Newton County Associate Superintendent of Human Recourses Dennis Carpenter arrived to the district three months ago and has a plan to fill all certified vacancies by fall.
He took a bold step towards fulfilling that goal at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting as the board voted unanimously to sign an agreement with Global Teachers Research and Resources Inc.
"Right now we have around 80 certified positions open," Carpenter said on Tuesday. "My hope is that we have all of those positions filled come time for students and teachers to return this fall."
GTRR specializes in supplying school systems with experienced international teachers. To qualify for placement through GTRR, candidates must be fluent in English, possess citizenship outside of the United States, have earned the equivalent of a bachelor's degree and completed an accredited educator preparation program and have teaching experience.
County officials believe the school system is finding it difficult to fill positions and cite steady growth and teacher defection as contributing factors to the shortages, especially in math and science.
"I just don't see a whole lot of teachers coming out of college and coming into the county," BOE Vice Chair Rickie Corley said. "We need to find a way to make teaching more attractive to young people coming out of school. It's tough right now."
While the board voted together to enter into the agreement with GTRR, Corley and fellow member Cathy Dobbs held slight reservations with the prospect of adding teachers who have never been to the county, let alone lived in the U.S.
"I want to make sure we are getting good teachers, but I also want our students to be able to understand them and their teaching methods," BOE member Cathy Dobbs said.
Corley and Dobbs added safety is a concern and they hope the teachers go through a series of background investigations.
"We can't be too safe these days," Corley said. "We have to be concerned about safety in our schools and background investigations are important."
"We need to make sure we are doing a good job when we check backgrounds," Dobbs added.
Carpenter said GTRR implements a thorough investigation before admitting any teachers into its program. For the record, the contract states the organization will provide teachers who have passed a complete criminal background check.
Teachers hired through GTRR will not be county employees, rather independent contractors. In essence, GTRR is a staffing service. As a result, the county pays the organization rather than to the teachers themselves. The county will pay teacher's salaries in accordance with the state's existing payment schedule and GTRR is responsible for cutting paychecks. GTRR is responsible for maintaining the teacher's credentials including state teaching certifications.
GTRR presents many benefits to the county. Currently Newton County matches up to 5 percent of teacher's contributions into their diversified retirement account that sits in place of Social Security. The county will save those funds as any benefit package offered to GTRR teachers is their responsibility. Health benefit costs are also deferred as GTRR will provide benefits for its teachers. The contract runs for one year and the county must pay a $10,000 administration fee.
Newton County wouldn't be the first system to sign on with GTRR. DeKalb and Fulton counties use GTRR teachers and Anderson County in South Carolina has successfully employed teachers through the agency for several years.
Carpenter has been busy this summer and already has the wheels turning as he lined up and interviewed 25 candidates as of Thursday. He said on Tuesday that he is hopeful the system will get some good prospects from the interviews, which took place at Ficquett Elementary School.
"We have 25 qualified individuals and if everything goes well, we may have 25 new teachers by the end of the week," Carpenter added.