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The Palm Beach County School District is trying a new approach to find desperately needed teachers— promising them jobs right out of high school.
The School Board approved an agreement Wednesday with Nova Southeastern University in Davie to create a new teacher training program that provides a direct pipeline into the school district. The university plans to recruit students, mostly recent high school graduates from out of state, into the program with the understanding they’ll get a paid job with the school district, both as a student and as a graduate.
During their senior year, they’ll become a paid substitute teacher with the school district. At graduation, they’ll be offered a full-time teaching position, assuming they meet certification and other requirements. The teachers are not required to accept the jobs or stay a certain time in Palm Beach County
The partnership also includes an option for students to take a five-year program to earn a bachelor's and master's from NSU and work for the school district. Teachers with master’s degrees receive $3,000 extra a year from the district and have more opportunities to be promoted to administrative jobs.
Under a third option, NSU will train teacher’s aides in the district to become teachers in Palm Beach County.
“We’re casting wider nets and thinking differently about how we're approaching teacher recruiting,” said Gonzalo S. La Cava, chief of human resources for the district. “I’m very optimistic about this program. I think if we can put these individuals in good subbing spots, that will provide them great training to work as teachers.”
NSU is hoping to start similar partnerships in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Provost Ralph Rogers said.
Districts around the country have faced a major teacher shortage in recent years, as fewer teachers enter the profession and more leave within the first five years.
Almost 780 teachers left Palm Beach County schools last year, not including retirees. That’s nearly a 50 percent jump from a few years ago. At the same time, the number of students seeking teaching degrees in Florida universities has plummeted. It went from about 13,900 students in 2010 to less than 9,300 students last year, about a 30 percent drop.
This fall, 431 undergraduate students were enrolled in Florida Atlantic University's College of Education, down 20 percent from three years ago. NSU currently enrolls about 150 undergraduate students in its teaching program, down from about 800 a decade ago, Rogers said.
School district and college officials say Florida’s numbers started to drop during the recession when state cutbacks led schools to lay off teachers or freeze hiring. The starting salary for teachers, about $40,000 in South Florida, is also discouraging future teachers, educators say.
NSU, a private school, has struggled to compete with teacher training programs at colleges such as Broward College and Miami Dade College, which offer degrees for a fraction of NSU’s $26,000 annual tuition.
So NSU says it plans to focus much of its recruiting efforts on out-of-state students.
“We certainly take many Florida residents, but we see out-of-state students as a growth opportunity," Rogers said. “I think we can compete on price with state and metropolitan universities in places like the Northeast and even Texas."
He said NSU is also focusing on quality, to ensure graduates have the training and assistance they need to be high performing teachers. Teachers ranked as highly effective on their evaluations are eligible for more pay and bonuses than other teachers.
“This is a not a silver bullet for the teaching demand in South Florida," Rogers said. “But we do think we’ll be able to attract a number of highly qualified students who will become highly qualified teachers.”
By Scott Travis•Contact Reporter