ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Teacher pay, recruiting and retention are topics which plague area school districts.
- Teachers leaving county, state for better opportunities
- Wage is not livable, one teacher says
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Yet the topics are nothing that Kimmera McCarthy and many others thought about when they decided to become teachers.
"I love kids, love education. I wanted to make a difference," McCarthy said.
"I had some really inspiring teachers when I was younger and wanted to come back and be someone else's hero," she continued.
This summer, the 34-year-old kindergarten teacher changed course after teaching for five years.
She decided to pack up and move to Korea to try her hand at teaching abroad, citing concerns over behavior issues in her classroom, along with the paychecks she took home.
"It wasn't livable. I'm a frugal person, trying to get a start in life, but getting a start is almost impossible right now," McCarthy said.
"I can't afford to live here, unless I have a roommate and working a separate job," she added.
The district's spokesperson Scott Howat acknowledged that it has been a struggle to get something passed, but one which they hope to resolve.
"We rely heavily on Tallahassee and the funding that comes from Tallahassee as far as teacher pay," Howat said.
"We're hoping we can get it settled soon, teachers get their raises and we move on," he continued.
Teacher pay impacts recruiting and retention efforts statewide.
OCPS has more than 14,000 teachers and is now the eighth largest district in the country, and growing.
"Every year we experience between 3,000 and 5,000 additional students, which means we're constantly hiring new teachers," Howat explained. He said that means year-round recruiting efforts from local colleges, like the University of Central Florida.
"We go to recruiting and job fairs all over the country in order to get students coming straight out of college that want a career in teaching," he said.
Earlier in the month, the district held a new teacher extravaganza at Edgewater High School, bringing out bands, cheerleaders and swag for their newbie instructors.
"We just want them to know how much we appreciate them. Appreciate they chose Orange County Public Schools to start their career," Howat said.
As of late, they've turned to creative ways to retain those coveted recruits.
The district said that their survey of more than 1,000 teachers revealed a satisfaction rate of around 80 percent, and allowed OCPS to glean areas of improvement.
"That feedback was important. We're using it moving forward to make sure it drives the decisions we're doing," said Howat.
Meanwhile, their Innovation Office launched a new podcast series, designed to have teachers share best practices.
In addition, the district said that they employed some tried and true measures to secure teacher jobs, going to bat for teachers as concerns arose over a lack of time to take statewide general knowledge exams.
"We had advocated with the legislature to make sure we were able to get some of that change, those requirements," Howat explained. "It preserved over 200 teacher jobs from possibly ending over certification."
In Seminole County, other teachers spent an August in-service day learning how to be effective union representatives.
"One of the key things we try to teach our reps is to listen, go in and get all sides," said Chardo Richardson, Seminole UniServ's Executive Director. "We are actually hoping that by building our union and making it strong, we can retain those teachers and attract those teachers."
UniServ is the umbrella organization in Seminole County Schools, overseeing four separate unions banding together educators, secretaries, non-instructional personnel and bus drivers.
According to Richardson, relationships with key administrators have led to their past negotiating success.
In August, teachers will ratify a contract, the tentative agreement with a three percent pay raise which was settled in June.
"It's very important we work closely with the district because we need each other," said Richardson.
Despite her move, McCarthy said that she is hopeful she'll once again find a love for teaching after studying education systems elsewhere.
She also hopes her former colleagues will be "taken care of".
"They can go in with a happy heart and feel right about what they're doing, and the effect of that will be the kids, that's what it's all about," she said.