Dearth of educators forces 8,000-mile trip
Frustrated by their efforts to fill critical teacher vacancies with Americans, a team of recruiters with the Jefferson Parish school system traveled more than 8,000 miles last month to find what they need.
After a week in the Philippines interviewing more than 600 candidates, jobs were offered to 60 teachers for the 2008-2009 school year.
The Philippines is considered a hot spot for teacher recruitment because of its abundance of highly qualified teachers, particularly in high-need areas such as math, science and special education.
"I was very impressed with the candidates and their desire to come to the United States and work," said personnel administrator Donna Joseph, a former teacher, who led the team. "They were very knowledgeable about their subject matter, and I was shocked at how many of the candidates had their master's degrees."
School system spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said the trip cost between $12,000 and $15,000.
"It was very expensive, bit it's a high value for us to get such qualified people," he said, adding that the alternative is filling those positions with substitutes or less qualified teachers.
Besides Joseph, the recruiting team included personnel administrator Betsy Daly and two principals, Jackie Daniilidis of Estelle Elementary School and Darvell Edwards of Helen Cox High School.
Joseph said the four worked 14-16 hours a day interviewing teachers of all grade levels who primarily specialized in general math and science, advanced math and science, elementary eduction, special education and English as a Second Language.
The job offers are pending background checks, Louisiana certification and work visas, all of which is being handled by a Los Angeles company that specializes in placing foreign-born educators and health care workers.
The teachers, who will be placed in all grade levels on both sides of the river, will be paid the same as other Jefferson Parish teachers, who earn $39,000 to $54,000 a year depending on experience and education. In the Philippines, most teachers make less than $10,000 a year.
Joseph said she learned about the Philippines as a recruitment destination while attending a personnel administrators conference. Her supervisors were intrigued.
"We travel all over Louisiana and neighboring states recruiting college graduates," she said. But she said there are so few people majoring in education that Jefferson ends up competing with other local school districts for the same candidates.
As part of their research, Joseph and her team observed recently hired Filipino teachers in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. Among the schools they visited was Delmont Elementary, where seven of 100 new hires from the Philippines are working.
"You can't hire any more dedicated people who are willing to come to work everyday to do what it takes to ensure that children are learning," said Delmont Principal Antoinette Bienemy.
She said one teacher was able to turn a group of poorly behaved third-graders into "little angels," while others were instrumental in raising test scores. She said their new teachers include a former principal with a doctorate, a former college dean and an accomplished violinist and pianist.
Bienemy said their biggest challenge was adjusting to the culture. For one thing, she said, they were not used to children with discipline problems, despite an average class size of 50 to 60 students in the Philippines. But after working with veteran teachers for two weeks in Baton Rouge, they easily learned the school's discipline philosophy.
Joe Potts, head of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, said he looks forward to meeting the new teachers in August but lamented the challenges of finding teachers closer to home.
"We're not encouraging enough people here to go into education," he said. "It shows you how serious the problem is if we have to go to the Philippines to recruit teachers."
By: Barry Bronston
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