March 6, 2013 in City

Teaching applications taken earlier at Spokane Schools

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Tara Luciani, a Jefferson Elementary School kindergarten teacher with a one-year contract, introduces Emma Hansen as the class “Star Student of the Week” on Tuesday morning.
(Full-size photo)

Kelsey Christensen loves her job teaching English language development at North Central High School.

The trouble is, she has only a one-year contract with Spokane Public Schools and doesn’t know if she’ll have the same job again next year, or even a teaching job in the district.

Last summer, she learned just a week before school started that she would be working at the high school.

A change to Spokane Public Schools’ hiring practices could help alleviate uncertainty for many of the district’s teachers in the same situation as Christensen.

“I’ve worked hard to get things going with students, and I worry about where I’m going to be next year,” she said.

Spokane Public Schools is hiring right now, two months earlier than in previous years. District officials’ goals are to create a wider pool of applicants, reduce the number of one-year contracts and create more stability among certificated staff.

“This will be better for everyone – staff, students and administration,” Christensen said.

The district, Spokane County’s second-largest employer, hires an average of 211 new full-time workers each year based on hiring practices over the past five years, said Tennille Jefferies-Simmons, chief human resources director. About 53 percent of those hired each year are on one-year contracts.

Knowing that, district officials posted about a quarter of the positions they anticipate needing in the fall: 30 K-6 teachers, 10 math teachers for seventh-12th grade, six special education instructors and one elementary music teacher.

Prior to posting jobs on the district’s website, district officials contacted colleges of education so that graduating students were aware of the early application time, and sent out fliers to one-year and part-time employees.

“I’m pleased,” Jefferies-Simmons said. “We already have 79 applicants. The goal was to get as much hiring done as early as possible.”

This gives the district a head start, she said. The goal is to hire as early as possible, but much of the hiring is based on enrollment.

Because the district has been waiting until late summer to put people in position, many classes have started with substitutes rather than a permanent teacher.

“A substitute start is so disruptive, hard on kids and hard on adults,” said Jefferson Elementary School Principal Mary-Dean Wooley, one of several principals who spoke up about hiring issues.

She added, “I think that the late hiring practices we’ve had over the last several years put us in a rush when the school year starts, and puts the candidates in a rush.”

District officials think the new system will allow more employees “to be settled and able to plan for students in the fall,” Jefferies-Simmons said. “That’s in everyone’s best interest.”

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