SLO County is facing a huge teacher shortage. They have to get creative to fix it

Georgia Brown Elementary School in Paso Robles is one of two dual-language immersion schools in San Luis Obispo County.
Georgia Brown Elementary School in Paso Robles is one of two dual-language immersion schools in San Luis Obispo County.

To combat California’s ongoing teacher shortage — which has affected school districts throughout the state — San Luis Obispo County Schools Superintendent Jim Brescia has issued a report he hopes offers some solutions for attracting and retaining more people to the workforce.

Brescia co-authored the 48-page report titled “Teacher Recruitment in California: An Analysis of Effective Strategies” with James Gentilucci, a Cal Poly education professor emeritus, which analyzes why the problem exists and lays out a series of strategies for solutions.

“This is a problem for the entire state,” Brescia said. “Schools are having to get creative about how they recruit new teachers and take a much more active approach rather than a passive one of just posting ads for jobs.”

Brescia said that two years ago, local public schools hired 178 newly credentialed teachers, not including new hires of teachers coming from out-of-the-area districts.

Head shot blue coat 2017
Jim Brescia, county superintendent of schools Susie Illia

At the end of Jan., 10 San Luis Obispo County public schools already had identified 47 vacant positions for the 2018-19 school year — a number that’s expected to significantly rise before the end of this school year when more teachers leave jobs or retire.

County schools could hire a “a minimum of 125 and 150 teacher positions per year for the next five years,” Brescia said.

Open county K-12 teacher positions include 20 elementary school (grade school), eight special education, two math and four speech and language therapists, among others.

The study recommends a number of teacher recruitment strategies, including:

▪  Attending job fairs and getting to know prospective teachers on a personal basis, and maintaining relationships with prospective candidates.

▪  Developing relationships with universities and high schools that can encourage candidates and help funnel new candidates to a school district.

▪  Marketing a district’s unique lifestyle, community, location, academic performance and cultural amenities (even out-of-state candidates may be interested).

▪  Identifying barriers to hiring new teachers and find ways to work around them (if housing is a barrier, they advise inviting real estate agents to attend job fairs with school officials to help explain opportunities and markets).

▪  Making recruitment a year-round process, rather than an end-of-the-year activity.

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In San Luis Obispo County, a program even offers nonteaching school employees the opportunity to receive $10,000 to $15,000 in grant money to earn a teaching credential and start a new career, Brescia said. That encourages locals who already live in the area to become teachers.

A combination of factors have contributed to higher rates of open teacher positions statewide, according to the report.

Those include: an ongoing wave of Baby Boomer retirements; continued recovery from the Great Recession between 2007 and 2012 when some laid-off teachers left the profession; new workplace attitudes and preferences among millennials; and better opportunities in other jobs for career advancement and pay, according to local school officials.

School districts statewide face challenges particularly in traditionally difficult-to-fill subject areas such as science, math and special education.

Cal Poly’s School of Education awarded 195 credentials in 2016-17. This year, 149 credential students are enrolled, as well as an additional 96 graduate students in master’s programs such as Counseling and Guidance and Special Education.

That has helped feed districts closer to the campus, such as San Luis Coastal Unified, in communities such as San Luis Obispo, Los Osos and Morro Bay, where teacher graduates already tend to live — but not those on the outskirts of the county.

“Locally, the farther you get away from Cal Poly, the larger the teacher vacancy problem becomes,” Brescia said.

From left, Los Osos Middle School science teacher Dan Hoskins, John Skaggs, Principal Andre Illig and Samantha Rivera Macias work in a classroom. Los Osos Middle School

Some communities in the Bay Area with high housing costs have experienced teacher vacancy rates of more than 25 percent, while San Luis Obispo County’s rate was around 5 percent this year, Brescia said.

“The cost of living here far exceeds the wage base of a beginning teacher,” Gentilucci said. “Some will stay in the area, but often they’re returning to less expensive areas of the state, such as the Central Valley.”

County teachers typically earn a starting salary in the mid-$40,000 to mid-$50,000 range, depending on credits and experience, and end their career earning a salary in the high $80,000s or low $90,000s.

In Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, teachers can earn starting annual salaries of between $46,923 and $56,088, and can finish making $89,218 with pay increases. At Coast Union, teachers begin earning between $48,894 and $57,042 and can finish earning up to $92,682.

By 2020, the state’s K-12 teacher workforce is expected to lose about one-third of its most experienced and accomplished educators, according to the report.

Positions that aren’t filled are covered by substitute teachers, teachers in training or those without specialization in the subject they’re teaching.

Oceano Elementary School was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Business, making it the first K-12 school in the United States to receive the group’s highest level of recognition.

“I think our county will be more fortunate than others across the state moving forward,” Brescia said. “We have a relatively small population, and SLO County is a desirable place to live. But we still have challenges of people being able to afford to live here.”

The teacher recruitment study also showed that generational employment habits differ and “millennials possess distinctly different workplace values from those of their Baby Boomer and Generation X parents.”

When deciding on a career, millennials may choose flexibility of their schedule, the quality of the work environment, opportunities to work remotely and the ability to take time off when needed as high priorities, the report stated.

Some recruitment strategies aim to serve the digital age and changing work attitudes, including: offering Skype or Facetime interviews for remote candidates; making hiring paperless to improve the speed of processing and reducing the burden on applicants; remaining flexible and offering candidates more than one position based on perceived fit; and offering creative staffing options with mixed assignments and job shares.

Gentilucci said millennials will gravitate toward the position if they’re convinced they’ll provide an influential and positive role in young people’s lives.

“More people will choose it because they have a passion in making a difference in lives of young people,” Gentilucci said.

Gentilucci said nobody will grow rich as a teacher, but teachers will leave a lasting legacy with children, helping to shape the rest of their lives.

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