Local News

District draws diverse group of teachers

SEBRING - From more than 4,600 miles from Highlands County, Paul Manrique interviewed for and got his first teaching position at Sun 'N Lake Elementary School. He's not the only one coming from far and wide to teach for the School Board of Highlands County. After a few years of flat or declining enrollment, the district had to ramp up its efforts to fill its teaching ranks for the upcoming 2013-14 school year. Along with filling positions due to retirements and resignations, additional educators were needed this year at the secondary level to bring back the teacher planning period at the middle and high schools.
Thus far the district has hired 110 new teachers and is still working to fill 20 more openings. More often than not, principals have hired their new teachers from out of the county, with many coming from the neighboring counties of Hardee, Desoto, Polk, Okeechobee and Glades. But many new teachers are coming from out of state and some from thousands of miles away. In Mangique's case, to interview in person he would have had a long flight or very long drive including a trek along the Alaskan Highway. But as technology is revolutionizing the classroom, it has also helped get a qualified teacher into the classroom. Manrique explained he retired recently from the U.S. Air Force and has been living for three years in Fairbanks, Alaska. "I completed my master's degree in May and then went through all the certification stuff and got hired at Sun 'n Lake Elementary," he said. He will be an ESE teacher for students in third- through fifth-grade. After completing an online application, Manrique interviewed for the position via Skype (internet video call) with the Sun 'n Lake Elementary principal and assistant principal. He flew in from Alaska on Aug. 4 and on Thursday he sat among the new hires at the district's new teacher orientation, which was held in the Sebring Middle School Commons. Leah Duke came from Pennsylvania for her first teaching position in Highlands County. "Up in Pittsburg around where I live there are not many options job wise for teachers, so I would rather move south than go in any other direction. So here I am," she said. She found out about the opening on the teachers-teachers.com website. The graduate of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania will be teaching fourth-grade at Woodlawn Elementary. "I am excited to get started," Duke said. At the new teacher orientation, Superintendent Wally Cox asked each teacher where they came from and where they will be teaching. Ashley Bratsch said there weren't too many job openings in Minnesota so she moved across country to teach in Highlands County at the Kindergarten learning Center. Highlands District Human Resources Director Vivianne Waldron said Friday that some of the new teachers missed Wednesday's orientation because they are still relocating from out of state. They will go through the new-hire processing on Thursday at the district office. "They have come from miles around. We have a teacher who is going to be teaching Spanish at Sebring Middle School and he came from Puerto Rico," she said. "We actually have a teacher who is originally from Romania and she spent a year in Alabama as a substitute teacher, and we recruited her at The Great Florida Teach In, and she will be an elementary teacher at Sun 'N Lake Elementary. The district hired many teachers at the Great Florida Teach-In, which was held in Tampa in June. John McKnight, of Clearwater, was hired at the annual job fair to teach fifth-grade at Lake Country Elementary. This will be the Florida State University graduate's first teaching position. Jose Ramirez is another long-distance hire for the district. He is relocating from San Diego, Calif., to teach social sciences at Lake Placid High School. To name a few other locations, new teachers also came from Missouri, Illinois, Virginia, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Waldron noted, "We have a very diverse group of teachers this year, which we are very excited about because we believe they're more representative of our diverse student population." The district typically has to work harder to fill math, science and ESE (exceptional student education) teacher openings. From year to year the district will have other "critical shortage areas," Waldron said. "For a while we couldn't get enough guidance counselors, then it as music teachers and then it was band directors." This summer the district needed three Spanish teachers and two family and consumer science (culinary arts) teachers, she said. Hill-Gustat Middle School Principal Chris Doty said, among his new hires, he has teachers coming from Georgia, Miami and Hardee County. Doty said has been talking to a fellow from the Detroit area who has been having trouble finding a job there due to the economy. "We have done real well in hiring at Hill-Gustat in regards to certification and highly qualified and so on," he said. "Right now I have some special areas that I am trying to hire for that require some unique certifications and it's a little more challenging. "But all in all I think we will be ready to start the year." mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826