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Prince William County schools hire 700 new teachers

© Leesburg Today - 08/31/2015

With the start of the new school year, Prince William County officials were still working last week to hire about 50 more teachers, including several in hard-to-fill areas such as special education, math, science and English for Speakers of Other Languages.

In all, Prince William schools expect to hire about 750 new teachers this year, about 100 more than were hired last year, said Darlene Faltz, supervisor for recruitment and specialty programs.

The number of vacancies is on the rise partly because teacher retirements rose last year and partly because Prince William's school division continues to grow, Faltz said.

Prince William will open one new school this year -- Chris Yung Elementary in Bristow -- and is expecting enrollment to top 87,000 students when the school year begins on Monday.

The county's 95 schools are opening before Labor Day for the first time in recent memory, thanks to a waiver granted by the Virginia Department of Education because of the number of snow-day closings called over the last three years.


There will be a teacher in every classroom when schools open, even if some positions are filled by substitute teachers until permanent teachers can be hired on, said Irene Cromer, a spokeswoman for Prince William County schools.

""This is not unusual at all,"" Cromer said. ""We have unfilled positions every year. We're always hiring.""

Only a small number of classrooms will lack lead teachers, which is also not unusual.

""I think we'll get down very, very close to our [hiring] goal,"" Cromer said. ""We'll only have a handful of [classroom positions vacant] when school opens, probably less than a dozen."" 

Over the past several years, the county has had more difficulty filling all its special education, ESOL and high school math and science teaching positions than classroom teaching positions at the lower grade levels. Like school divisions across the country, the county receives fewer applicants with those credentials.

As of early last week, the school division was still advertising for 24 elementary teacher positions; 20 at middle-school positions and 11 high-school level positions, according to the school division website. About 33 special-ed positions were open across the division.

Although the number of new hires is up this year, it's not at historic levels. Prince William schools added 1,000 new teachers in 2007, Faltz said.

 When the recession hit, hiring leveled off across the state as more teachers stayed put, sometimes delaying retirement, and school divisions added fewer new teaching jobs.

Hiring began to tick up in the last two years, as budgets stabilized. Several school divisions are reporting unfilled vacancies this year, including Loudoun County, which reported 40 vacancies earlier this week, according to spokesman Wayde Byard.

Fairfax County schools listed 90 unfilled teaching jobs on its website last week. According to news reports, Norfolk was still looking for 67 teachers, Virginia Beach for 24 and Chesapeake for 22.

The numbers change daily as positions are filled.


About 700 new teachers were hired in time to attend Prince William County schools orientation Aug. 20 at Freedom High School, where they spent the day attending curriculum and grade-level meetings and hearing presentations about being ""culturally responsive"" in a diverse, minority-majority school division where students speak more than 80 different languages at home.

New teachers are also paired with mentor teachers at their new schools, who they will work with over their first few years as new hires, Cromer said.

The new teachers are a mix of fresh college grads, transfers from other school divisions and older career-changers, Cromer said.

""We have a wide range of who we call new teachers,"" Cromer said. ""But they're all new to PWCS.""

Nadine Coupard, new 8th grade language arts teacher, said she was recruited by Stonewall Middle School Principal John Miller last spring during a job fair at Virginia Tech.

""Mr. Miller was very passionate about his school and his students,"" she said.

Jessica Smith, a recent University of Minnesota grad, said Miller helped seal the deal for her as well.

""He raved about his staff and how students want to come to school because of how great the staff is,"" she said.

About 730 Prince William teachers are not returning to their jobs this year, placing the teacher-turnover rate at about 10.8 percent, Faltz said.

According to anonymous exit surveys, teachers list four primary reasons for leaving their jobs: retirement, spouse transfers, new jobs in other school divisions and, for some, a desire to leave teaching altogether.

Those leaving the profession most often cite family responsibilities -- either young children or aging parents -- as well as ""workload"" as reasons for doing so, Faltz said.

""Some of the teachers leave because … their expectations sometimes differ from the realities they encounter in the classroom,"" Faltz said. Large class sizes are sometimes listed as a factor, Faltz said, but ""usually in specific programs,"" such as special ed and ESOL classes.

Prince William teachers earn less than their counterparts in other Northern Virginia school systems, but Faltz said higher salaries are ""not a significant reason of why people are leaving.""

Starting salaries in Prince William County schools rank second-to-last among the 10 area school systems tracked by the Washington Area Boards of Education. The county's ""average salary"" came in last place in 2015.

Some education advocates say teacher hiring will only becoming more challenging in the coming years as more teachers retire. About 38 percent of Virginia's teachers are 50 or older, according to the Virginia Education Association.

There's also evidence that fewer college students are entering teacher-training programs, said Jim Livingston, president of the Prince William Education Association.

Livingston said he suspects lagging salaries, growing class sizes and more demanding workloads are among reasons that interest in the teaching profession is declining.

""The bigger crisis is that we have an aging teacher population and we don't have enough people entering the profession,"" Livingston said. ""That's not just a Virginia problem; that's nationwide.""

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