of the community to have the best school system they can have. Parents and teachers and administrators are not satisfied with anything less."