Fort Smith Public Schools is working with community leaders and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce to recruit teachers to the area.
The district has a long-serving committee looking at recruitment efforts, especially efforts to bring more minority teachers to Fort Smith, but recently has asked members of the community to join the committee for fresh insight and ideas, said Martin Mahan, assistant superintendent of human resources and campus support.
The committee includes Natasha Higgins with the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce; Paul Davis, pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church; Jackie Flake with Community Bible Church; Ron Orick, executive director of career services and the Babb Center for Student Professional Development at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; Dr. Monica Riley, interim executive director of the school of education at UAFS; Dr. Chris Johnson, principal at Kimmons Junior High; Dr. Samantha Hall, FSPS supervisor of professional development; Daniel Pena, FSPS technology facilitator; Leah Fritch, media specialist for FSPS; Christopher Ha, band director; Dr. Sherri Penix, human resource supervisor; and Mahan.
With the input of the committee, recruitment has changed from selling Fort Smith Public Schools to selling all of Fort Smith, Mahan said.
“We’re talking about events happening downtown like the Unexpected Project and all that is going on with building up downtown and the trail systems. We talk about the hospitals. We have two great healthcare facilities here and the new (Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine) and the development at Chaffee (Crossing) and even (Interstate) 49,” Mahan said. “It’s very exciting. We’re having a lot of one-on-one conversations.”
Mahan added that discussions involve how close Fort Smith is to Tulsa, Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas as well as Fort Smith’s history.
“A lot of people are not aware of Fort Smith and all it has to offer,” he said. “The economy in Fort Smith is good and the cost of living is good for the salary they can make.”
Penix added that when talking to a candidate who is married, the department is ready to help point spouses in the direction of jobs in the area in their field as well.
“We show them Fort Smith is a good place for families,” Penix said.
One goal of the new strategy is to recruit more minority teachers to the district. Roughly 20% of the teachers in Fort Smith Public Schools are minority. The student population is about 59.1% minority, information supplied by the district shows.
“We have such a diverse community and such a diverse school district. We want to try to have our staff as closely resemble that as possible,” Penix said. “But our efforts are always to look for qualified candidates.”
One stumbling block in teacher recruitment is the lack of young people choosing a career in education.
“We see as a whole people are not wanting to go into education. We are doing some things to develop that pipeline and engage candidates early,” Penix said.
Some of those initiatives include reaching possible candidates when they are very young. This year, the recruiting team talked to ninth-graders at the district’s iCan Career Expo, and there are programs for future students at both the junior and senior high levels, including Developing Teachers and Teachers of Tomorrow programs, Penix said.
“We’re getting them interested in teaching, building bigger groups of applicants, working to get more minorities into the candidate pool,” she said.
UAFS also offers concurrent introduction to education classes to FSPS high school students, and the district has an internship program that allows a student in the program to actually teach in Fort Smith schools, gaining 180 hours of experience in a classroom supervised by a teacher, Mahan said.
“We believe this will all pay off with big dividends in the future,” he said.
FSPS has very good relationships with UAFS, Arkansas Tech, the University of Central Arkansas, and other area schools including some in Oklahoma, all of which provide many candidates to the district for employment, Mahan said. He hopes the new recruitment tactics will get more people interested in Fort Smith.
“I think we’re having some good feedback. We have seen an increase in applications,” he said.
To help even more, the district is planning a weekend event to promote Fort Smith to possible candidates.
The plan is to bring in 30 to 40 people to spend the day in the district, visiting some of the campuses and seeing what is going on in the schools, Mahan said.
“Then possibly if it works out, they would stay the night and experience some of the social life of the town. We think this will be a great thing to have and we are hoping to roll it out in April. It will not be too big this first year, but we’re hoping it will get bigger and better,” he said.