Steve Van Gorden spent a few days last week in cold, dreary Grand Rapids, Mich., hardly the kind of place the Hudson Middle School principal would have picked for spring break.
But Grand Rapids and other ailing Rust Belt communities are fertile ground for Pasco County and other Florida school districts hunting for new teachers. During a visit to Grand Valley State University, Van Gorden and his colleague, Trinity Oaks Elementary School principal Allison Hoskins, interviewed dozens of qualified elementary school teachers unable to land local full-time jobs.
"A lot of them were frustrated because they were subbing in school districts for years and haven't been able to break in," said Van Gorden, who is also a Dade City commissioner. "They were eager to get their own classrooms."
Forget budget cuts and a slumping real estate market, education is still a growth industry in Pasco. The school district hired 776 for this year and figures it will need 700 more next year.
Part of this demand is related to the state constitutional amendment that requires smaller class sizes. But despite all you read about the economy, Pasco still had the largest influx of new students in the state in 2007-2008. The district has built 13 new schools over the last three years and will open two more, Crews Lake Middle and Veterans Elementary, in August.
Where will they find the teachers?
Florida universities aren't graduating enough teachers to meet the demands. So recruiters head to the Great White North.
If Pasco's demand for teachers is a barometer of its growth, then the district's recruitment itinerary is a road map to despair. Since February, teams of administrators have fanned out in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and upstate New York, where manufacturing jobs have been disappearing. No jobs means families leave for growth markets, mainly in the South.
These Northern recruits will find plenty of problems, from rigid assessment testing to inclusion policies and base pay. Teaching offers great rewards but equal pressure, and Florida is no different than Michigan in that regard.
Still, this is a relatively safe, desirable place to live. Any time you start to think otherwise, try to recall what it was like to shovel your driveway or scrape your windshield.
You think those Pasco recruiters mentioned the gulf sunsets?
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.