Shelby County Schools Move to More Competitive Recruitment

It used to be that Shelby County Schools and its predecessor Memphis City Schools had a season for hiring teachers that began around the end of the school year and ended the first day of classes.

The season featured a teacher hiring fair, and having connections to someone in the school system counted for a lot. Those who didn’t have the connections often left the fair confused and bound for another school system.

The fair was one of the first targets when Kriner Cash became Memphis City Schools superintendent in 2008. Cash wanted more hiring opportunities than the fair and he wanted those opportunities moved up to compete with other nearby school systems that did their hiring earlier.

It was part of a larger emphasis that continues today under superintendent Dorsey Hopson of creating a better teacher pipeline.

Teacher hiring for SCS is now a year-round pursuit that this year came with a “signing day” – a bit of theater complete with a signing bonus for qualified teachers hired by principals at a job fair.

“We did kind of amp it up and just thought of a creative way to get some momentum and energy around hiring teachers,” said Trinette Small, human resources chief for SCS. “In addition to just inviting regular teacher candidates to the signing day where principals could make on-the-spot hires, we also had a session for what we consider nontraditional candidates.”

That includes information for college graduates on how to get training and get certified to teach.

“That keeps a continual pipeline of folks that would be interested in teaching,” Small said. “We certainly want to facilitate getting them certified and hopefully getting them hired and trained with our district.”

As a result, there were candidates identified for more than 200 classroom teacher and teaching assistant positions posted on the SCS website before Thanksgiving when the school system had fewer than 50 mid-school year teaching vacancies.

Small said SCS has a greater sense of urgency about filling classroom vacancies that come up once the school year is underway.

“We now have to focus on what happens after school starts,” she said. “You will still have folks that will resign or retire. They may have to relocate or they have medical issues.”

Those reasons are consistent whether it’s a teacher leaving at the end of a school year or during the year, she said.

Small boasts SCS has seen a 39 percent reduction in mid-year vacancies compared to last school year and prior years.

The goal is to have a permanent, certified teacher in each classroom every day. Competition from private schools, the six suburban school districts, charter schools and the state-run Achievement School District has ramped up in the last six years, changing the education environment.

“With the demerger, and we have more school districts … and then with the growing charter school population and a growing ASD population, obviously teachers have more choice in terms of who they would like to work for,” Small said. “Our focus is making sure that we maintain that competitive edge. We always want to be the employer of choice.”

The most difficult subject area to staff is mathematics.

“Math teachers, they come at a premium now,” Small said. “Even here locally … they are offering things like signing bonuses. We have to kind of reinvent some of our strategies so that we can align and truly be competitive in this market.”

SCS is offering $1,000 signing bonuses at its teacher job fair on Dec. 19 at White Station Middle School starting at 4:30 p.m.

 

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