Philly school district outlines recruitment and retention plan

The School District of Philadelphia is offering financial incentives for teachers who need to take coursework in order to get their first or second certification. (School District of Philadelphia)

The School District of Philadelphia is offering financial incentives for teachers who need to take coursework in order to get their first or second certification. (School District of Philadelphia)

This story originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune

From creating programs to obtain certification to increasing teachers salaries and offering bonuses, the School District of Philadelphia has deployed several strategies to attract and retain talent for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

“We know we’re competing with other districts and charters for teachers as there has been a decline in the overall number of teachers in the job market over the last 10 years,” said Larisa Shambaugh, chief talent officer for the School District of Philadelphia.

“We developed strategies for how we can continue to be competitive and show the great opportunities that exist in the School District of Philadelphia,” she added.

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Last September, the district negotiated a new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) where under the contract teachers will get raises amounting to 9% over three years.

Teachers received a 2.75% raise last year plus a $1,500 bonus. This year, teachers will get a 3.25% raise plus a $1,000 bonus on Sept. 1 and then a 3% increase on Sept. 1, 2023, in addition to automatic “step” increases for additional years of experience and advanced degrees.

“The starting salary for teachers is now around $50,000, but the average salary in the district for this coming year will be about $82,000 for teachers,” Shambaugh said.

“We’re increasing teacher salaries to be competitive as well as introducing additional bonuses,” she said. “All teachers, nurses and counselors will get a $1,000 bonus at the end of September.”

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This year, the district started hiring teachers in January. The district has about 97.4% of its teaching jobs filled for the new school year, according to the most recent data released by district officials. Principals are staffed at 99%, assistant principals 96.6%, climate managers 98.7% and counselors at 94.1%.

Teachers who work in 42 district schools will receive an additional bonus at the end of the school year.

“They will receive an additional bonus of $2,500,” Shambaugh said. “Those schools typically have more roles that are needed and need to be able to hire more teachers.

“We’re looking to provide additional financial incentives for teachers who went to those schools this year and remain there for the school year,” she added. “They’ll get another $2,500 in the fall of 2024 as another retaining bonus.”

The district is also offering financial incentives for teachers who need to take coursework in order to get their first or second certification.

“We’re offering up to $2,500 and reimbursement for any courses they need to take in that regard,” Shambaugh said. “We’re also offering reimbursement if they have to take the practice test in order to become certified.

“If they pass that we’ll be reimbursing them for that,” she said. “We’re also reimbursing them if they have to apply for an emergency permit. We want to remove barriers that may be requirements to get a certification, if there is a potential financial barrier.”

Earlier this year, the school district launched a paraprofessional to teacher pipeline program.

The Paraprofessional Career Development program, which was jointly developed with PFT, enables paraprofessionals to obtain their teacher certification without paying tuition.

Paraprofessionals serve as instructional assistants or provide additional support services to students, but are not certified classroom teachers. The program has a partnership with four universities: Temple, Cheyney, La Salle and Drexel.

“We’re paying the full tuition for our paraprofessionals, who qualified to go to one of our four university partners to be able to either go back to school to get their certification for teaching or go to school for the first time to higher education,” Shambaugh said.

“That is something that won’t have an immediate impact this year for teaching roles as those individuals who are taking coursework right now,” she said.

“It’s something that we are investing in our own staff who already worked with our kids to be able to support them long term and be able to get teaching roles or other professional roles in the district,” she added.

Shambaugh said the school district’s work environment, culture and climate are also critical factors to attracting and retaining talent.

“We have great school leaders in our district and that is a tremendous impact for teacher retention is having great leaders,” Shambaugh said.

“We’ve rolled out strategies that ensure teachers have time to collaborate with each other at the school level and to be able to learn from each other and reflect on student progress,” she added.

Shambaugh added the new strategies allows the district to offer more financial incentives for teachers and bring additional training to its employees while also remaining competitive with other districts.

“We want to make sure that what we’re doing is nuanced for the needs in the labor market, the needs of our district and ultimately what is best for our kids,” she said.

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