MUHSD district, superintendent embrace proactive recruitment strategy

California school districts have had a hard time recruiting teachers and the situation has reached alarming levels in some areas.

But the Merced Union High School District which serves 11,141 students at campuses in Merced, Atwater and Livingston hasn’t faced these issues yet and Superintendent Alan Peterson hopes to keep it that way.

“This is a problem that has not hit us yet but it certainly is a regional and state issue. The pools of available teachers is not as many as it was before but we are being proactive with recruiting measures and are going places that might seem out of the ordinary to find teachers,” Peterson says.

How are they accomplishing this mission?

Peterson and three key administrators took a 10-day trip to Alabama and Mississippi at the end of September and early October, taking in a recruiting fair and forging partnerships with the education deans at five campuses. They intend to continue these relationships and may return there next year.

Merced educators spent a day each at Ole Miss, Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State, Mississippi State and Alabama A&M. These are areas of the country with more depressed economic circumstances. A high number of these colleges have historically large numbers of African-American students.

“We have to do more than advertise (for teachers) on the national EdJoin website. Why is the superintendent going? Because it matters. You can have the greatest programs in the world but you have to have people to make it happen.”

Peterson and district human relations director Brett Nickelson, Katina Austin, program coordinator of student services, along with Torrin Johnson, director of local teacher intervention programs, made the cross-country trip.

Peterson said on their trip they did some things well and others not so well. Waiting for potential teacher candidates to walk by them at recruiting fairs was not a good use of time but partnering with schools teaching future students worked well, he said. It was all a matter of being strategic in how the recruiting efforts were set up and building relationships with the deans at these schools, he adds.

District Trustee Erin Hamm, one of two board members from the Merced area, said Peterson is never happy with the status quo and is always pushing for students and staff members to do better.

Peterson is starting his ninth year as superintendent. Previously he was principal at Atwater High School for six years and started out teaching nine years with the Hilmar school system.

MUHSD has 552 teachers on its campuses in the three cities. Its campuses include Merced High, Golden Valley and El Capitan in Merced, Buhach Colony and Atwater High in Atwater and Livingston High School.

African-American students comprise 7 percent of the local district population but only 2 percent of the faculty are African-American.

Peterson said going out of state to recruit teachers isn’t a new idea. The district did it 15 years ago but did not sustain the effort. The idea for the current trip came from Charlie Bennett, a retired Merced College counselor.

“This district has done such a good job staying in front of issues. We have new positions of administrative training intervention coordinators to work with new teachers. Our staff are well-paid and supported,” Hamm said. She has been a trustee for five years and ran for election as a frustrated parent and a very concerned mom.

Peterson said there is a mindset that the district doesn’t want to wait for problems to occur and then react. This tendency doesn’t always happen in education. He wants to keep the pools of future teachers large and the quality of the candidates high.

Peterson said one of his goals this year is to improve the recruiting process for school administrators and create a pipeline for future hires. This includes offering continuing education courses for administrators and prepare them for each step up the career ladder.

Next year district administrators are thinking about making another recruiting trip to the upper Midwest and maybe the Georgia and North Carolina areas.

District campuses now have induction mentors or coaches at each campus to work with new teachers and encourage them to stay in the educational field.

Mississippi is unique, Peterson said, since it was ranked low in educational attainment 10 years ago but has now moved up to the middle level in student achievement. In these southern states all kindergarten through 12th grade teachers are now required to be educationally certified in reading programs.

“It has to do with innovation in state education expectations and making them a statewide focus. There are partnerships with local school districts and high school students wanting to become a teacher can take specific classes ahead of time. This is not something that we do in California,” Peterson said.

Presently, 75 percent of the teachers hired by MUHSD are from this area and graduates of local campuses. Every year local principals chat with senior students showing interests and abilities in becoming teachers.

Hamm said there are professional development opportunities for new teachers and veteran staff members and it is led by Peterson.

“Southern hospitality is a real thing. We didn’t expect as warm a reception as we received. It’s important for these relations to continue going forward,” Peterson said.

MercedMerced CountyMerced Union High School District
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