Laid-off educators offered state help in finding new careers

Revonda McKnight will finish a degree in early childhood education next year and had looked forward to teaching.

She  likes working with children, school hours and "having the summers off."  But she's been thinking of going in a new direction since she was laid off from her job as a paraprofessional at Powder Springs Elementary School.

"I'm thinking I might want to do something else at this point," said McKnight, 42.  She said she was surprised by the number of layoffs as school districts across Georgia slashed budgets.

"It seemed like it was really sudden," said McKnight, who's now thinking of pursuing a master's in speech pathology.

Career transition help for her and thousands of laid-off educators is being made available at workshops this summer sponsored by the state Department of Labor. McKnight was among  more than 100 participants attending one Friday at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta.

As many as 8,000 educators statewide have lost their jobs, and the number is evolving, state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said.

"I'm sorry you have to even be here with us today, but we want to let you know you're not alone," Thurmond told workshop participants.

Sanford Chandler, president of Chattahoochee Technical College, also spoke to the group. He said the school has job openings and is developing  programs designed for laid-off teachers. Offerings include sonography, hospice, geriatrics and home health care.

"We want to get you re-employed," he said. "We're looking at skill sets that take six to nine months to complete."

He said the school has seven campuses and nearly 12,000 students. Online classes also are available.

Another workshop participant, veteran educator Sharon D. Smith, worked in Douglas and Cobb counties. A literacy specialist and consultant, she said she returned to Atlanta after working at the International School of Luxembourg "just in time not to find a job."

Smith, 61, was surprised by the deep cuts.

"Some of us have stayed in education knowing we wouldn't get the big dollars other jobs paid, but knowing we would always have jobs," she said. "That's just not the case anymore."

Laid-off Cobb County teachers Miriam Payne and Bileni Teklu said they feel  let down.

Payne left a banking career to go back to school to become a teacher.

"I thought teaching was going to be it for me," said Payne, who worked a year as a full-time certified teacher before getting laid off.   She doesn't want another career change.

"I hope that in August I am back in front of a classroom. Where? It doesn't matter."

Teaching is a calling, said Teklu, who was chatting with Payne after the workshop. They said they hoped administrators only cut teacher jobs because it couldn't be avoided. And both are hoping for better times ahead.

"Are we jumping up and down about going into another profession? No. But we will do what we have to do," Teklu said.