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Pa. districts say teacher retention efforts are working

July 30, 2007|By DON AINES and JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - With much higher starting salaries, school districts in Pennsylvania's Franklin and Fulton counties typically fill vacancies without the troubles facing the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, officials said.

District administrators said the schools focus on staff retention to keep the number of vacancies low, while returning to previously successful methods of recruitment for new teachers.

"We go to a number of job fairs anywhere in Pennsylvania," Waynesboro Area School District Assistant Superintendent Gloria Walker said.

Waynesboro teachers are informally asked in January whether they plan to retire at the end of the school year.

"We tell them this is because we're going to job fairs and want to recruit the very best that we can," Walker said.

Many job fairs are hosted at colleges, allowing the district to hire recent graduates who go through a yearlong induction program with other new hires, Walker said. The program provides mentorship, she said.

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The Waynesboro Area School District's personnel office reported seven open teaching positions, with two math openings and one elementary job on the list.

The starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree in Waynesboro is $39,646 for the 2007-08 school year, compared with about $31,000 in West Virginia's Berkeley County.

"We're still filling vacancies. I actually got a resignation today," Greencastle-Antrim Acting Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said last week.

While the end of a school year brings retirements, it is also the time some teachers are looking for positions in other districts, in this case for a teacher wanting a job closer to home, he said.

"We feel very comfortable we'll fill those positions. For most of our positions, we have ample applicants," Hoover said of the four vacancies remaining from the 11 the district had at the end of the school year. The starting salary for teachers is $41,011, according to district figures.

Some positions, particularly for secondary teachers in specific subjects, are more difficult to fill than others, he said.

A Latin teacher retired, but the district hired a replacement before the end of last year, Hoover said. Finding a certified earth sciences teacher to take the place of one going on a one-year leave for a job with NASA could pose a challenge, he said.

Harder positions to fill include those in industrial technology (like architectural drafting and graphic arts) and the higher-level sciences like chemistry, Walker said. Just two universities in the state, California University of Pennsylvania and Millersville University, graduate students with the sciences degrees, she said.

"Oftentimes, they are scarfed up by the business world," she said.

Twenty-one of 24 vacancies the Chambersburg Area School District had at the end of the school year have been filled, said Jennifer Speece, a human resources assistant for support personnel. The unfilled vacancies are in secondary sciences, with the district needing agriculture and math teachers at Chambersburg Area Senior High School and a seventh-grade science teacher at Chambersburg Area Middle School, she said.

With 559 teaching positions, the district is well positioned to begin the school year, Speece said. Last year, however, a higher than normal number of retirements left the district with 52 vacancies at the end of the year, and another 16 were hired during the course of the 2006-07 school year, she said.

The starting salary for teachers in Chambersburg is $41,913, she said.

With 87 teaching positions, the Central Fulton School District, serving the McConnellsburg, Pa., area in Fulton County, had just two vacancies to fill at the end of 2006-07, down from five the previous year, according to district figures. Just one position remained to be filled as of last week.

The starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $36,474.

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