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W.Va. officials happy with quality of teacher applicants

August 09, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Eastern Panhandle school districts that have been historically challenged to compete with schools in neighboring states for hiring new teachers say they have faced little difficulty in hiring qualified professionals for 2009-10.

"We've just had an excellent year," said Dale Shaffer, human resources coordinator for Jefferson County Schools.

"Absolutely amazing" numbers of certified applicants have filed for elementary school jobs, which already tend to be among the most popular teaching positions, Shaffer said.

About a dozen positions were not filled last week, but Shaffer said he would have "no trouble" filling three elementary school jobs because the school district has been receiving 35 to 40 applications for those positions.

"I hope it continues all the way through the opening of school," said Shaffer, who acknowledged that Jefferson County Schools, like many other public school districts, still has been challenged with hiring special-needs staff for autistic students.

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"It's very hard to find certified autism instructors here, let alone in the country," Shaffer said.

In talking with prospective hires, Shaffer said some teachers have applied because they want to work closer to home, while others were from nearby school districts, which have struggled because of the economy.

Berkeley County Assistant Superintendent D. Rick Deuell last week reported similar findings in hiring for elementary school jobs, noting applications received for each opening averaged between 80 and 100, with one of the more recent jobs attracting 110 applications.

Deuell was preparing a final report on personnel adjustments and did not have a final number of new positions created by growth in enrollment, which is expected to be between 200 and 300 new students for 2009-10.

That increase pales in comparison to enrollment jumps in the first half of this decade, when enrollment jumped by more than 600 or 700 students several years in a row, peaking in 2006-07.

Deuell said in an interview that the school district, which employs more than 1,300 teachers, has benefited from a slowdown in hiring by school districts in neighboring states. The number of college graduates has remained steady, which also has been helpful.

"There's a lot more competition for these jobs than we've seen in years past," Deuell said.

In Morgan County, Assistant Superintendent Joan Willard said the school district has received a much better pool of applicants than in previous years.

For elementary jobs, the school district, which now employs more than 200 professional staff, normally receives about 10 applications, but this year that number jumped to about 30 and "they were all very good," Willard said.

"There's very few teaching positions (open) at this point," said Willard, acknowledging that previous years had been "very rough."

Willard suspects the economic slowdown might have contributed to making her job easier than in years past and suggested teachers also might have backed away from leaving for a higher-paying job because of budget uncertainties elsewhere.

"I certainly wouldn't want to be changing positions (right now)," Willard said.

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