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White Hall schools aim to identify new teachers

by Suzi Parker | August 11, 2022 at 2:35 a.m.
White Hall School District assistant superintendent Debbie Jones addresses board members during a meeting last winter. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Debbie Jones has an education mission.

White Hall's assistant superintendent of curriculum and federal programs wants to decrease the current gap of 22 percent between student and teacher minority representation to 11 percent by 2025.

"We have started looking at what we have done as a district and what we can do," Jones said. "We have looked at hiring practices and recruitment of teachers and we are getting more feedback through surveys."

Jones outlined the district's new three-year action plan Tuesday night at White Hall's school board meeting.

Teacher retention has been at the Arkansas education forefront for the last several years. Arkansas has the sixth-lowest teacher salary in the country, making retention difficult.

Additionally, Jones said, Texas is heavily recruiting teachers and education graduates to their state. Mississippi and Tennessee also compete for Arkansas teachers and offer higher salaries. Even within the state, teachers are lured to northwest Arkansas and often bypass the southern part of the state.

"We have always been for fortunate that we have had a pool of applicants," Jones said.

She knows that can change. That's why being proactive especially recruiting a diverse workforce is critical.

The school district is making efforts to include diversity in committee meetings and within school organizations. That includes, Jones said, the English-learner population as well as all other minority groups.

Students also play a key role in cultivating the future of education in Arkansas, and more specifically in their own backyards.

The plan includes introducing and promoting the Teacher Residency Model aimed at increasing the future educator population by 25 percent.

"In eighth grade, we have students complete success plans," Jones said. "They are asked 'What do I want to do when I leave high school?' We hope to identify students that may want to go into education fields and work with them to make this happen."

Students with teaching dreams will learn what it takes to be a teacher, the best majors to study in college and post-graduation opportunities.

They will also learn about teaching's economic benefits and retirement plans so they know all aspects of choosing education as a career.

"We hope to plant the teacher seed," Jones said.

Educator prep liaisons will also visit the school, and students will attend career fairs.

Even employees who are not yet teachers may find opportunities to work toward a teaching degree with scholarships.

"The bottom line is that we are setting a goal as a district to look at diversity in our hiring practices," Jones said. "We want to retain our teachers by creating a diverse culture and climate that includes serving on committees and to build the support that teachers need to keep them here."

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