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BPS seeks edge in teacher hiring process

Martin Desmarais

Officials at Boston Public Schools are looking to improve the odds in their competition with other cities and towns for the best teachers.

Job one is hiring teachers earlier. According to Ross Wilson, head of the newly formed Boston Public Schools Office of Human Capital, Boston has traditionally posted jobs and hired teachers in the summer before every school year, which is a disadvantage compared to other cities and towns that hire teachers in the spring. The plan now is to start posting jobs on March 1 and begin hiring after that.

“We have, in the past, hired the majority of our staff — about 85 percent of our teachers — in July and August and that has been frustrating to us as a school system because we want to make sure we are attracting the best candidates to Boston Public Schools and that our current teachers and our future teachers all know when they have a job and they know that as early as possible,” Wilson said. “We have lost great candidates to other school systems because they do it earlier. They hire in early spring.

“What we have done is create an opportunity to hire early,” Wilson added. “We hope to hire 75 percent of our teachers in March and April.”

In a school system that has almost 4,500 teachers, with at least 300 positions available every year and over 800 positions expected to be open this year, it is crucial not to lose so much ground to school systems in other cities and towns, according to Wilson.

BPS officials want to make sure that the teachers who want to stay teaching in Boston and those who would like to find a job teaching here can consider these jobs at the same time as others.

Wilson also stressed that BPS must increase the diversity of its teachers in order to reflect the diversity of the city’s students to help meet their cultural and linguistic needs. According to data from BPS officials, of the city’s 4,415 teachers, 21 percent are black, 10 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are Asian. The student population is currently 40 percent Hispanic, 36 percent black and 9 percent Asian.

The earlier hiring process will allow BPS to compete even better for more diverse teachers.

Ceronne Daly, BPS Director of Diversity Programs, explained that looking for teachers who have diverse backgrounds or speak different languages narrows the pool dramatically and letting other schools hire the best candidates long before Boston even posts its jobs has made it very difficult for the city to hit its goal of having teachers who can match the needs of the students. She is very excited about the prospects that hiring earlier will bring about BPS’ diversity efforts.

“It enables us to reach out to individuals as they are making decisions and have them consider us,” Daly said. “When you talk about bringing in folks we are looking at recruiting locally, having different conversations with our undergrad and grad programs, going out to larger cities in which there are individuals that want to come to Boston and then looking at higher ed institutions that are focused on bringing Hispanic students into their communities and also historically black colleges and universities.

“By making a statement that we are posting jobs March 1, the underlying statement is that we are going to hire you sooner,” she added. “The intent is: ‘Come to Boston, take a look at what we are doing and actually we are ready to make decisions earlier.’”

Wilson stressed that this is a new message BPS is sending to teacher candidates.

“We are changing our past practice. We don’t want you to leave our district and go work in a surrounding neighborhood. We want you to live and work in Boston because this is a phenomenal place to live and a phenomenal place to work. And in the past it may have been frustrating for you to try and get a job in Boston, or you may have left because you were uncertain about your position,” Wilson said. “We want to be clear now that we are doing this earlier, that we are open for business and that are goal is early hiring and our goal is to have a staff that is highly effective and represents the racial, cultural and linguistic diversity of our students.”

Hardin Coleman, dean of the Boston University School of Education and a member of the Boston School Committee, is very encouraged by the hiring changes being made by BPS.

“I think the district has made a series of very smart moves,” Coleman said.

According to Coleman, posting teaching jobs earlier and hiring teachers earlier will specifically attract more BU-trained teachers to Boston schools and will likely have a similar effect on graduating education students from other colleges in the area.

“They are eager to work in Boston and rather than losing them to Framingham or Brookline these kids will be in the BPS hopper,” Coleman said. “It will give [BPS] a lot of choices and a deeper richer pool … they will have more candidates to choose from.

“It will end up with the quality of the teaching pool in Boston improving significantly over the next two or three years,” he added.

Coleman said, with towns including Lynn, Quincy and Malden all hiring graduating teachers from local colleges in March and April, very few of Boston University’s graduating teachers would ever historically move right into BPS jobs. Now, though, he said that will change because many of the university’s students would love to stay in Boston and a get a teaching job in the city — they just want to have these jobs lined up by May when the graduate.

Last November, BPS also adopted a new teacher hiring practice that gives individual schools more autonomy in hiring the teachers they think will be the best fit for their schools. Wilson said this also helps streamline the hiring process.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough gave Wilson and his staff the charge to take the reins on a revamp of Boston’s teacher hiring practices when he announced a “Teacher Diversity Action Plan” last month. The Office of Human Capital is currently developing a three-year plan to improve hiring and retention practices, with the earlier hiring timeline being the first big move in this direction.

BPS has also launched its first serious advertising campaign to attract more teachers. Ads can now be seen in publications including Education Week and the Metro, but also on MBTA vehicles and in subways. The efforts also include a new teacher hiring website, teachboston.org.