More than 500 teach­ers join schools

Pop­u­la­tion growth cre­ates jobs in largest dis­tricts

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The area’s largest school dis­tricts wel­comed more than 500 teach­ers to new cam­puses this month, from re­cent grad­u­ates to ex­pe­ri­enced vet­er­ans.

The school year be­gins Mon­day for Ben­tonville, Fayetteville and Spring­dale schools and Wed­nes­day for most Rogers schools. The school year started for East­side Ele­men­tary School in Rogers last month.

Dis­tricts do most of their hir­ing from March through Au­gust, but Ben­tonville started early with two new cam­puses open­ing this week: Osage Creek Ele­men­tary School and Creekside Mid­dle School. Seven­teen of the more than 140 teach­ers hired this year are go­ing to the new schools, said Su­per­in­ten­dent Debbie Jones.

Pop­u­la­tion growth in the re­gion has cre­ated jobs for teach­ers, said Jeff Wasem, Creekside prin­ci­pal.

“Ben­tonville Schools grew by over 500 stu­dents last school year,” Wasem said. The need for qual­ity can­di­dates will con­tinue to grow as well, he said.

North­west Arkansas teach­ers work in a mix of set­tings, from schools in densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods in large dis­tricts to smaller schools in ru­ral set­tings, said Jen­nifer Beasley, di­rec­tor of teacher ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The uni­ver­sity grad­u­ated 258 teacher can­di­dates ear­lier this year, in­clud­ing 109 with mas­ter’s de­grees in teach­ing who sought po­si­tions for the 2017-18 school year, she said. She es­ti­mated about 70 per­cent of teacher grad­u­ates each year stay in North­west Arkansas.

Can­di­dates be­gin ap­ply­ing for jobs in the early spring, but some are not hired un­til the sum­mer af­ter prin­ci­pals re­turn to work in late July and early Au­gust, she said. Prin­ci­pals de­ter­mine staffing needs based on how many stu­dents have moved in, Beasley said.

“I’m al­ways wait­ing by the phone in case a district wants a rec­om­men­da­tion for one of our stu­dents,” she said.

New teach­ers have a short time to get their class­rooms ready by Au­gust, which can be very stress­ful, she said.

Prin­ci­pals of the new Ben­tonville schools were cho­sen in April 2016. Most of the new staff were hired at other cam­puses to ac­com­mo­date growth in the 2016-17, know­ing they would move this school year to Osage Creek and Creekside, Jones said. The prin­ci­pals shifted roles in Jan­uary, and the district in Fe­bru­ary opened up po­si­tions at the new cam­puses for em­ploy­ees to ap­ply for a trans­fer, Jones said.

The district’s hir­ing for all schools wound down in the first week of Au­gust, Jones said. She fin­ished a fi­nal in­ter­view that week for an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Bright Field Mid­dle School. The can­di­date had met with the prin­ci­pal of the school three times prior to the fi­nal in­ter­view.

“We do a pretty thor­ough job,” Jones said. “We want them to be suc­cess­ful. We want this to be the right place for them. It’s all about putting the right peo­ple in the right seat on the right bus.”

The Ben­tonville School District chose roughly 140 new teach­ers for this school year from 2,000 ap­pli­cants, Jones said. Jones spent time with her new em­ploy­ees dur­ing a ori­en­ta­tion that took place Aug. 3-4. The ses­sion in­cluded dis­cus­sions about the district’s fo­cus on the val­ues of in­tegrity, op­por­tu­nity and ex­cel­lence; the district’s ap­proach to teach­ing more than 4,000 stu­dents in poverty; and tech­nol­ogy use for in­struc­tion.

“It’s one of my fa­vorite days be­cause they have such en­ergy,” Jones said. “They’re ex­cited. They’re ner­vous.”

The four large North­west Arkansas dis­tricts had the high­est be­gin­ning teacher salaries for 2016-17 with Spring­dale pay­ing the most, fol­lowed by Rogers, Ben­tonville and Fayetteville. Boards in three of the four large dis­tricts have dis­cussed pro­pos­als for rais­ing teacher pay. Raises are in ad­di­tion to an­nual “step” in­creases, which award more money based on ex­pe­ri­ence and ed­u­ca­tion.

The Spring­dale School Board raised teacher pay in June by $250, in­creas­ing salaries to $47,266 for a be­gin­ning teacher with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree. Teach­ers are vi­tal, and pay­ing teach­ers well is a pri­or­ity, said Kelly Hayes, comptroller for the district.

Fayetteville fol­lowed in July, with a $3,000 in­crease to its teacher salary sched­ule. Fayetteville be­gin­ning teach­ers with bach­e­lor’s de­grees will earn $45,310 an­nu­ally this year.

The Ben­tonville School Board this month heard ad­min­is­tra­tors’ plans to pro­pose be­tween a 1 per­cent and a 3.5 per­cent pay raise for teach­ers this fall. The salary sched­ule for now re­mains at 2014-15 lev­els, with be­gin­ning teach­ers earn­ing $44,708. A 1 per­cent raise would take the be­gin­ning teacher salary to $45,155, while a 3.5 per­cent boost would re­sult in a be­gin­ning teacher salary of $46,273.

A teacher in Rogers with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree and no ex­pe­ri­ence earns an an­nual salary of $44,750.

CON­NECT­ING WITH STU­DENTS

Fayetteville Su­per­in­ten­dent Matthew Wendt told most of the district’s nearly 95 new ed­u­ca­tors dur­ing ori­en­ta­tion about re­ceiv­ing keys and a box on his desk when he first be­came a teacher in 1990. Teach­ers to­day no longer work as in­di­vid­u­als but are part of a team on their cam­puses and in the district, he said.

Wendt told them to set high, but rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tions and warned them to be care­ful about post­ing on so­cial me­dia. He also asked them to think of the type of teacher they want to be.

“Do you have that teacher?” Wendt said. “Would you tell your­self what he or she did to make your list? What did they sound like? What did they do? Will that be you on Mon­day, Aug. 14?”

Nathan Henry, who is start­ing his 11th year of teach­ing, thought about his ninth-grade sci­ence teacher from Con­way High School.

“Just the way he was able to con­nect with all of the stu­dents and made them want to learn,” Henry said.

The teacher used his sense of hu­mor and con­nected sci­ence to Henry’s in­ter­ests, he said. Henry will spend this school year teach­ing ninththrough 12th-grade English at Fayetteville Vir­tual Academy, the district’s on­line char­ter school, which is en­ter­ing its sec­ond year.

Henry, who pre­vi­ously taught at Pea Ridge High School and El Do­rado New Tech High School, ap­plied be­cause of his in­ter­est in pro­grams that try dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to reach all types of stu­dents.

He will have a vir­tual class­room but still will meet with his stu­dents through on­line con­fer­ences and in his of­fice in­side the district’s for­mer Happy Hol­low Ele­men­tary School cam­pus.

An as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal, Si­na­tra Mor­ris, in­spired Amy Coul­ter to ap­ply for her first teach­ing job with the Fayetteville School District. Coul­ter will be­gin her ca­reer teach­ing first grade at Root Ele­men­tary School, where Mor­ris worked in 2016-17. Mor­ris will be an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at The Owl Creek School for 2017-18.

Coul­ter iden­ti­fied with Mor­ris’ view of valu­ing stu­dents for more than their aca­demic skills and test scores and of hav­ing high ex­pec­ta­tions for stu­dents, she said.

Dur­ing her teach­ing in­tern­ship, Coul­ter en­coun­tered a sixth-grader who didn’t be­lieve in him­self, she said. She told him, “You’re my leader.” He later wrote to her, “I wasn’t re­ally good at math, but I wanted you to know I am a leader.”

“That’s some­thing he will con­tinue to have the rest of his life,” she said.

HIR­ING TEACH­ERS

Spring­dale ad­min­is­tra­tors de­ter­mine whether the po­si­tion is needed when an open­ing oc­curs, Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Jared Cleve­land said. If the an­swer is yes, the po­si­tion is posted. Prin­ci­pals re­ceive the ap­pli­ca­tions, in­ter­view dozens of can­di­dates and rec­om­mend three to Cleve­land.

Cleve­land will re­view the ap­pli­ca­tions and in­ter­view the fi­nal­ists, he said. If the teacher is com­ing from an­other district, Cleve­land will con­sult with the can­di­date’s su­per­in­ten­dent to make sure he can be re­leased from his ex­ist­ing con­tract.

“Some­times, by the time I get to them, they may have taken an­other job in an­other district,” Cleve­land said. “I have to get af­ter it.”

About 150 teach­ers are new to the district. Most are fill­ing va­can­cies fol­low­ing res­ig­na­tions and re­tire­ments, but the district also added spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers, Cleve­land said. Cleve­land was still in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates early this month be­cause of some late res­ig­na­tions.

Some can­di­dates have sought jobs with the district for five to 10 years, he said. He en­cour­ages can­di­dates to share their heart for ed­u­ca­tion in a true and con­cise way.

“That ap­pli­ca­tion’s go­ing to get you an in­ter­view,” he said. “The in­ter­view is go­ing to get you a job.”

The num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions varies by po­si­tion in Rogers, where 130 teach­ers are new to the district, said Roger Hill, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for hu­man re­sources. The district re­ceived 400 ap­pli­ca­tions for ele­men­tary po­si­tions. Fewer ap­pli­cants ap­ply to teach chem­istry, for­eign lan­guages or spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion.

Hill had most staff hired for the new school year at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust.

“Ele­men­tary is still very, very com­pet­i­tive,” Hill said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Steve Ja­coby (from left), in­terim prin­ci­pal at Fayetteville High School, speaks Aug. 3 with Jackie Moore, oral com­mu­ni­ca­tions teacher at FHS, and Monika Kil­lion, cheer coach and ge­om­e­try teacher at FHS, dur­ing new teacher ori­en­ta­tion at Fayetteville High School.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Mar­lin Berry, su­per­in­ten­dent of Rogers Pub­lic Schools, wel­comes teach­ers dur­ing the Thank A Teacher Cel­e­bra­tion on Aug. 9 in the Rogers High School au­di­to­rium. Berry wel­comed district teach­ers for the school year that starts Wed­nes­day at most Rogers pub­lic schools.

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