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County tackles teacher shortage

Nevada County School districts are faced with an urgent problem. By June 2007, approximately 50 teachers will retire from the high schools, and so will 25-30 teachers from the elementary schools.

And the school districts, which hardly hire more than 15 teachers countywide a year, is doing everything within its means to fill the yawning gap.

“We have quite a high number of baby boomers in our district,” said Maggie Deetz, superintendent of the Nevada Joint Union High School District. “Combined with that, we have a retirement incentive ending in June 2007. So when we look at this large number of teachers, in order to capitalize on the retirement incentive they have to retire next June.”



The incentive, Deetz said, is two-fold. The retiring teachers get two year’s service credit with a state teacher’s retirement benefit. Also, the school district will pay for their health benefits for five years.

“That’s a lot of money you are talking about between an increase in their retirement check and medical benefits,” Deetz added.




No doubt, teachers approaching their retirement age are grabbing the offer.

Creating solutions

The county’s school districts are addressing the problem of hiring new teachers in various ways.

“I’m networking with all the universities and credentialing programs in the entire state,” said Marty Mathiesen, principal of Nevada Union High School, which will have the maximum number of teachers retiring by June 2007. “Our teaching staff has taken the time with me to profile Nevada Union, our community, our positive assets to promote our area and profile the challenges, one being the cost of living.”

The median price of a single-family house in the Nevada County, according to the national research company DataQuick Information Systems, is $460,000. The total monthly payments for such a property, as calculated by mortgage loan officer Janice Bree of Citizen’s Bank in downtown Grass Valley, comes to $2,725.

The starting average salary for a high school teacher in Nevada County is $38,800. For a middle school teacher, the starting salary averages to $36,800 and an elementary school teacher starts at an average of $36,900. With the average starting salary being $37,500 a year, buying a house is certainly not easy, especially for a single-earner.

To counter the issue of expensive housing, the county is planning to offer better salary packages to new teachers.

“We’ve already set aside money for recruiting,” Deetz said. “We’ve been talking to principals for several years about going to job fairs and connecting with the colleges. Not all teachers will be brand new; we want to lure experienced ones from the other districts. For that, we have, for the last few years, focused on getting our teachers’ salary schedule competitive.”

The problem is also being tackled by training local people to become teachers. Terry McAteer, Nevada County superintendent of schools, arranged for National University to offer classes in the area for prospective teachers. Within 15 months, the university will get the students their teaching credentials. About 47 students are now doing their student-teaching at different schools in the county. A similar number will go through the same process the next semester.

“I think it is good. It’s effective. It’s an advantage because we get the first look at these teachers,” Mathiesen said. “If I see good potential instructors, I’m ahead in the recruiting process. This state and the U.S. have a shortage of teachers and getting quality teachers is a competitive process now. It’s not only recruitment that I’m going to do statewide, it’s support, training and retention.

“I have the opportunity of building a quality team. I inherited, a year and a half ago, a quality team of teachers, and what that team needed was … stability, trust and a common vision. But now with the significant number of teachers leaving, I have the opportunity to select teachers with skills and personality that fit into my vision of Nevada Union for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Change of course

Kerry Arnett, 50, a Nevada City councilman, has finished his coursework for the National University and is now student teaching. After working as the general manager in Express Video in Nevada City for 17 years, Arnett is finally about to realize his dream of being a teacher.

“It’s something I always wanted to do, but something led to the other and I never got around it,” Arnett said, about his new career. “Then Dr. McAteer offered this excellent opportunity to get a teaching credential right here at the Nevada County and I just felt this was the time.”

Arnett is happy about the program he is in.

“It’s just been extremely valuable, the education that I’ve received in this program,” he said. “It has been excellent. It was a good combination of both the theory of teaching and practical hands-on aspect.”

Arnett works with seventh graders in the morning and teaches U.S. history to 11th graders in the afternoon.

“One of the things I am looking forward to is the challenge of sharing information with young people,” he said. “My specialty is history for which I have a passion for. I’m looking forward to learning from my students as much as they will learn from me.”

Arnett, however, is aware that the National University is giving him a teaching credential not a job. After graduation, he will have to compete with applicants – who may have several years of teaching experience – to get the job he is looking for.

Mathiesen wants to maintain the quality of teachers when he recruits new people. The pool of applicants will include graduates of National University as well as people from areas where cost of living is higher than in Nevada County.

“There’s nothing more important than the quality of teachers in the classroom,” he said. For the first couple of years, he wants to observe the new teachers before they are tenured.

Will it work?

McAteer feels the strategy of home-growing teachers is working.

“The reason … is because these people in the program have basically stopped their lives for a year and entered the credential program because they have a passion for teaching,” he said. “Most of the people (in the program are) in their mid 30s, so they bring a lot of life experiences into the classrooms which is very valuable.”

Besides, new teachers are expected to bring new energy to their work.

“You would assess the difference between teachers in their mid 50s and teachers in their early 20s,” Mathiesen said. “The older teachers have the expertise. Younger teachers are going to have a lack of experience but, to generalize, more energy and enthusiasm.”

The present problem of having a large number of teachers retiring, all at once, should not recur in the near future, according to some.

“The last big student growth period was in the 70s and 80s, and therefore those hired in the 70s and 80s are close to retiring,” McAteer said. “It is a unique situation that we have. It is unlikely to occur in a long time to this extent.”

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To contact staff writer Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

FACTS AND FIGURES

Approximate number of teachers in Nevada County – 450

The overall payroll – $27 million a year

Average starting salary – $37, 500

Average salary – $58,000

Average tenure – 30 years

All the above figures were provided by the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools’ Office.

– Soumitro Sen


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