Home grown: A national model for hiring teachers in rural communities

Home Grown Teacher Recruitment Initiative

All students deserve a high-quality education, especially children living in rural communities.

When Guadalupe Center mapped out its plan to increase access to education for families living in Immokalee, the biggest challenge was not securing funding to build two new state-of-the-art campuses in 24 months.

Instead, the biggest challenge to Guadalupe Center’s ambitious expansion plan was finding teachers in a rural community where less than half of adults have a high school diploma, let alone a college degree. Growth was obviously important, but not at the expense of quality – a high-quality education starts with high-quality educators who have access to a strong network of support.

A year ago in this very magazine, we outlined a plan to recruit, train and support individuals already living in Immokalee, eliminating what had been the biggest barrier to attracting teachers – distance. We implemented a seven-step approach to establishing a professional career path for early learning educators:

Step 1: Hire a full-time recruitment, training and curriculum specialist to oversee hiring initiatives and professional development.

Step 2: Establish partnerships with curriculum and professional development experts at the college level.

Step 3: Build financial support from visionaries willing to open their hearts to provide students with opportunities to learn.

Step 4: Offer competitive compensation that makes education an attractive occupation with additional bonuses based on certification levels.

Step 5: Identify potential candidates from pools that include parents of current and former students, recent high school graduates and retirees.

Step 6: Offer paid training opportunities and certification programs to help teachers earn required academic credentials.

Step 7: Help teachers continually refine their skills through an ongoing training and on-the-job performance review system.

Guadalupe Center opened the van Otterloo Family Campus for Learning last summer with 28 new teachers. Where does it stand now, one year later? Today, 26 of those original 28 teachers are still in their classrooms providing a strong educational, emotional, behavioral and social foundation so crucial to a child’s development.

“Teaching children is more than a job for me; it’s my life’s work,” said teacher Esperanza Leon. “I see myself as a bridge that invites children to come across to learn, to be creative and to explore the world around them. I am grateful that my career and my purpose come together each day with my students at Guadalupe Center.”

What if Guadalupe Center had followed a more traditional route and simply posted vacancies on job boards and in education publications? Given what is happening nationally, many of the 28 positions might still be vacant if Guadalupe Center wasn’t proactive. The headline of a Fortune article this winter read “Staff shortages are crippling child care centers across the U.S.” A CNBC story notes education is suffering from a “burnout crisis” as teachers leave the profession for a multitude of reasons, including safety concerns, low salaries, funding deficits and declining mental health. Locally, dozens of child care providers have limited enrollments or closed altogether because they were unable to find teachers. A classroom without a teacher means you have a classroom without students.

Any hiring manager will affirm their job is not simply filling vacancies… it’s identifying and placing the right people in the right roles. Good teachers inspire their students to become lifelong learners, to pursue their passions, to strive for the best, to never give up, to achieve anything and everything they imagine. Guadalupe Center’s NAEYC-accredited Early Childhood Education Program has an astounding record of preparing youth for the future as 95% of students meet or exceed Florida’s kindergarten readiness standards. A child prepared for elementary school is a student prepared for middle school, high school, college and a career. That’s why replicating this type of program across Immokalee, Southwest Florida and beyond is critical – every child should have an opportunity to learn.

We always tell our students to dream big, set a lofty goal and chart a course to reach it. That’s exactly what we did in establishing both new campuses in Immokalee.

They said it couldn’t be done. But here we are today, being proactive to create a career pathway for highly skilled educators while providing 218 additional Immokalee students with access to high-quality education programs that will fuel endless possibilities for years to come.

– By Dawn Montecalvo, President of Guadalupe Center