SEBRING - The School Board of Highlands County has already hired 87 new teachers for the upcoming school year, which in recent years would have been more than enough to fill all the summertime openings.
Retirements and resignations typically account for about 50 to 60 teacher vacancies.
But the district needs to hire about 45 more teachers to fill the unusually large number of openings due to the need for additional teachers to reestablish a planning period for secondary teachers and due to the continued rebound in student enrollment.
Human Resources Director Vivianne Waldron said the district is filling a total of 130 to 140 teaching positions, which is the most openings since five years ago when the district had a teacher recruiting specialist on staff.
The district found some good candidates at the annual Great Florida Teach-In job fair on June 24 in Tampa.
"We worked really hard all that day [at the Teach-In] and Highlands is usually the last one to leave when we go to those things, but we felt like we interviewed some very good candidates ... eight or nine of them have come to the district and have been to the schools and met with their principals," Waldron said. "I think both the candidates and the principals are happy with the choice they made."
But the teacher hiring is not finished as the district continues to advertise its job openings, she said.
Where are the new teachers coming from?
"When we were at the Great Florida Teach-In, we are still finding people coming from many different states and some within the state of Florida from different districts, but a lot of people we hired are from out of state," Waldron said.
Also, the new hires vary "all over the page" in their areas of certification and what they are eligible to teach and what they are interested in teaching, she added.
They vary in age as well, with some being new out of college and others relocating to Florida from other states to get out of the cold or moving back to the area to be closer to their family, Waldron said.
Have there been any teaching positions that have been difficult to fill?
"We needed four Spanish teachers so that was quite a challenge for us and I think we have three of those filled," Waldron said. The district had between 30 and 40 elementary education positions, but quite a few of those were filled at the Teach-In.
The district needed a dual-enrollment high school math teacher, but could not find someone with the qualifications, which calls for a master's degree in math with a minimum of 18 hours in higher level math studies, Waldron said.
Also, after the numerous principal and assistant principal changes, there is another significant change. Jennifer Westergom has left her position as lead teacher at the Career Academy at South Florida State College.
Waldron said Westergom applied for and was selected to become the district's new math specialist resource teacher.
The district is currently advertising to fill the Career Academy lead teacher position.
Due to the large number of new hires, the annual day-long New Teacher Orientation (Aug. 7) will be held at the Sebring
Middle School Commons, which is larger than the Hill-Gustat Middle School Commons where the orientation had been held for numerous years.