Vail Daily column: Different kind of Madness
I bleed blue.
As a native of the Bluegrass State and a multiple degree alumnus of the University of Kentucky, I’m of course excited about the upcoming NCAA tournament and the possibility of an undefeated Wildcat team and Kentucky championship.
Certainly, there are lots of detractors of this team and the propensity of players under coach John Calipari to hop right to the NBA after one or two seasons, rather than finishing their collegiate career. Coach “Cal” has his virulent critics as well, but I think the guy is onto something: Talent matters a great deal.
Time and time again, we see it in the best performing school systems: They pay a heck of a lot of attention to the quality of the educator workforce and they do it, primarily, by being very selective at the point of entry. It can be argued that the single most important thing a school system can do to ensure educator quality is to hire well.
That’s why our schools spend an extraordinary amount of time, energy and resources on recruiting and being choosy at hiring — and, to steal from Dicky V — March is “prime time, baby!” when it comes to scooping up the best teaching talent.
For some specifics, it starts with having an aggressive and proactive approach to recruiting. We don’t just post jobs on our website and hope someone applies who can teach. We go out and get top teaching talent.
Eagle County Schools sends teams of our principals and teachers to visit teacher job fairs both in Colorado and across the country. In state, we hit all the major job fairs, looking for talented teachers coming out of the state’s best universities or veteran teachers looking for a change of scenery.
We don’t stop at the state line, however. Each year we strategically select and attend teacher job fairs outside of Colorado, where highly qualified teacher applicants attend the fair representing multiple top schools in their region. Often these applicants want to teach in states other than where they went to school. This year, we attended the Grand Valley State University fair, where we met and interviewed candidates from the University of Michigan and Michigan State among others. These schools have high quality teacher preparation programs, yet states like Michigan prepare dramatically too many teachers than they can use — creating a surplus of talent that makes our recruiting trips a win-win for all.
We have to be strategic about where we send recruiting teams. For example, we don’t go to the University of Wyoming, because the beginning teacher pay in that state is over $50,000. This occurs because Wyoming invests dramatically more in education than does Colorado. The result is that we can’t compete for teaching talent against the Wyoming schools because of our low pay entry point.
Instead, regionally, we send recruiting teams to places like the University of New Mexico. UNM is a quality school, but New Mexico is also a low-pay state, just a little higher than Colorado. There, we’re in the game when it comes to base pay.
To help bolster our bilingual teacher corps and grow our dual language program, we’ve sent teams to Spain in the past and this year went to Puerto Rico. We’re also looking at teacher preparation programs in some of Mexico’s top universities. The trick there is making sure we’re choosing universities that focus on quality and that are selective. For international teachers, we also have to navigate visa issues, but having teachers from different parts of the globe is an important part of the internationally benchmarked and globally competitive approach we’re taking when it comes to education.
We also recognize that Eagle County isn’t for everyone. Like businesses in the community looking for talent, we both sell and screen hard on lifestyle. Teachers who work in our schools also get to live the good life in Eagle County, and we make sure recruits know that.
But we have to make sure people understand that this isn’t Denver and it’s also not Rifle. Nothing against those two communities, but resort areas are different, offering unique cultural and lifestyle opportunities and challenges.
All these efforts are aimed at making sure we’ve got a deep pool of applicants for all of our teaching jobs. Finalists in Eagle County go through an extensive screening process (credentials and background checks, state licensure checks, references, etc.) as well as participating in several face-to-face interviews and hands-on teaching and evaluation situations.
Just like building any great team, talent matters — and we’re working hard to make sure every educator working in our schools is a “blue chipper!”
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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