One of Southwest Florida's largest employers looks in unusual spots for new teachers.
Angela Pruitt likes hiring teachers — partially because she was one, for eight years in Lee County middle school and high schools.
Now chief human resources officer for the school district, Pruitt spends a good portion of her time overseeing teaching recruitment and retention strategies. Like most school districts statewide, there’s a constant shortage of teachers in Lee County, says Pruitt. That’s exacerbated by salaries that in some cases, particularly for entry-level jobs, make it difficult for new teachers to go into the profession. (The Lee County School District base salary for teachers is $40,000; it rises based on additional college degrees. The average teacher salary in 2017-2018, with benefits, is $66,251 for a 196-day, 7.6 hour/day contract, according to school district data.)
Pruitt says the district hires about 600 teachers a year, mostly to fill retirements, open spots and added classes from Lee County’s population surge. Rather than focus on salary, Pruitt directs her team of four full-time teacher recruiters to emphasize the county’s non-pay benefits — namely quality of life. “Everyone wants to teach at the beach,” she says.
The district, more recently, has targeted hiring teachers from places where, for a variety of reasons, they can’t teach. The list includes Oklahoma and West Virginia, where there have been well-publicized teacher strikes and walkouts. Another area where the district has recently hired teachers is Puerto Rico, where some schools remain in Hurricane Maria recovery mode.
The district hired those teachers via virtual job fairs, where they pre-screen candidates for credentials, then conduct video-conferencing interviews. Pruitt says the district experimented with virtual job fairs three years ago, and has since used them regularly, especially in the last year. “It’s allowed us to go into places in the country where there are not a lot active teaching jobs,” says Pruitt, and then follow through with a Lee County pitch. “That’s been really successful.”
After recruiting teachers to Lee County, Pruitt says some of the retention focus is on what her department, with some 50 employees, can do to “take off a teacher’s plate” to provide more time for classroom instruction. That could include softening lesson plan requirements, Pruitt says, and shifting other teacher responsibilities to staff.