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Detroit schools get creative to fill teacher vacancies

With seven weeks to go before students are back in the classroom, schools across Detroit are on the hunt for a hot commodity: Certified teachers. 

In the Detroit school district, for example, recruiters are trying to fill 120 vacancies. Many charter schools also are searching for classroom leaders.

Their success enticing teachers will be important to ensure that classes will be staffed by full-time teachers on the first day of school, not substitutes or students. But getting there is difficult given how challenging it’s been to recruit teachers.

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said he expects to continue to reduce the number of teacher vacancies. Two years ago, the district ended the academic year with 275 vacancies. Now there are 120.

“There’s no question that we will start the year off with much fewer vacancies,” he said, noting that any remaining openings will be in the “hardest to staff” positions and schools.

George Crockett Academy has seven vacancies in subjects such as math, science, and social studies, said recruiter Fran Gardulescu. She recruits for the Leona Group, which manages 10 charter schools, including George Crockett.  

The charter network had 50 teacher job postings listed on the website of the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency last week.

Gardulescu, who searches for candidates online and at career fairs, said the challenge is finding people who don’t exist.

“The [number of] people going into the education field has diminished,” she said. “We’ve tried our best to make a few changes but if there aren’t as many candidates out there then the changes aren’t going to be as productive.”

School districts across Michigan are struggling with recruiting teachers. A February report from the Citizens Research Council concluded that although there isn’t currently a statewide teacher shortage, their research “does document some troubling trends along the teacher pipeline that are likely contributors to the challenges local schools face filling certain classroom vacancies.”

“Right now, it is a supply market … a teacher market. The teachers have lots of options, and they can be extremely selective with the job they want to accept. Everyone is searching for teachers,” Vitti said. 

That’s why he says it’s important to get creative in recruiting, pointing to several new initiatives to help the district attract and retain new teachers.

One is a new teacher training program that started this summer. New teachers are paid a stipend to come learn more about the district, its curriculum, and its culture, while learning new skills. He believes the district’s training will motivate teachers to stay in the district. 

“We found that if we offered training, and paid them, they just get acclimated with DPSCD,” he said. “It starts to build that relationship before the school year starts.”

In addition to the summer training program, the district has hired new recruiters, created a new system for tracking potential hires, increased teacher pay to be more competitive, given veteran teachers entering the district credit for their years of experience, and will offer a $3,000 bonus for teachers placed in “hard-to-staff schools” starting next school year. The district also hosts regular job fairs, including one scheduled for July 24th at Martin Luther King Jr High School.

If the district is able to whittle its list of vacancies the way Vitti hopes, it would be the closest in awhile district has come to beginning the year fully staffed.

“There’s a new energy, sense of urgency, and responsiveness,” he said. “We’ve seen that … in our customer service feedback. We reach out to teachers more effectively.”