More than 500 teachers join schools
Population growth creates jobs in largest districts
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.
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.
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.
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.