YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In education, spring is a busy season. The school year is wrapping up, including all the assessments, field trips and events.
It is also nearly time for the annual reshuffle of employees, as some teachers and staff let the schools know they won’t be returning in the fall. Internally, teachers in one grade or subject then request a transfer to another. It could be weeks before it all shakes out.
Many of the districts at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio’s teacher job fair April 20 did not know all the openings they will need to fill this summer, but they got a chance to meet about 100 candidates excited about filling them.
“We don’t have an opening right now,” says Kirk Baker, superintendent at Jackson-Milton Schools. “You never know when you are going to have an opening over the summer. So it’s nice to just meet them, shake their hand and get a little background on them.”
At this time last year, Baker did not think his district had any openings but ended up having to fill three positions before fall. He now will have a stack of résumés to look through when openings occur.
Likewise, Sebring Elementary principal Nikki Hanley said there are no specific openings, but she was there looking for potential new graduates interested in joining the staff, and she found them plentiful.
“It’s nice when those shifts start to happen. You have that resource of folks who have already reached out,” Hanley says, noting she plans to share the rèsumès she gathered at the job fair.
Other school districts at the job fair already knew they have openings.
With 14 schools, 4,718 students, 453 teachers and 819 support staff members, Youngstown City Schools was the largest employer at the job fair.
Bill Baun, director of personnel, says the school district’s biggest needs are special education, seventh- through 12th-grade science and math teachers and support staff workers. Jobs are posted online, and substitute opportunities at the district pay between $120 and $150 per day.
Baun says many YSU education graduates have expressed an interest in staying here to start their careers in Youngstown schools.
The U.S. Bureau of Statistics shows 600,000 teachers left public education since January 2020. It’s the type of statistic that prompted Ohio legislators to pass a bill earlier this year aimed at bringing teachers back to the classroom. The legislation, House Bill 554, gave former teachers who left the field and allowed their professional teaching licenses or certificates to expire options to get reinstated quicker and without penalty.
Roles in special education are some of the toughest to fill, according to several administrators at the job fair. Helping those with special needs requires not just a teacher, but classroom aides, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and bus aides.
The ESC of Eastern Ohio, the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Potential Development were all seeking intervention specialists and classroom assistants.
Additionally, Shellie Duchek, human resources director at Potential Development, says her school is seeking “compassionate people, understanding and with a lot of patience.”
Leslie Wilson of Salem says she attended the job fair looking for a permanent position. She has her general education degree and had worked as a tutor. But after things got difficult with COVID-19, she added a special education license.
“It’s just nice to have everyone here, all in one place,” Wilson says, noting this event was more about first impressions.
But she was also happy to see West Branch schools represented, the district where she tutored.
Boardman schools attended with five openings, including intervention specialists, as well as a junior high math teacher and a school psychologist, according to Timothy Saxton, superintendent, who had a long line at his table when the event opened.
Saxton was able to look at the job fair and student teachers with a fresh perspective this time around. His daughter, soon to be a Youngstown State University graduate, was among those attending.
Although there is criticism of changes in public education, Saxton believes the pandemic has proven online learning and technology is only a good tool. Interaction and a social connection is important for students.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is that we need good teachers,” Saxton says. “The thing I believe in my core is that if a child interacts with one adult, that one adult can change their entire pathway. That’s powerful.”
Many at the job fair agreed the classroom has become more challenging. Recent headlines include controversies over curriculum and concerns over school safety. But the majority of applicants in attendance were recent graduates or about to graduate, and were undeterred.
“I guess I’m just prepared to see the areas I need to grow in,” says LeeAnna Franken, who was there seeking a middle school math or science position.
Anthony Innocenzi has been student teaching in Niles and is about to graduate from YSU. He says it is hectic trying to wrap up the school year while seeking a position teaching middle school science or social studies in Mahoning or Trumbull counties. He has two older siblings, both of whom are teachers, who told him how much they love their jobs.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in high school, but they were talking about what they do in education,” Innocenzi says. “I looked into it myself, and I see what it’s about and I’m excited to make a difference.”
Hunter Gillingham of Homeworth is seeking a pre-K through fifth-grade position. She has been doing some substituting and looks forward to being full time in the classroom. But there were not many openings for elementary teachers at the job fair.
“I just love shaping the children, because they’re going to be our future,” Gillingham says, noting she has always loved working with kids. “I love the light that they give off. They don’t see anything negative. So it’s always nice to see the positive.”
Brandon Beavers of Southfield also hopes to teach middle school science or social studies. “I think it’s what I’m born to do. … I’m finally going to get to live my dreams.”
Pictured at top: Caitlin Kosec, left, and Jenn Scarmack, special education supervisors at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, greeted job-seekers at the event.