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New program aims at ending teacher shortage

By Greg Gelpi

A local teachers shortage has received outside help with the implementation of an innovative program at the University of Georgia.

UGA will begin offering a dual degree program following a collaboration between their colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences.

The program could benefit systems like those in Clayton and Henry counties.

Despite hiring 609 new teachers for the 2003-2004 school year, more than 20 vacancies still exist after the Clayton County School Board allotted 22 new teaching slots based on increased enrollment, Ed Scott, assistant superintendent of personnel, said.

"It's a little higher than normal," Scott added, referring to the teacher deficit.

Henry County, like several other metro Atlanta counties, got help this current school year in finding teachers from the Clayton ones who left the county after the superintendent was fired and other controversy erupted.

In Henry, there are two vacancies on a staff of about 2,300 teachers, a contrast to Clayton, Winnie Johnson, recruitment coordinator for the Henry County School system, said.

She also attributed the few vacancies to the popularity of the county since its designation as the third-fastest growing county in the country.

State Superintendent of Education Kathy Cox outlined a two-tier strategy to counter the ever-increasing shortage by focusing on teacher retention and recruitment.

"Clearly, our focus must be twofold: in order to reduce the teacher shortage and turnover

rates, we must attract new people to the profession while retaining the quality teachers we

currently have in the system," Cox said.

Through retirement alone, the state loses 273 teachers a month, she said.

Cox listed initiatives in place to attract more teachers. One encourages those in business interested in a second career to share their experience by teaching.

To retain teachers, Cox sponsored House Bill 1311, which would exempt teachers who agree to work at a low performing school for three years from paying state income taxes. She also supports a 10 percent pay raise for nationally certified teachers, co-sponsored a bill to allow teachers to work "beyond retirement without penalty" and wants to provide proper training to current teachers.

UGA students wanting to earn degrees in education and biology, for instance, would previously be required to take about 30 more hours of classes. Now, students can earn a second degree in one semester, Jamie Lewis of the UGA College of Education, said.

"The two colleges decided to streamline the process," she said. "It makes our students more marketable."

The program serves several purposes, she said.

Many students decided to enter the teaching field late in their school careers, causing them to delay their graduation by a year, she explained. The program will also entice those from other UGA colleges to join the teaching force.

Not only will the program produce more teachers, the teachers will be of a higher quality, since they will have a degree's worth of classes in a content area, as opposed to a minor.

UGA's College of Education had 2,402 undergraduate students in the spring and graduated 1,251 education students last school year.

"Most of our teacher education students stay in the state," Lewis said.

The county is also working on its own program to replenish the number of teachers in the system.

Clayton County received authorization from the state's Professional Standards Commission to begin its own "mini college" to train teachers in a three-week program, Scott said.

"We basically have certification to do our own (Teacher Alternative Education) program," he said. "There have been very few school districts approved."

College graduates who lack particular classes can attend the jumpstart program and receive the training necessary to be initially certified to teach.

In addition, the county recruits rigorously throughout the state and country.

Word spread, and first-year teacher Anisa Baker of Phoenix City, Ala., knew she was bound for the county school system. Her sister, Alnita Harrison, the assistant principal at Morrow Middle School, told her about the school system.

"She said nothing but positive things about the schools," Baker, a third-grade teacher at Haynie Elementary, said.

Attending a job fair, she darted straight for the table for Haynie at 9 a.m. and enthusiastically signed a contract at 9:08 a.m., she said.

In only two months, she has already left her mark on the school, establishing a dance club, which has attracted 66 students and continues to grow.

Although Clayton County's recruiter position is currently vacant, the school district visited 70 college campuses in the southeastern United States, attended six job fairs and recruited nationally through the Teach Georgia website and a collaborative effort with the Regional Education Agency.

The school district recommended the hiring of a new recruiter at Monday night's board meeting, Scott said.

The county was also in need of nurses and bus drivers at the start of the school year.