Rural Quality: Small Districts Are Focusing on Recruitment Strategies and Distance Education to Employ Highly Qualified Teachers

Article excerpt

The highly qualified teacher requirement of No Child Left Behind is one tenet that everyone agrees sounds good on paper, yet no state was able to meet the 2005-2006 deadline to have a highly qualified teacher in every core course by the end of the school year. It wasn't for lack of trying; in some cases the candidates didn't exist, in other cases outside factors came into play.

Ostensibly, the two extremes of the school spectrum--urban and rural--are having the most challenges filling positions with highly qualified teachers. A wide range of reasons are cited for this, including undesirable working conditions, or lack of funds for competitive salaries. States with large rural populations deploy a variety of tactics to recruit candidates.

KANSAS

According to the Kansas State Department of Education Revised State Plan For Meeting Highly Qualified Teacher Goal In No Child Left Behind, which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in July, 165 of 300 unified school districts in the state were identified as rural under the Rural Education Achievement Program. Fifteen of the 165 rural districts meet the 100 percent HQT requirement. The state takes advantage of the rural school exception, which allows a rural teacher who teaches multiple, related classes (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, and general science) to be considered highly qualified as long as the teacher was highly qualified in at least one of the areas.

"So far we have done very well [meeting the requirement]," says John Morton, superintendent of Newtown Public Schools USD 373. Last year all teachers in the district were highly qualified. The district made good use of the law's grace period to get its paperwork in order. Some teachers had submitted under the wrong category and others were reassigned to an area in which they would be highly qualified. "Not a lot of people are teaching out of subject," he says. The district also sponsored professional development opportunities and paid for ELL endorsements. They also take more care in reviewing an applicant's qualifications during the hiring process.

Morton attributes at least part of their ability to attract HQTs to the district's location 30 miles north of Wichita. The proximity to the highway gives teachers mobility, with two-thirds living in the district and one-third outside.

The district has "put more money and time" into recruiting efforts. Representatives attend job fairs, post positions online and maintain good relations with the local colleges and universities. "Everybody wins" when universities host recruitment fairs for the school districts, he points out.

Although the district considers applicants from out of state, it does not actively recruit out of state because there is not always a reciprocal agreement between states when it comes to licensing teachers. He suggests it would help everyone if there were a common metric in place for all states when it came to licensing.

Once they find highly qualified teachers, they work hard to keep them. The district has a mentoring program in place where a master teacher is teamed with a new teacher. "We recognized the need to provide as much support for new employees as possible," Morton says, adding that research shows most teachers leave during the first five years. The district also provides ongoing professional development, has a full-time grant writer, instructional coaches for reading and math, wireless labs in every building and a computer for every teacher. "We try to make the environment as positive as possible," he explains. He describes salaries as "middle of the range" compared to other districts the same size. The board has discussed incentive pay for hard-to-fill positions, such as special education, and other perks, such as facilitating home loans. But Morton says health insurance is an issue and they have lost some candidates because if it. He hopes it will be addressed in the next budget. …