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Closer Look: Back To School

Summer school: Teachers tackle job growth, financial growth

From the Summer School Series: Districts, teachers prepare for incoming students series
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Summer school: Teachers tackle job growth, financial growth
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Joel Hain was there himself in the early days of his career in education.

Long before he became principal of Boiling Springs High School, Hain spent much of his nine years in teaching working a second job during the summer.

“I worked at Home Depot or in construction,” Hain said. “A lot of times, I was doing coursework on my master’s degree.”

Sure, he enjoyed a vacation day here and there but his summer was nothing like the stereotype some folks have of teachers sunbathing by the poolside for weeks on end.

“By far, the majority of them are improving their craft or their family situation,” Hain said. “Early in your teaching career, you’re not making a lot of money.”

The burden of student debt combined with the growing needs of a young family kept Hain busy. Now as an administrator in the South Middleton School District, much of his summer is consumed by preparing his building for the upcoming academic year.

The need to recharge

Richard Fry worked as a middle school health teacher before he turned his ambitions to administration. Today, he is superintendent of Big Spring School District.

“During the summer, I took classes and worked at a golf course,” Fry said. But he also took time to recharge — something he said every teacher needs to do to avoid burnout.

“The demographics of public schools in the U.S. are changing,” Fry said. “Every year, the needs of our students make teaching a more challenging profession.”

Depending on the level of involvement, a teacher could work 10 to 12 hours per day, five days of week, between classroom instruction, grading papers, reviewing lesson plans and serving as a coach or club adviser.

Much of the work is based on developing a rapport with students. This includes teachers attending after-school and weekend activities. Without a summer recharge, it can be difficult for some teachers to balance work-life obligations.

Summer education

Some teach in public school programs over the summer. Cumberland Valley School District offers several types of programs depending on student need, said Mike Willis, director of finance and operations.

Remedial programs help students who struggled with classes during the regular school year. Extended-year programs help students better retain what they learned from one year to the next. Finally, semester three offers high school students the opportunity to take courses during the summer that don’t fit into the regular year schedule. There are also teachers who serve as coaches who run special camps over the summer, Willis said.

Teachers routinely use the summer to take college-level courses tied to certification and professional development. Teacher contracts often include incentives built into the pay scale to encourage the pursuit of a continuing education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

“When you first graduate from college, you get a level one teaching certificate,” Fry said. Teachers are required to obtain a level two certificate within the first six years of their career.

To achieve that, most teachers need to earn 24 additional college credits, said Christina Spielbauer, superintendent of the Carlisle Area School District. Many keep going to earn the 33 to 36 credits necessary for a master’s degree.

Professional development

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School districts also offer teachers courses in professional development either online or in-person. Big Spring calls its program “Professional Personalized Learning,” Fry said. About 75 percent of the training this summer focused on integrating technology into the classroom while the remaining 25 percent focused on best practices in delivering curriculum and instruction.

“It’s important that it stays personalized,” Fry said. “The teachers can choose things relevant to them and their building goals. We are a big building goals district.”

Carlisle schedules part of its professional development time at the end of the old school year so that teachers have the intervening time to absorb what they learned in preparation for the new school year, Spielbauer said.

South Middleton administrators spent part of this summer finalizing plans to incorporate into the daily school schedule teacher collaboration time in the mornings. “We need to make sure everyone knows how to use that time wisely,” Hain said.

Starting a week or two into the first semester, Hain will meet with each teacher for about 15 to 20 minutes to review their goals and evaluation plan for the coming year.

New teacher hires tend to start the school year before other faculty members. Districts offer induction and orientation programs to help them get used to the work setting.

New hires

Local school districts follow the same basic pattern when it comes to hiring teachers. Usually, by February or March, those faculty members who plan to retire announce their intentions. District administrators working with the school board then have to decide whether to budget money in the coming fiscal year to fill the vacancy.

School districts in Pennsylvania operate on a fiscal year that starts on July 1 and ends June 30. Most positions opened by teachers who retire are resolved by June when the board approves the final budget. Often, districts realize a savings either by not filling a vacancy or by hiring a replacement teacher with less experience than the teacher who retired.

While there are cases where teachers announce retirement after the budget is finalized, it is far more common for teachers to resign in late spring or over the summer due to a change in their family situation. For example, they may be moving with their spouse.

Open teaching positions are advertised for about 10 days. The postings could be statewide or regional depending on the type of certification being sought. Some teachers are harder to come by than others. For example, there are far fewer college graduates with a teaching certificate in science than there are graduates with a certificate in social studies.

The earlier a district advertises a position the more access the district has to a broader pool of qualified applicants, Hain said. He added that the number of applicants gets smaller each year.

Big Spring seeks an early edge by sending its assistant superintendent to college job fairs throughout Pennsylvania and into Delaware and Maryland. This usually results in a collection of resumes Big Spring can draw upon as a starting point.

As with any job opening, applicants are screened and finalists are selected for one or more rounds of interviews. While initial interviews tend to involve building-level administrators and department chairs, final interviews often include a sit-down with the superintendent.

Depending on the timing of teacher resignations, school districts could still be interviewing applicants for open positions up to the start of the new school year.

“Some of my best hires have been late summer hires,” Hain said.

Sometimes districts have to fill open positions with long-term substitutes until a permanent replacement could be found.

From early to late June, district business offices are busy processing those teachers who opt to retire, Willis said. This includes briefing them on their retirement and health care benefits.

The summer is also used to hire classified employees such as instructional aides, custodians and cafeteria workers who tend to be more transient than teachers.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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