Rural Schools Struggle to Attract Teachers

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Sep. 24, 2012 12:00 am  

"It seems like we get less and less teachers in Arkansas, especially in math and science," said Tom Wilson, superintendent of the Barton-Lexa School District in south Arkansas. "Salary is always an incentive to go into a career, but I really enjoy young teachers coming here who love the profession and love kids."

Wilson's K-12 district has 850 students, and around 65 percent of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. The 50-teacher district is in the Mississippi River Delta near Helena-West Helena.

"It's hard to find really excellent teachers in this area," said Wilson. "We have to use more creative means around here."

Wilson said the school advertises online and participates in job fairs, typically garnering decent interest with the better-than-average salaries it can offer.

"One of the ways to get teachers into those areas is to pay them more," Wilson said. "Our base salary is presently $37,132. That's for a teacher with no experience."

Good salaries won't always bring in the talent, though.

"The only problem is that after the candidates see the salary, which is fairly high, when they find out where we're located, they drop interest," Wilson said. "Most of them live around the Little Rock area or are attending college somewhere else. It's kind of out of their abilities to drive back and forth."

What ends up happening, Wilson said, is multiple certifications for existing teachers.

"This past year, our chemistry, AP chemistry, life sciences and calculus teacher resigned," he said. "What happened was we had to utilize two existing teachers in their certification areas and assign them some of his classes.

"Then we had this situation recently: A teacher with 46 years of experience retired, but then she changed her mind and came back after we couldn't find a new English teacher. She retired again this year, and came back again."

Sometimes, Wilson said, the school asks teachers to get certified in other teaching areas to fill gaps that otherwise would be empty.

Teach for America, a program that recruits recent college graduates to at-risk and poverty-stricken school districts, has helped Wilson's district with the talent search, he said.



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