This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District has a daunting task ahead: hiring 800 new teachers by June, including more than 150 for vacancies never filled during this school year.
To do this, it has been stepping up its recruitment and outreach. On Tuesday, officials hosted an information session for prospective teachers to highlight the District’s goals and direction that was attended by 125 people.
Superintendent William Hite talked about the role that great teachers play in enhancing the stability of children’s lives.
“Our entire district is comprised of individuals who perform miracles each and every day,” he said.
“We have challenges, but it doesn’t impact the individual’s passion, drive, and commitment to ensure all children are doing well in the classroom. Those are the types of individuals we are looking for.”
Other speakers included teachers who expressed why it is important to work in Philadelphia. Students offered testimonials through video.
Tiffany Chalmus, a teacher at Edward T. Steel School, said the District sets the bar high for teachers. “It is no secret there are many challenges that come with teaching in an urban setting,” she said.
“Teaching is much more than just giving students knowledge for tests. It’s about providing them with experiences, building relationships, and teaching them to be role models.”
Assistant superintendents from the various school networks – specializing in turnaround, alternative settings (the opportunity network), and innovation – also spoke. The presentations focused on the qualities that the District values in teachers and the role they play in students’ lives.
Hite emphasized the importance of equity in education and called on committed teachers to fill positions across Philadelphia’s wide range of needs, including the highest-poverty schools.
“Our greatest asset is the truly engaged, talented people who come to work every day and go home asking themselves ‘Did I make a difference today for my students?’”
Chris Lehmann, assistant superintendent for the District’s innovative schools network, specifically encouraged applications from recent college graduates, teachers from other districts, and first-time teachers coming from other fields.
“Children should never be the implied object of their own education,” Lehmann said. “They should be front and center of everything we do and everything we say when it comes to the job we’re all here to do.”
The innovation schools network consists of eight schools that employ a teaching and learning style that can look very different from traditional schools. It is holding its own separate job fair on from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, at District headquarters.
“We are looking for passionate educators who want to teach in school designs that are authentic, empowering, modern and caring,” its materials state. These schools are built around project-based learning, student inquiry, and self-direction.
As shown by a show of hands, prospects attending the District’s open house appeared to consist mainly of recent graduates and part-time or substitute teachers. Several attendees now teach outside the District. After the information session, several speakers were available for questions and discussions among participants.
John Ceneviva, a long-term sub at Imhotep Institute Charter High School, said he was impressed with Hite’s aspirations for the District, despite its continuing financial struggles.
“The School District is going to follow his [Dr. Hite’s] direction,” he said. “It’s nice to see he has a high goal. This kind of open house makes you feel like they want you to join.”
Mike Shumaker, a student teacher finishing his master’s degree at Temple University, said the information session provided important details and insight into the District’s vision.
“I like the energy all these administrators show,” he said. “I think that really motivates people to apply. They gave me a good sense of their focus and how they want teachers to prioritize the application process.”
The School District hopes to receive 5,000 applications before July. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said 1,000 applications had been received so far.
“We are also focusing our outreach on colleges and universities, which have many eligible candidates,” he said.
Teachers in the District have been working without a new contract or raises since 2012, and school staffs have been slashed due to budget austerity.
The District’s effort to outsource substitute service this year as a strategy to beef up coverage rates for absent teachers has backfired, putting more stress on teachers in the schools.
Andre Dienner is an intern at the Notebook.