- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2020

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - Newport News Public Schools’ human resources team planned to go about 20 career fairs across the country this spring, from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, to recruit teachers for the this fall.

Those trips never happened.

“They were all scheduled, some of them even paid for,” said Human Resources Director Stephanie Hautz. “They started coming in within two weeks, with everybody cancelling all of those trips.”

Virginia faced a teacher shortage even before the pandemic. There were 878 unfilled teaching positions in the state last school year, according the state board of education, and teacher turnover rates have been above 10% for the last eight years.

Late spring is prime hiring time for districts - most teachers are hired then, Hautz said, with summer reserved for last-minute changes.



When schools closed March 13, Newport News was down as many as 59 teaching positions. The district hires about 275 instructional staff each year and plans to hire about the same or a little less this year.

Hampton City Schools spokeswoman Kellie Goral said the district has 41 teacher vacancies as of late May.

“We’ve got to have teachers for kids whether they’re learning virtually or whether they’re learning face-to-face,” Hautz said. “It has become a really critical time period for us.”

Newport News was already faced with a larger need than normal when schools closed. Both districts saw unexpected increases in enrollment this school year, requiring more teachers, in addition to replacing regular turnover.

The pandemic initially had a small effect on turnover. A handful of teachers rescinded their resignations and retirements initially, concerned about the economic impact, but the pace has picked back up, according to Hautz, and they expect a normal amount of turnover at the end of the school year.

“We felt like we started behind right off the bat,” Hautz said.

Job fairs are one of the biggest ways that districts recruit teachers. Hautz and her team are used to holding in-person job fairs of their own and going to schools to interview candidates. But with those out of the question, districts are relying on virtual job fairs.

Hampton held its first virtual recruitment fair in late March and had a “great response,” according to Goral. The district will hold another this month.

Newport News schools purchased specialized software to be able to mass virtual job fairs. It held its first teacher recruitment fair May 12 and plans to hold more for both instructional and non-instructional staff in the coming weeks.

The process is a little bit different than an in-person fair. When an applicant logs on, they’re presented with a text chat portal where they can talk to a recruiter, who screens them for basic qualifications and licensing.

Then, they’re scheduled for a Zoom call later in the week.

“That job fair component is probably the biggest change for us,” Hautz said. “The other of course is juts the face-to-face interviewing. Typically, we do all that interviewing face to face for all of our positions.”

Jean Filetti, director of the teacher preparation program at Christopher Newport University, said that they normally hold an in-person career fair. This spring, the Center for Career Planning set up a virtual fair. They had 15 district participate and coordinated 30 interviews.

“I think it went really well. Some of the students said can we do this every spring?” Filetti said. “Maybe because they’re not veterans yet, it’s a bit more comfortable not to be face to face.”

Recruiting has also been complicated by the pandemic because of licensing.

A number of requirements for teacher licensing or renewal, like in-person student teaching, classroom observations and a CPR course, were immediately off the table. Testing centers closed too, meaning many graduating teaching students who hadn’t taken licensing exams yet were now out of luck.

State education officials have waived some requirements to help some teachers get fully licensed. In some situations, teachers are eligible to get provisional one-year licenses.

Hautz said they were still figuring out in the first weeks of May how to help employees navigate the new waivers and requirements.

“We’re providing as much flexibility as we can within the environment,” Hautz said.

Filetti said they didn’t know if their students would be fully licensed until late April. Because CNU required all of its students to take exams before student teaching this spring, they were able to get full three-year licenses.

“It’s been a challenge to get our student teachers through this semester with the schools closing on March 13,” Filetti said. “But they managed, and they’re all going to be masters and licensed. They pulled it off.”

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