Metro Atlanta school districts hope this is the first year in awhile where they don’t start the year hundreds of teachers vacancies. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

Wanted: 2,000 teachers to fill metro Atlanta vacancies

Metro Atlanta school districts are getting creative as they seek to fill nearly 2,000 teacher vacancies for the upcoming school year, which begins in early August.

Many are hopeful this will be the year where school begins without hundreds of open teaching slots across metro Atlanta, filled by substitutes who may not know the subject matter and, in some cases, are not certified.

Job fairs are on calendars of several of the districts. In Fulton County, officials announced the first Virtual Interview Fair, to be held June 27. The hope is that the innovative approach will result in more hires as it expands the pool of potential teachers to include those not living close enough to attend a traditional fair.

Fulton school spokeswoman Susan Hale said the district hopes to get the number of vacancies to less than 100 by July 1. There are currently 292 teacher vacancies, she said, fewer than last year.

Across the school districts, special education, arts as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are critical-need areas for teachers, as they have been in previous years.

DeKalb County is continuing to address one of the perennial obstacles to teacher hiring, the relatively low starting salary. Signing and retention bonuses are proposed in the 2016-2017 budget, which is expected to be approved Monday. Even with raises given several times this year, the district currently reports 372.5 teacher vacancies.

“Teachers have left DeKalb in favor of going to our neighboring districts due to pay,” Leo Brown, DeKalb County School District’s chief human capital manager, said recently. “But that practice is likely to shift with the mid-year salary increase, and proposed salary increase again in July.”

Pay for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree in DeKalb is higher than in some neighboring counties but almost $2,000 below Atlanta Public Schools.

Throughout Georgia, the last recession had a lingering effect on public school teachers’ pay. From the 1999-2000 to 2012-13 school years, the average salary shrank 5.7 percent, according to U.S. Education Department statistics.

Brown said DeKalb officials have been recruiting more at historically black colleges and universities and partnering with schools with quality education programs to get the word out about vacancies.

Clayton County is targeting substitute teachers and support staff who want to become full-time certified teaching staff by updating a program that already existed in the district, the Teacher Academy of Preparation and Pedagogy. The district pays for certification testing for applicants, among other things, in exchange for a five-year commitment to the district.

“Instead of looking externally, we’re looking at people internally who have the interest and desire,” said Douglas Hendrix Sr., Clayton County Schools’ chief of human resources.

Hendrix said the district currently has about 300 openings, but expects that number to fall after background tests come in for about 100 selected at a recent job fair. A year ago this time, about 420 openings existed, he said.

Poverty is a characteristic urban districts like DeKalb and Clayton must contend with in hiring teachers. About three quarters of DeKalb students’ families are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, for example, and in Clayton County that proportion is around 96 percent.

Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the district’s 264 vacancies is 37 fewer than it had this time last year. The district has a special-education teacher interview day scheduled June 29 to address one of the areas it lists as a critical need.

Cobb County Schools Chief of Staff Grant Rivera said the district is ahead of schedule to get its 200 vacancies filled by early August after issuing employment contracts to teachers in February, along with holding job fairs in March to find qualified candidates.

“Cobb was already hiring before most districts had even internally determined their allotments and vacancies,” he said. “We will continue to vigorously hire for our remaining vacancies through our standard process of aggressive recruiting, extensive advertising online, leveraging relationships with local colleges, and maximizing the impact of social media.”

Atlanta Public Schools officials said they are looking to fill 278 teaching positions. The district’s calendar online lists no upcoming job fairs.

Hiring teachers in Georgia has become harder as districts increase starting pay to become more competitive and the number of people wanting to become teachers in Georgia shrinks. During the 2007-2008 school year, 12,436 students received teaching certificates for the first time, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. That number currently is closer to 8,500. A similar trend exists nationally.