Teaching Candidates Eager to Work, but Fewer Jobs

Updated: 7:15 a.m. | List of all participating school districts
CANFIELD, Ohio — The local schools job fair held Thursday at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio made for a successful day for Samantha Lawless.

After meeting with representatives from 13 school districts and educational organizations on hand, she applied for a full-time special education position with Springfield Local Schools, which was her home district. Lawless has applied to jobs in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, as well as in western Pennsylvania, but said working in the district where she attended school would be very rewarding.

“I understand the community very well,” Lawless said. “I grew up there, so I understand how close-knit everyone is and the value that I can bring coming from that community and just giving back to it.”

Lawless recently graduated from Youngstown State University and is licensed to teach early childhood and special education. She also holds a Teach English as a Second Language, or TESL endorsement.

More than 100 teaching candidates attended the job fair, said Sandy Furano, director, Mahoning Valley Regional Council of Governments. Furano manned one of the tables for the ESC, accepting applications for candidates interested in substitute teaching jobs.

“If any of these candidates don’t get a full-time job, they’re able to get their foot in the door and substitute teach in eight of the school districts that we serve,” Furano said.

The ESC averages some 300 substitutes annually, but Furano said she’d like to have 350. Substitutes through the ESC earn $100 a day and can work every day if they want, she said.

“It’s up to them. They pick their assignments based on what their schedule is or their personal schedule,” Furano said. “Most days, there are always absences out there that need to be filled.”

Districts on hand for the event were Boardman Local Schools, Canfield Local Schools, Columbiana Exempted Village Schools, Jackson-Milton Local Schools, Lowellville Local Schools, Springfield Local Schools, South Range Local Schools, Struthers City Schools, Western Reserve Local Schools, Youngstown City Schools and Youngstown Community Schools.

Youngstown City School District has 15 to 20 positions it’s looking to fill at the middle school level, as well as Title 1 tutors, said Jeremy Batchelor, chief of staff. A recent reconfiguration of the district to a “true middle school” format has created more opportunities for job-seekers.

“I would say right now we’re looking at about 15 people for positions that we need to fill immediately,” Batchelor said. “There’s some other ones that we’re just kind of recruiting and putting in the hopper in case we have retirements and resignations.”

Youngstown City School District’s Linda Yosay and Jeremy Batchelor.

Between Batchelor and Linda Yosay, the district’s chief of student services, the pair had a stack of about 35 applications. A few even got interviews on the spot.

“I’ve got a couple other people in another room that are actually interviewing people we come across who are [applying for] hard-to-find areas, or really shine and show their strengths,” he said. “We actually just made one offer already that we’re going to hire.”

In the past, the district has hired people at the last minute, but is “ahead of the game” this year, he said.

“We’re trying to make a really concerted effort to be aggressive and make sure that we have staff in front of our students on day one,” he said.

For the next school year, first-year teachers at Youngstown City Schools can earn just under $35,000, he said. New legislation has created opportunities that allow the district to help offset some costs with student loans, relocation for people coming from out-of-state and some tuition reimbursement.

For many of the candidates attending, full-time work was the goal. Some were working as tutors during the pandemic and are eager to get into the classroom.

Colleen Cegan worked as a substitute teacher for a year and a half, then as a paraprofessional with the Valley STEM+ME2 Academy, which was a “really good experience,” she said. In 2019, she graduated from the academy’s alternative licensure program and hopes to find a full-time job teaching English language arts. She also holds a bachelor’s in professional and technical writing from YSU.

“I do really like project-based learning,” Cegan said. “So anything that works cross-curricular and collaborative.”

Tim Lucik also graduated in 2019 and has been trying to find full-time work, but few schools were hiring at the end of 2020 because of the pandemic, he said. He’s been tutoring and working as a sub in that time and hopes to find a job teaching fourth to ninth grade math or language arts.

At this point, Lucik will take what he can get, he said.

“Mostly just something full time and has health care,” he said. “That’s kind of where the bar is for me right now.”

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Gallery pictures include job-seekers lined up to speak with district reps, Vincent Pitzulo speaking with Canfield Local’s John Vitto and Joe Knoll, job-seekers Colleen Cegan and Tim Lucik, the ESC’s Sandy Furano, Steve Mines and Jack Zocolo, Bethany Carlson and Shari Lewis of South Range, and Peter Pirone of Struthers City Schools.

Benefits and incentives didn’t seem to be a concern for many of the applicants. Jack Zocolo, director of HR and operations at the ESC, said pay is the main incentive for most teaching candidates. Pay differs based on each district’s income and residential tax base, he said.

“It comes down to the applicant’s desire to work in the district,” he said.

For many of the applicants, that comes down to happiness at the job and the employer’s ability to support both students and teachers.

Cegan said she wants to work for a district that is always trying to evolve.

“That’s how we get everywhere in life,” she said. “You have to keep progressing and learning. If you don’t, you’re just going to be stagnant in the same spot.”

Vincent Pitzulo is looking for a district that will keep him happy and motivated, he said. He wants to see administration and other faculty who want to come to work every day and work hard.

“I personally see myself as a motivator, and I’m seeking leadership,” he said.

For the last two years, Pitzulo taught third and fourth grade at the Youngstown Academy of Excellence. Ideally, he’d like to land a job teaching middle school science, but said he’s “open to anything.”

While applicants are eager for full-time work, some of the districts had few full-time teaching positions available.

Teaching staff at Canfield Local School District is full “and looking good,” said Superintendent Joe Knoll. He and John Vitto, assistant superintendent and curriculum director, were meeting with applicants to potentially fill Title 1 tutoring positions in the district’s elementary grades.

“So we’re looking more at that K-4 level today,” Knoll said

Ideal applicants hold an elementary licensure with a focus on reading and math, he said. Title 1 tutors are hourly with a pay rate that’s comparable to a first-year teacher salary, he said.

South Range Local School District has a math position open in the high school building that administration is getting ready to interview for, but is still seeking applicants, said Superintendent Bethany Carlson. Other than that, the district is fully staffed, she said.

At the job fair, she joined the district’s director of student services and curriculum, Shari Lewis, to meet with applicants and collect resumes should resignations or retirements over the summer create opportunities down the road.

“We always like to take on applicants just in case in the future we have an opening,” Carlson said.

Applicants who stand out are able to maintain eye contact, are assertive and are willing to shake someone’s hand, she said.

“An applicant’s got to be confident in who they are when they approach you,” she said. “Kind of stand up for who they are and show who they are before they even hand me a piece of paper.”

With “quite a few teachers” nearing retirement age, Struthers City School District Superintendent Peter Pirone Jr. was accepting resumes for potential openings in the 2022-2023 school year, he said.

The district had three openings earlier this year and ended up filling two math positions and an English position, Pirone said. Aside from the pandemic, the big difference between this year and years past is how early districts are interviewing candidates, he said.

“Years ago, you wouldn’t start interviewing people until June or July,” he said. “And now, especially some high school candidates, if you don’t start interviewing in March or April, you’re going to lose out on the best candidates.”

Some schools, however, are still looking for faculty, said the ESC’s Zocolo. Others are just recently reporting teachers who have resigned or retired, “so now they’re kind of scrambling to try to find some candidates,” he said. That makes events like the job fair perfect for recent graduates, he said.

Each May, even into June, schools receive unexpected resignations they aren’t always prepared for, said Steve Mines, HR supervisor for the ESC. Thus, while the ESC’s job fair is later than usual – typically, it’s held the first week in march – having it later is “a blessing in disguise” for the school districts, he said.

“Now, they’ve got fresh faces, fresh resumes right in their back pocket,” Mines said.

Pictured at top: Samantha Lawless fills out a job application for a special education teaching position at Springfield Local Schools. Lawless wants to stay working local and said working where she went to school would be “really rewarding.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.