Chicago schools feel other side of Baby Boom

  • By Ashley Johnson
  • Medill News Service
  • August 03, 2007 @ 6:02 AM

With less than two months until the first day of class, Chicago Public Schools still hasn't filled more than 1,000 teaching positions.

Surprisingly, the greatest need isn't for math and science teachers-but for physical education, special education and reading teachers, as well as librarians and counselors.

When school started last year, the system had the lowest vacancy rate ever, about 2.5 percent, said Nancy Slavin, head of recruitment and workforce planning.

But this year, a combination of principal and teacher retirements and the opening of several new schools has created a much higher demand before school starts Sept. 4.

"We have need across the city," Slavin said. "You have to remember that with 600 schools, if each one needs one (teacher), that's 600 right there."

Of the roughly 25,000 CPS teachers, 1,800 retired this summer, in part because of a new pension enhancement program, Slavin said.

CPS also lost about a quarter of its principals-around 150-to retirement this year.

When the exiting principals were recognized at the Chicago Board of Education meeting in June, President Rufus Williams remarked CPS was seeing "the other side of the Baby Boom."

Most of those principal spots have been filled; however, individual schools do their own hiring, so a new principal-who is learning the ropes while trying to pick teachers-can slow the process.

Slavin declined to name the schools in need of the most teachers, but said the vacancies haven't taken CPS by surprise.

"We figured we might need this sort of boost," she said, explaining that the teacher job fair, to be Aug. 10 at Soldier Field, was planned more than a year ago.

Slavin likened the job fairs to speed dating, but stressed that teachers are rarely hired on the spot. Instead, they are encouraged to visit the school and interview further with the principal.

"We have teachers that interview at 10 schools, get 10 offers, and choose one," Slavin said. "So there's an empowerment of the teacher."

The same is true for principals.

Sala Sims, principal of Catalyst Elementary School, a new school located in the Austin neighborhood, said she looked for people who saw teaching as a vocation, not just a job.

With 221 students and a 13-1 student-teacher ratio, Catalyst prides itself on fostering strong relationships between teachers and students.

"It's really important for us because part of our mission for our school is for our staff to really connect with you," Sims said. "They have to see it as something where they want to connect with [student's] families outside of class."

Supply and demand

CPS has no shortage of teacher applicants.

Slavin said there are more than 15,000 potentials in the database, it's just a matter of moving them through the process of paperwork and interviews-and pairing interests with positions.

"Our hiring is almost like a free marketplace," she joked. "We don't have a high need in high school social studies, but unfortunately, there are a lot of those [teachers applying]."

There are not, however, enough in other areas.

Sims has every position at Catalyst filled, except for one subject: physical education.

"It's really tough getting a physical education person," Sims said. "People are interested; most of our [applicants] haven't been certified."

Under Renaissance 2010, contract schools, such as Catalyst, and performance schools must hire certified teachers, while charter schools have more flexibility.

Catalyst opens Aug. 27, but Sims isn't worried. She said classroom teachers will oversee a physical education curriculum for students until a suitable teacher is found.

Slavin is similarly optimistic about filling hundreds of spots citywide by September. She points out that CPS hired 600 new teachers in the first three weeks of July.

And, if necessary, the system can pull from its large pool of substitute teachers for the first day.

"One way we look at it is, like, we lost a lot of veteran teachers, and that's not good," Slavin said. "But we also look at it as an opportunity. Hopefully, the teachers we're hiring will be the next 30 years of CPS."

Discuss

O. LEWIS, 08-03-2007

I can appreciate reading about education

issues and updates in your paper, but

can you please share with your readers information about the Title I - Part A

Section 1118 Parental Involvement funds

sent to the school to provide funds for

the literacy needs of parents of Title I

NCLB students?