High-Dollar Hiring

Districts use cash incentives to lure bilingual teachers

Bilingual and special education teachers are now in the same category as hot college football players.


Just as the sought-after athletes get signing bonuses to commit to a certain National Football League team, so do teachers when they sign on to a certain school district. Denton County school districts, including Lewisville, Carrollton-Farmers Branch and Denton, have begun offering stipends or signing bonuses (or both) to woo these teachers. These stipends range from $ 1,000 to $ 3,000.


“We have to do it in order to be competitive with the surrounding districts,” said Carol Fisher, assistant director of personnel for the Lewisville district, about stipends. “If one district starts it, then another does, and another, and that becomes the way things are done.”


As the North Texas economy continues to grow stronger, drawing more and more people to the area, the need for teachers rises along with it. Nationally as well as locally, teachers have never been more sought after and wooed, according to officials, especially those representing the most critical shortages: bilingual, special education, math, science and computer technology.


Mary Hopkins, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district’s personnel director, knows this as well as anyone. This summer, about two dozen teachers who had verbally committed to the district later reneged when something better came along.


“It’s not for a lack of trying,” she said.


As the school year approaches for many Denton County districts, all of them are dealing with a last-minute scramble to get enough teachers hired. Carrollton-Farmers Branch starts school Aug. 9. Denton and Lewisville open Aug. 10.


Since April, the Lewisville district’s personnel office has hired 471 new teachers and instructional aides. As of mid-July, there were still 186 positions for teachers and aides still to fill before school starts.


In the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district, about 300 teaching positions have been added since 1995, up to a total of nearly 1,600 last year. This summer alone, the district created 88 new jobs, mostly to staff the new Riverchase Elementary in Coppell and the incoming seniors at Creekview High School in north Carrollton.


“We’re working on hiring daily, and principals are interviewing,” said Bobby Burns, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration. “When you add growth, you’ve doubled your obstacles, so to speak.”


Had it not been for growth-fueled positions, the district would be finished with its hiring, said Ms. Hopkins.


In the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district, about 340 openings have been filled, some 60 shy of a full staff with a only few more days left until school starts.


The Denton district has hired about 150 teachers since May, and as of July 19 needed to hire about 30 more before school starts, said Dennis Stephens, executive director of human resources in the Denton district. All those positions probably won’t be filled before the first day of school, Mr. Stephens said, meaning that substitutes will have to be used in the classrooms on the first day of school.


“At this time in the school year, substitutes become extremely important,” he said.


Amy Byington, a Denton mother of two, can attest to this.


She signed up to work as a substitute teacher in the Denton school district last year, and was called much more than she expected.


“I could have worked every day, and I was only on the list to sub at the elementary schools,” she said, referring to the phone calls she received at home early in the morning nearly every weekday, from district employees asking her to work that day.


To make hiring even more difficult in the Lewisville district, a record number of employees retired from that district at the end of the last school year, creating an even greater need for hiring, Mrs. Fisher said.


“Another thing is that the economy is such that many of our young teachers made the decision to stay home with their children,” said Mrs. Fisher. “That’s wonderful for the children, but we’ve had to go and fill their positions, too.”


A number of teachers hired in the districts are not fully certified as teachers, according to human resources employees in the districts. Many have “alternative certifications,” which means they are in the process of getting their college degree and certification from the state.


This is especially true for bilingual teachers.


In the Denton district, for example, 90 percent of the newly hired bilingual teachers are not fully certified, said Adela Nuez, director of bilingual, English-as-a-second-language and migrant programs in that district.


Mrs. Nuez said that estimating the student population is hard when 50 percent of the district’s new Hispanic students show up on the first day of school unregistered.


“There is too much going on that day to handle it the way we’d like to,” Mrs. Nuez said.


She is trying to reduce the number of unregistered students by placing classified advertisements in Spanish in area newspapers, giving information on how to register children for school during the summer.


Districts are creating special classes for non-English speaking students, to get them up to par in English.


In Carrollton-Farmers Branch, where more than a third of the student population is Hispanic and Asian-American, the district places new immigrant and non-English speaking students into a yearlong program where they learn the language. After that, they move into the traditional classroom but continue to have contact with an English-as-a-second-language instructor.


In the Denton district, Mrs. Nuez is working on setting up Newcomers Academies for non-English-speaking students at every Denton district middle school and high school. In these academies, students spend a three-hour block learning English and American culture. They take field trips to places such as post offices and banks, since these typical American places of business are unfamiliar to the immigrants. In addition to the hours spent in the academy each day, the students attend regular math and science classes.


“We don’t want to isolate them all day,” Mrs. Nuez said. “The regular classes give them an opportunity for socialization with the rest of the students.”


Also, the districts are beginning to implement Spanish lessons at the elementary school level.


“The growth and changing demographics have made it more evident that we need to teach a second language in the elementary schools,” said Dr. Charles Cole, assistant superintendent for instruction. “It’s obvious that it wouldn’t hurt any of us to speak Spanish.”


The districts are also struggling to hire more minority teachers in general, not just bilingual ones. It only makes sense to have a more diverse teacher makeup to match the diversity of the student body, district officials said.


For example, in the past decade, the number of Hispanic, African-American and Asian students has doubled in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch district. As of two years ago, minority students for the first time comprised the statistical majority. The shifting demographics have led administrators to try to diversify instruction and hiring. For instance, district officials have stocked libraries with a range of books that apply to different ethnic backgrounds, said Dr. Cole.


“Dick and Jane are not dead, but we make sure there are other stories that reflect those [other] cultures,” he said.


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