Schools use incentives, state programs to recruit, retain teachers

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – School districts are using a mix of state-funded programs and their own innovative incentives to recruit and retain teachers. 

Funding for such initiatives, which include financial support for young educators through loan repayment programs and paid student teaching opportunities, comes from a $23.4 billion education budget passed last year to address critical teaching shortages.

And signing bonuses aren’t limited to pro athletes. 

Earl Kenyon, a fifth-grade teacher at John R. Elementary School in Jackson, is set to receive the first installment of a $10,000 signing bonus at the end of this school year. 

Jackson Public Schools rolled out its incentive plan in 2021 to increase its ability to attract teachers amid a tight job market.

Kenyon, who worked in the neighboring East Jackson Public Schools last year, said he heard from a former colleague about an opening in Jackson and the district’s signing bonuses.

“Money talks, so that’s how they got me,” Kenyon said. 

Kenyon said the signing bonus incentive has been effective for attracting new college graduates. However, he said his case of changing districts was a rare one as veteran teachers are often hesitant to move. 

“Everything’s constantly evolving with education and requirements,” Kenyon said. “I think teachers get so familiar with what’s expected from one district, that the fear of the unknown, (makes them question) what they’re jumping into?”

Spencer Byrd, the superintendent of Cheboygan Area Schools, said his district is making an increased effort to personally reach out to job candidates.

“I feel we’re more like recruiters than ever before,” Byrd said. 

One example, Byrd said, was when he and the district’s human resources department went to a mock interview session for graduating educators at Northern Michigan University.

“We actually met a lot of good candidates, and we collected resumes,” Byrd said. 

“When we have openings, we reach out and we call them. It’s not like the old days where we wait for people to apply,” he said.

Aside from the Cheboygan district’s face-to-face recruiting approach, it also participates in a statewide program called Talent Together, which receives funding from the state.

The program gives financial aid to people who work in education but don’t have teaching certifications, such as social workers and support staff. 

“They’ll help fund your education to get your teaching certificate while you work as an aide or an instructional social worker,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the district used Talent Together to quickly train and certify a former support worker to fill a vacancy when a veteran teacher retired at the mid-point of this school year.

“She was able to earn a wage, take care of her family and work for us,” Byrd said. “And now she’s at a point where she’s qualified from the state certification perspective to take over that classroom.”

In her Jan. 24 State of the State speech to the Legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed her administration’s commitment to making Michigan a desirable state to teach in. 

“We fund scholarships for future educators, pay student teachers and help full-time teachers with their student loans so they stay in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “We accept out-of-state certificates, so if you have experience, you can enter the classroom without jumping through bureaucratic hoops.”

“As a result, enrollment rates in Michigan’s teacher prep programs are beating other states. If you want to teach, we want you here,” she said.

The Lenawee Intermediate School District, which participates in Talent Together, also uses bonuses to recruit teachers in areas with critical shortages, such as special education and speech pathology. 

Assistant Director of Special Education Alena York said teachers in such fields can earn an additional $1,000 per year for their first four years teaching in the district.

“It is an incentive to stay with us,” York said. “That’s why you get it after you complete your first year, second, third and fourth.”

York also said the district is offering paid student teaching opportunities in hopes that those new hires will stay with the district. 

She said while the district uses state funds to provide several incentives, yearly bonuses come from the district budget. 

Aside from financial incentives and participating in Talent Together, the Ingham Intermediate School District also uses its own innovative strategies to make the district stand out to candidates. 

Kelli Galloway works as the region’s talent acquisition and retention coordinator. She said that’s a newer position created to remedy high teacher turnover in the district. 

Galloway said when she’s discussing the benefits of working in the district with candidates on the phone, she tells them about “IncentFit,” a health and wellness program that it rolled out last January.

Staff download an app to their phone where they join a team with colleagues and collectively track things like steps taken and amount of water consumed per day, she said. Then, they can look at the leaderboard on the app to see where they stand in relation to colleagues. 

“It’s a fun way to promote healthy wellness in the workplace,” Galloway said. “It’s brought a closeness among departments.”.

Galloway also said her district is rolling out a new system that will reduce the time it takes to apply and, hopefully, increase the number of applications coming in.

“Right now with the system we use, it could take somebody an hour to apply,” Galloway said. “But I’m doing testing (with the new system) and you can apply for a job in 10 to 15 minutes.”

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