The Clark County School District has its issues, but staffing—or more specifically the lack of it—may top the list. When the school year began in August, CCSD was scrambling to fill more than 600 teaching spots. By the time winter break hit, there were still hundreds of vacancies.
One potential solution is renewing the district’s contract with Teach for America, which recruits people who don’t have an education degree but are interested in teaching, puts them through a five-week boot camp and sends them into a classroom. Over the next three years, CCSD will hire up to 175 teachers who have been recruited and trained by Teach for America, for which the district will pay $2,000 per teacher (as well as salary and benefits). “It’s a really great deal for us,” says Staci Vesneske, chief human resources officer for the Clark County School District, noting that the district only pays about 5 percent of the total cost of preparing a TFA teacher (the remaining cost is covered by philanthropic donations).
Of course, that’s only a fraction of the more than 2,000 teachers Vesneske says CCSD will be hiring over the next several years. “TFA has a commitment to placing their teachers in high-needs schools, schools that tend to be in [higher] poverty areas, and that’s where our vacancies tend to be,” she says. “The retention rate is lower in the poverty schools than the suburban areas.”
Speaking of retention, there have been concerns nationally about frequent turnover of Teach for America instructors, who agree to a two-year obligation when hired. However, Vesneske insists that’s not an issue here. “The majority actually do stay longer,” Vesneske says, adding that, after three years, the retention rate for TFA teachers is about 67 percent, compared to about 73 percent for traditional CCSD teachers.
There could be one glitch in CCSD’s plan: Teach for America is facing its own recruitment issues. A note recently sent to partner organizations by TFA’s leadership states that political turmoil around educational issues and “shaky district budgets” have led to “decreased interest in entering the field nationwide.” But Vesneske doesn’t believe that will affect Las Vegas, since CCSD and Teach for America have long-range plans that give the organization plenty of time to recruit and prepare teachers. “We need a lot of teachers,” Vesneske says. “And the focus is on getting the best teacher in front of those kids.”