School districts searching near and far for top candidates

Melissa Larson, principal at Homewood’s Willow School, was excited when the District 153 school board approved the hiring of a school psychologist.
 
“Oh, thank you!” she told the board after the vote on March 11.  The position had been vacant for a year.
 
  Homewood District 153
  administrators Nikki Kerr
  and Jim Cassidy met with
  special education teacher
  Molly O'Malley at a schools
  job fair March 16.
(Marilyn 
  Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
The district has had an opening for an English Language Learner teacher with a bilingual Spanish endorsement for over a year. The ELL position is paid with grant money, so the district has to show it is actively looking for someone to fill the spot, Kathy Schaeflein, director of curriculum, told the board.
 
In Flossmoor District 161, it’s “a full-court press to find specialized language and science and math teachers,” said Superintendent Dana Smith.
 
It once was the case where districts were able to select candidates from dozens, if not hundreds of resumes. Often the applicants were “home grown” having gone through the schools and returned to live in the community, said Dale Mitchell, superintendent in District 153.  
 
The pool has been shrinking for a number of years, so representatives of District 153, 161 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 are scouting for the best qualified teachers, making visits to universities and job fairs and posting jobs through selected sites on social media.
 
  Jodi Bryant, director of
  human resources and
  public relations at
  Homewood-Flossmoor
  High School, met with
  teacher candidate Brian
  Nolan at a South Cook &
  Will County Schools Job
  Fair on March 16.
(Marilyn
  Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
Districts 153, 161 and 233 are all willing to go outside of Illinois and the Midwest on candidate searches. The districts participated in a schools job fair March 16 that drew 29 districts from South Cook and Will counties who are looking for staff.
 
Prinae Johnson of Homewood came to the job fair. She is a kindergarten teacher for Chicago Public Schools who would accept a position for kindergarten through third grade. She left her resume, with information on her bachelor's and master's degrees, with representatives from District 161.
 
“I love what I do. Teaching the children to read, that lights up my world,” she said. I tell them, 'Listening to you all read just makes my heart smile.'”
 
Molly McLoughlin of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood talked with representatives of Homewood District 153. She is graduating in May from St. Xavier University.
 
“I have a passion for kids. I love seeing that spark in their eyes when they get it,” she said. “Growing up, school was a second home for me. I had really great role models, and I want to do that for someone else.”  
 
“Teaching is still an excellent career, but think about graduating with student loans, and it may be in relation to your student loan amount and your starting salary may not be as attractive as getting a degree in a field that may start higher,” Smith said.
 
Special education teacher Molly O’Malley, one of the hundreds of interviewees at the job fair, agrees that paying loans back on a starting salary “will take you a long time.”
There was a long line at the H-F table where candidates were looking for positions as teachers, counselors and administrative staff.
 
H-F has “great relationships” with colleges and universities, said Jodi Bryant, director of human resources and public relations. “We go out and find candidates with excellent credentials.”
 
This year one H-F teacher is retiring, but 15 teachers have given notice of retirement in 2022. While that number seems high, Bryant said it’s a relatively small number when you consider H-F has 10 departments and a teaching staff of more than 200. 
 
“You lose so much” with every retirement, Smith said. “Those are your most experienced teachers who have seen so much, know how to handle a situation and have institutional knowledge. Retirements are always hard. We’re not facing too many, but those coming up will be a loss to the district. They are very high quality teachers.”

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