As Virginia faces a worsening teacher shortage, Loudoun County school leaders say they’re working overtime to stay ahead of the curve and seem to be finding success.
Administrators from the Department Human Resources and Talent Development recently gave the School Board an update on what they’re doing to attract enough teachers to keep up with continued enrollment growth.
Each year, the school system brings on about 800 new hires with teaching licenses to keep pace with attrition and the 1,500 to 2,000 new students that come into the public schools. As Loudoun’s hiring managers are working to bring on more teachers each year, they’re pulling from a shrinking pool of qualified candidates.
“You’re all aware there is a teaching shortage across Virginia, which increases the importance of our recruitment activities,” said Kimberly Hough, assistant superintendent of the Department of Human Resources and Talent Development.
The number of unfilled teacher positions across the state has increased by 40 percent during the past 10 years.
The School Board has allocated more money to teacher recruiting efforts. Two years ago, the board approved funding for more consulting services and a personnel specialist who specifically targets diversity recruitment. About 12 percent of the school system’s teachers and administrators are racial minorities, far behind the 48 percent of minorities who make up the student body.
Hough said the newly created recruitment department is getting creative to attract more minority applicants, but it’s not easy. She told the board at its Feb. 27 meeting that minority students enrolled in teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities is just a handful compared to white students. According to 2015-2016 statistics, black students studying to be teachers ranges from 15.2 percent at four-year public institutions to 19.7 percent at two-year community colleges. Hispanic students make up between 3.9 percent at four-year private institutions and 12.6 percent at two-year community colleges.
“That means we’re really competing for a small number of minority teaching candidates,” Hough said.
Her department has rolled out several initiatives to try to bring more minority teachers to Loudoun’s classrooms. During the past two years, more than 500 hiring managers have taken training on how unconscious biases affect hiring practices. That includes principals, assistant principals, deans and counselors.
Their recruitment staff has also taken part in career fairs at 39 colleges and universities, and 24 of those are historically black colleges and universities.
For their more general recruiting efforts, they’ve added more in-house career fairs, increased their social media presence and advertising budget, hosted more “career-switcher” fairs, launched an employee referral program that’s resulted in 39 new hires, and done more to recruit student teachers and high school students in the teacher cadet program. The school system has also partnered with two programs designed to attract military veterans to the teaching profession: Troops to Teachers and Virginia Values Veterans.
“Prior to having a recruitment department, there were a whole lot of these services that we were not providing,” Hough said.
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) asked Hough whether their efforts are paying off. “There are a lot of efforts, but I don’t hear that we are having any headway in the hiring of diverse staff. Do you have some data on that?” she said.
She referred back to a presentation given in an October committee meeting that showed that 26.25 percent of the new teachers hired for this school year were racial minorities. That is more than double the rate of minority teachers of the school system’s total teachers, 12.56 percent of whom are black, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, American Indian or mixed race.
“There is slight progress. It’s very slow progress,” Hough said. Data from early in the school year shows that her department may be mitigating a worse problem, she added. “Because we were actually in a much better position than our neighbors in Fairfax and Prince William as far as the number of unfilled positions by quite a bit.”
The human resources department is also doing a lot more to track who is interviewed, all with the goal of increasing the candidate pool and creating a more diverse team of teachers who look more like the students they teach.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said he was happy to hear that administrators have taken the training about unconscious bias, but he’d like every person who sits on any hiring committee to take the training, as well.
“I understand that principals and assistant principals have taken that training, but someone else sitting on that committee could inadvertently impact that environment and I would like to make sure anyone involved in that process undergoes that training,” Morse said. “In fact, I’d like to get to the point where all of our teachers as well as administrators have the unconscious-biased training.”