Mask mandates, remote learning and stress have magnified the pressure on many working in public schools. And right now, finding teachers and paraprofessionals is such a challenge.
One of Connecticut's biggest school systems is recruiting thousands of miles away.
Dr. Madeline Negrón talks with NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck about why Hartford Public Schools is looking to Puerto Rico to help fill the ranks. She's the chief of academics for the school district.
Mike Hydeck: "So why Puerto Rico and what kind of incentives is the City of Hartford and Hartford Public Schools offering?"
Madeline Negrón: "So Puerto Rico for us makes the most sense considering that 55% of our students are Latino, Hispanic descent, many of them describing themselves as having ancestry from Puerto Rico. So there are strong connections to the island already with the City of Hartford. So again, it makes perfect sense to recruit there. In terms of the program, yes, we are putting a very attractive package together to try to not only retain and recruit, but also retain teachers that decide to come and join our Paso a Paso program. This package will include a signing bonus, would include a stipend that will be provided for their moving expenses, as well as support with securing housing once they come here. So we're very excited to be able to offer a program that will give them step by step support, once they decide to join the talented staff for public schools."
Mike Hydeck: "So how many are you hoping to recruit from Puerto Rico and how much is that signing bonus for each?"
Madeline Negrón: "So we're setting a goal to recruit at least 15 teachers from Puerto Rico. Currently, we have been going through the process of vetting our applicants, glad to share with you that we currently have 17 interviews already lined up and ready to go when we get to the island in the next two weeks. So we are very excited about that."
Mike Hydeck: "So what are the requirements after they accept the job? Is there a number of years they have to stay in the system or they would have to pay some of that back?"
Madeline Negrón: "So right now, what we will be doing will be to make sure that we are doing our best in making sure that they're completely supported with making the move here. First, through the ongoing support that we will provide, so that they can find not only the professional learning that they will need, but also supporting them with finding a community and networks that will make them feel at home. So we are looking to make sure that we are securing them here for at least two years in this program. We are not asking anybody to give any of the funds back. But we are hoping that they will not only stay with us for two years, but to stay with us for the long run. Again, the program is strategically designed to recruit these Puerto Rican teachers that we feel will be a great addition to the staff."
Mike Hydeck: "Do you feel like within the Connecticut system right now, there aren't enough teachers, even teachers of Latin descent training to become teachers in Connecticut colleges?"
Madeline Negrón: "I think that's the challenge right now. We know, right, not only in Connecticut, but across the state, that there are not many individuals going into education to begin with. And on top of that, very small numbers of students of color that are selecting to go into the educational field. When you take that into account with the growing numbers that are also exiting the profession, I think we have to do our best to continue to diversify our teaching workforce. Because a place like Hartford, we have to ensure that our students can see themselves reflected in the teachers that are in front of them."
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Mike Hydeck: "Is there now, or in the future, do you see happening and opportunity to sweeten the deal for Connecticut students to make it more attractive - maybe paying their relocation efforts if they live in say Bridgeport and you want them to work in Hartford? Or taking on some of their college debt to take it off their load so they can decide to maybe go into a career in teaching?"
Madeline Negrón: "I think there are a lot of things that can be done. And I'm also aware that there are many great initiatives that are coming out of the Connecticut State Department of Education. I will say that one of the things that we are honing in on in Hartford is not only to think about these recruitment efforts that we have inside of Connecticut and outside of Connecticut, such as this program, Paso a Paso, but also thinking about our pipeline. Right now, one of the pathways in one of our high schools that deals with leadership and public office, we have a segment of students that we are positioning to have an interest in going into the teaching field. So we believe strongly that by strengthening these pathways, we will have our own Hartford graduates electing to go on into college, to major in education. And then our work will be to make sure that we continue to have them hooked while they are in college so that when they graduate, they can come back into the district and be able to serve as future teachers."