The Fiercest Competition

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Recruiters from nearly 80 school systems across the nation are scheduled to converge this week on the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to vie for an increasingly rare commodity: black teachers.

Representatives from more than 70 other districts who had asked to attend the recruiting "fair" were turned away.

"We just don't have the space to house them," Leon Warren, director for career planning and placement at the predominantly black institution, said last week.

Even for the 80 recruiters who have gained admittance to the Greensboro campus, however, chances are slim. They will be competing for, at most, 60 minority teacher graduates.

The same scenario is being repeated at other, predominantly black institutions.

Louisiana's Grambling State University, for example, is expecting visits this spring from roughly 85 school-district recruiters, but will graduate fewer than 50 teachers.

And both Mississippi's Jackson State University and Virginia Union University in Richmond are expecting visits from approximately 60 recruiters for fewer than 20 prospective black teachers.

Locating and recruiting black and other minority teacher graduates has become a top priority for growing numbers of school districts, which find themselves forced to comb ever-larger areas of the country in search of new teacher talent.

But as the demographics at many historically black colleges and universities indicate, a rapidly shrinking pool of minority teachers means that many recruiters will return to their districts empty-handed. The situation, school-district officials report, has reached crisis proportions.

"The competition for minority teachers, especially black teachers, is fierce," said Michael H. Campbell, a teacher recruiter for the Caddo Parish Public Schools in Louisiana. "Every major school system in the U.S. is looking for exactly what we are looking for."

"I talked to a school of education in Michigan today," an official of the Clark County Public Schools in Nevada, said last week. "They told me that they will have 710 graduates out of their teacher-training programs, but of those only two are Hispanic, and only eight are black."

"It's tough; it really is," she said.

Personnel officers in a number of districts reported last week that the stiff competition for minority teachers has forced them to examine and adjust their recruiting strategies.

For some districts, this has meant assigning an official to focus specifically on minority hiring, and then targeting their efforts on predominantly black colleges and universities and areas of the country with large concentrations of minorities.

Recruiters say they are trying harder to establish an ongoing, personal relationship with placement officers, education-school deans and faculty, and students at the historically black institutions.

They note that their efforts have become a year-long enterprise, and that they now try to make contact and establish a relationship with prospective minority teachers early in their training experience, instead of waiting until their senior year.

Something Different

But a number of district officials noted last week that just doing aggressive recruiting is not enough.

"We decided that we had to do something different," said Bernie Stills, director of personnel for the Clarke County School District in Georgia. "There had to be a better way than to just go to campuses and sit around at job fairs."

The student population of the district, which encompasses Athens, is nearly 50 percent black. Only 20 percent of the local teaching force is black, "and it is difficult to maintain that level," said Mr. Stills.

Two years ago, the local board of education launched an effort that it hoped would grab the attention of the black teacher-training institutions and their students.

In January of 1986, the district paid for the deans and several education professors from 15 predominantly black institutions to come and visit the district for several days. The system picked up all the costs of the visit, including airfare, lodging, meals, and local transportation. Last year, officials did the same thing, inviting representatives from 24 black institutions.

Then, last April, the district paid for 25 black students who had been identified as top teacher prospects to come visit the community for three days. The visit included a reception thrown in their honor by the city's mayor and other civic leaders.

Of those 25 job candidates, 12 signed contracts with the district, Mr. Stills said, adding that the district will host another group later this year.

The $30,000 tab for both visits last year was paid for out of funds approved by the school board specifically for the visits.

Officials of eight predominantly black colleges and universities in the Southeast last week concurred that a small but growing number of districts are trying to attract the interest of minority job candidates through special initiatives similar to the Clarke County program.

Enticements Offered

Although a number of the programs they cited are intended to bolster the districts' overall recruitment efforts, many were put in place specifically to enhance the school systems' appeal to minority teachers and those in other critical shortage areas.

Among such efforts are these:

The Wake County Public School District, which encompasses Raleigh, N.C., will pay job candidates that meet specific qualifying criteria a bonus ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 for signing a contract with the system. The money is paid after the first month on the job.

"Its like an athletic signing bonus," said James Merrill, director of personnel for the school system. "If you sign with us, we are going to pay you for signing."

The money for the two-year program was provided by an anonymous donor to help the district attract minority teachers, as well as high-school science, mathematics, and English teachers.

Of the 24 teachers awarded the bonuses last year, three were black. If the benefactor does not provide additional money next year, Mr. Merrill said he will ask the district to continue the program.

He also noted that because the colleges of education are producing so few minority teachers, the district has decided to target recruiting efforts on experienced, urban teachers more than in the past.

As part of that effort, he traveled to Chicago and Detroit last fall during the cities' teachers' strikes to try to lure some disgruntled teachers. "There was quite a bit of interest," he said.

The Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools for the first time last year began paying new teachers a $500 moving allowance and a $500 stipend for attending a week-long program designed to familiarize them with the county.

In addition, a number of local businesses have put together a package of reduced rates on certain services and goods for new teachers, similar to one pioneered two years ago by the Prince George's County, Md., school district. (See Education Week, April 2, 1986.)

The Oakland, Calif., school district pays certified bilingual-education teachers a $2,000-a-year stipend on top of their regular salary.

According to May L. Jang, district coordinator of certificated recruitment and employment, the incentive money has helped the district attract Hispanic and Asian teachers, both of which are in short supply and high demand in the state. The Sarasota County School District in Florida recently paid the expenses for two prospective black teachers it was courting to come and spend a week visiting the community and its schools. The candidates were paid the same daily wage the district pays its substitute teachers.

At the end of their visit, both of the candidates signed contracts with the district.

In the Caddo Parish school system, which serves the Shreveport area, the local apartment-managers association recently agreed to provide rent-free apartments for any student from Grambling State University who agrees to student-teach in the community.

"We feel that if we can get them here to see what is going on, then we stand a good chance of getting them to want to teach here," said Mr. Campbell, the district's recruiter.

So far, only one student has accepted the offer. But Mr. Campbell said he is working on expanding the program to include students from other predominantly black institutions.

Legal Questions

Several district officials questioned the appropriateness and legality of offering special enticements just for minority job candidates.

But Robert H. Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association, said he believes many types of hiring incentives for minorities would not pose legal difficulties.

"If the question is put in generic terms, 'Could a district offer special incentives to recruit blacks?' I would say yes," Mr. Chanin said. "But that is not a blanket 'yes."'

For instance, he said, offering to pay a prospective minority teacher's moving expenses "should fly," while offering to pay a first-year minority teacher more than other rookie teachers would probably "get complaints."

"You have to carefully structure your incentive," the lawyer said. "But if you do it right, I think the door is open to this kind of thing."

'Just Doesn't Pay'

Joe H. Lee, associate superintendent in charge of personnel for the Fresno (Calif.) Unified School District, contends, on the other hand, that there are too few minority-teacher candidates available to make special incentive programs for them worthwhile.

"If every district added incentives, all we would be doing is raising the ante for the few minority teachers we have available," Mr. Lee said.

"It just doesn't pay, because the result is going to be that one district will get the minority teacher and nine will not," he said. "The incentives will end up not doing much."

Fresno's rapidly growing Asian population has led the district to send recruiting teams to Hawaii in search of Asian teachers. To supplement its recruiting efforts in the South for black teachers, the district has hired the services of Educational Personnel Development Systems, a North Carolina firm that specializes in teacher recruitment.

An official of the firm said last week that the majority of its roughly 40 client districts are "smaller" systems from around the country that cannot afford to send out recruiters on their own. Finding minority teachers, she said, "is one of their major concerns."

'Grow Our Own'

But school-district officials interviewed last week agreed that the only long-term solution to the current shortage of minority teachers is to convince more of their own students to consider, and pursue, teaching as a career.

Several of the officials said their school systems either have or plan to launch programs designed to groom their own high-school students for teaching. The programs described usually involve counseling, some education coursework, and opportunities to work with younger children.

The program in Wake County even provides some college scholarship money to district graduates who agree to study education.

"We must convince a larger portion of our [minority] students that teaching is a worthwhile and honorable profession," Mr. Campbell of the Caddo Parish schools said. "Until we start growing our own, the problem is not going to be solved, it is only going to get worse."

Vol. 07, Issue 19

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