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Trying a New Tack to Recruit Teachers

L.A. Unified: Mid-career professionals from other fields are sought for low-performing schools. Three-year internship, intense training offered.

April 04, 2002|SUFIYA ABDUR-RAHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer says accountants, bankers, sales managers--heck, even journalists--can make good public school teachers with the proper training.

And so, to ease its teacher shortage, the Los Angeles Unified School District is launching a campaign to attract professionals from such various fields.

The Los Angeles Teaching Fellows program, Romer announced Wednesday, hopes to recruit 250 mid-career professionals to become science, math, English and special education teachers in low-performing schools especially in the downtown, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles areas.

The program is part of a national organization called the New Teacher Project, which has recruited teachers in New York City and Washington, D.C. It will be advertised in Los Angeles-area newspapers and on television and radio.

"You've heard the statistics," says a monotone male voice in the district's newly unveiled radio promotion for the program. "You know many of L.A.'s children are still not getting the education they deserve."

Growing more urgent, the announcer says, "But you might not realize that you have the power to change things."

The program plans to give the teaching fellows six weeks of intensive training this summer followed by a three-year internship, during which they continue their training, take education courses and lead classroom instruction one day a week.

Eighteen months into the internship, fellows will take an exam to earn their preliminary teaching credentials, and at the end of the internship they will earn their certification.

"It is a program that will assist us to get talent into our teaching core," Romer said. "Our main priority is to improve quality instruction."

Applicants need only have completed a bachelor's degree with a 2.7 grade point average. And fellows will earn the base salary of L.A. Unified teachers, about $35,000.

For professionals in the middle of their careers--like an accountant who can start at $50,000--this may be a step down monetarily. But Romer said he doesn't expect decreased pay to deter the truly dedicated applicants.

Said school board member Genethia Hayes: "We're not looking for the young people who are trying to figure out who they are. We're looking for people who know who they are.

"The best teacher in hard-to-staff, low-performing schools is the teacher who has the passion for teaching," she said.

Juldene Sims had that passion and felt as though she were wasting it working as a banker. So last year, she left and sought out an earlier version of the internship program. Sims is now in her first year of teaching math at South Gate High School.

She advised other mid-career professionals to have realistic expectations when they enter the classroom as teachers. "You're not going to come in and solve the world's problems in education," Sims said, "but you can make a difference with your group of students."

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