This past month’s DeKalb Board of Education work session was quite enlightening with regard to our department of Human Capital. Our district, a week before school, reported 210 unfilled teacher positions – and that’s not including teaching positions to be funded through Title I federal funds. Last year at this time, we had 149 teacher vacancies.

While the Board of Education is frequently criticized, I want to publicly praise our board for two things that occurred at their work session after hearing this astounding report:

  1. For asking the tough questions and seeking to understand why DeKalb County Schools continues to lose teachers at alarming rates (51 teachers resigned during the month of July, 900 teachers resigned this past year)
  2. For asking why our district continues to be lacking several hundred teachers at the beginning of the school year.

These two issues are critical for us as a school district, and since the school district’s main objective is to educate children with teachers, I think we need to address these issues immediately.

Unfortunately, our Human Capital department has made quite a few costly errors:

  1. The department of Human Capital is just now sending out an RFQ (“request for quotes” from potential vendors) for outside teacher placement vendors, yet they knew they had lost 900 teachers last year (one sixth of the total number of teachers in the district).
  2. They terminated their contract with Intalage, the group that provided international teachers to fill many positions in the school district. Subsequent to this, they did not seek a potential group to fill the role that Intalage played in staffing our schools.
  3. They have continued to not allow the school district to contract with Teach For America (TFA).
  4. They have only hosted a couple job fairs in the past year.

I want to address these concerns and offer a few suggestions. I think many would agree that, given the fact that we knew back in May that we were losing so many teachers, we should have been much more aggressive in our recruitment strategy.

Gwinnett County Public Schools not only holds job fairs, but they actively recruit from the university system of Georgia. They also post job openings on their website and on LinkedIn and other employment search engines. Perhaps DeKalb County Schools should begin to do this. I have never run across a job listing on any of the employment search engines, yet I continue to see job postings from GCPS.

Secondly, when they terminated their contract with Intalage (even though there were many controversies surrounding their employment by the district), we lost some really incredible teachers. At Cross Keys HS, I personally know one mathematics teacher who was told by the agency that her contract with DCSD would be ending in May because Intalage would no longer be working with DeKalb. She and our school spent April through June trying to find a way to keep her on staff in DeKalb, but to no avail. We even suggested that the county sponsor her J-1 Visa. That didn’t work, either.

She ended up taking a job in Henry County. She lives in Decatur, does not own a car; and now, instead of carpooling to work with a colleague (as she did when she worked at Cross Keys), she has to either move her children and husband again, or she has to take an expensive taxi.

Or she can move back to India.

I understand why the district would want to hire from within our county and within our local area, but until we have local, talented teachers being turned away by the district, I believe that we should utilize international or national staffing agencies – even if it’s not Intalage (read more about the district’s experience with Intalage here on Stan Jester’s Factcheck Blog).

I also think that we should utilize Teach For America teachers (even though that model has its proven challenges) until we have local teachers lining up to teach in DeKalb County. A TFA teacher, even though not ideal – in the minds of many people – is better than not having a certified, permanent teacher in a classroom.

Additionally, as I mentioned above, we need to advertise job openings in a way that is congruent with 21st century practices. We need to use LinkedIn and other professional networking sites and employment search engines in order to attract potential teachers. We also need to be attending job fairs at universities in our state and in nearby states in order to recruit new graduates.

What we are doing is not working, as board member Dr. Joyce Morley pointed out, and I think we need to dramatically change our practices in order to address this egregious lack of teachers. Gwinnett and Fulton are almost — if not fully — staffed at this point. We can scratch our heads and wonder why our scores and graduation rates don’t meet or exceed many of their top schools, but until we actually have 100% of our classrooms staffed with qualified professionals, we won’t be comparing apples to apples. One would imagine that classrooms with teachers would perform better than classrooms without teachers.

And lastly, I want to mention that while we appreciate the 3% raise from the school district and from the state, in addition to the $500 retention bonus and $1000-3000 signing bonuses, many teachers were not aware of these changes. We received an email regarding the 3% pay increase, but few if any teachers at our high school even knew about the $500 retention bonus, and no new teacher I talked to knew about the signing bonus. If we are going to offer those incentives, it might be important to make sure that information is disseminated.

As always, I want to reaffirm that I trust our new superintendent Dr. R. Stephen Green to continue to work to improve our school district. I hope that this information proves useful to him and to other members of the board and the department of Human Capital. Our students and our teachers will thank you for giving your immediate attention to these pressing issues.