Strategic planning helping metro Atlanta schools keep teachers

Students in Genesis Innovation Academy’s Girls School participate during class on May 11, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Students in Genesis Innovation Academy’s Girls School participate during class on May 11, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Today’s afternoon job fair at DeKalb County Schools’ Stone Mountain headquarters is targeting special education teachers and nurses. The new human resources chief, Bernice Gregory, said recent strategies targeting specific groups have worked well to find quality candidates for long-term employment, which also helps the district in its retention efforts.

Targeted recruiting, as well as improved working conditions at schoolhouses, has helped most metro Atlanta school districts keep teachers longer. This year, Atlanta’s six largest school districts are looking to hire fewer than 1,000 teachers, with retirements a bigger factor than those seeking jobs outside education or fleeing to other school districts.

“We’re using data to drive our hiring practices and … become more intentional when we’re going out recruiting,” said Gregory, who joined the district in April.

The districts are seeing progress amid ongoing concerns with teacher pay as well as fewer people going to college to become educators. As economic conditions continue to improve, districts have worked to boost starting salaries and offer signing and retention bonuses, as well as incentive pay for teachers who take assignments at problem schools.

In DeKalb, district officials have touted raises, as well as recruitment and retention bonuses, for the past few years among strategies to decrease turnover. Gregory said many teachers who received signing bonuses in the past two years for coming to DeKalb are still with the district. The district has about 300 teacher vacancies, also fewer than this time last year, heading into the new school year. Most of those, Gregory said, are for hard-to-fill areas including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and special education. Some of those vacancies will be filled when paperwork is complete on teachers already in the pipeline, she said.

“Our goal is zero (vacancies) and to have a certified teacher at the helm of every classroom, if we can do so,” Gregory said about the start of the new school year.

Gwinnett County Schools officials say they are dispatching employees to their college alma maters to recruit.

“We’ve been strategic about aligning people who graduated from UGA or Auburn to go and support recruitment efforts at those schools,” said Chandra Walker, Gwinnett’s executive director of human resources and talent management. “We really do believe that someone right in front of them who can say ‘I am a graduate as you will be very soon’ … has a lot to do with the small number of vacancies.”

The district also saw success from a special-education teacher internship program, done to encourage prospective teachers wanting to go into that specialty, where candidates often are hard to find. The district also is using a diverse recruiting team as it seeks to have its workforce better reflect its community.

In Clayton County, officials say paying attention to the schoolhouse environment, as well as content-specific job fairs and advertising, has helped with retention and recruitment. The district is still looking to fill about 140 teaching positions, about 4 percent of its teaching staff, Chief of Human Resources Jamie Wilson said.

“During the past year, the superintendent and district administrators placed an enhanced focus and attention on ensuring the culture and climate of our schools and school system is one such that employees would desire to remain,” Wilson said.

Cobb County School District Deputy Superintendent and Human Resource Officer John Adams said the district has stepped up its strategic recruiting efforts over the past few years to include increased social media efforts as well as sending its more than 60 trained recruiters across the country to find the best talent.

The district also helps its retention efforts by distributing teacher contracts in February each year. “We find that issuing contracts early increases teacher retention and allows our principals to hire as early as possible, including doing so on the spot at our job fairs in March,” he said.

Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Ian Smith said the district had just 67 vacancies, having filled 87 percent of its vacancies before July. No information was given on recruitment efforts, and officials said no job fairs are upcoming.

Fulton County Schools officials said the district had about 167 teacher vacancies at the end of June.

Teacher vacancies as of July 1:

Atlanta Public Schools — 67

Clayton County Public Schools — 140

Cobb County Schools — 120

DeKalb County School District — 325

Fulton County Schools — 167

Gwinnett County Public Schools — 150