New teachers report in Marion County

By • on August 11, 2011

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A struggling national economy is pushing more and more people out of their chosen professions and into other areas of the workforce, with some landing teaching jobs in local classrooms.

Though some of these workers are heading to the education field out of necessity, others say a long-lasting recession signaled them to reevaluate their careers to determine their true passion.

Thursday was the Marion County School District’s annual new teacher orientation, held at Forest High School. The event is sponsored by the School District and the Public Education Foundation of Marion County.

While most of the new teachers are younger, within a few years of graduating college, some are about to start a second, third or fourth career.

Many of those older new teachers said Thursday that the recession made them do some career soul-searching and discovered that teaching was their passion, leading them to change professions.

That was the case for Michael Rudy, 58, who spent the past three decades in the biotech field. He said downsizing led him out of the field earlier this year and he ended up back where he was 30 years ago: the classroom.

Rudy, who will teach physical science at Vanguard High, said his old firm decided to hire younger people for less money. The good news is that it led him back to his true love: educating children.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Yancey said Thursday that the national recession has led better-quality teaching candidates to the district. He noted that fewer teachers left the district this year.

Just last year, there were 250 new teachers hired. The year before that, in summer 2009, the number was 300. Yancey said a hiring freeze has also meant fewer teachers, many of whom are being hired as full-time substitutes.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene said the district will begin feeling the strain. The district has virtually no room for error when it comes to the number of teachers needed.

She said many more teachers will be forced to change schools because of shifting population of students due to the class size amendment that passed in 2002, capping class sizes at different grade levels.

After the 10-day count, which will be Sept. 2, class sizes will be evaluated. To meet the law, new classes may have to be created and some teachers may even have to change schools.

Greene said there are about 15 more new vacancies that must be filled before Aug. 22, the first day of school, thanks to unexpected departures and retirements.

West Port High School principal Jayne Ellspermann said she is in a unique situation. Her school is the only high school campus in the county where a student can get his or her associate’s degree.

That’s because it is now part of the College of Central Florida. Called Early College, a countywide magnet program, West Port High students can get all of the high school and college credit at the same time.

Beginning last August, West Port High began offering all the college courses needed to earn an associate’s degree. Students will not have to leave campus.

The program is free to all qualified students in Marion County.

Because of those college courses, many highly qualified job candidates are applying at West Port. Ellspermann said many teachers like the idea of teaching higher-level courses to college-bound students.

Lem Gray, who has a master’s degree, said he had five job offers in three states. He said he chose West Port High, where he will teach and supervise the ROTC program, because of the school’s dedication to education.

Gray, who moved from the Duval County school system, said he was impressed with Ellspermann, as were two of her other hires — both of whom are law school graduates.

Chris Carlisle, a former attorney for the Ocala law firm of Gray, Ackerman and Haines, who was hired to teacher honors American history and American government at West Port High.

“It was (solely) a personal choice,” said Carlisle, 28, a 2001 Forest graduate. He looked over to his left at another new West Port High teacher, Steven Simmons, 25, a 2003 North Marion High graduate.

Simmons just finished law school and also decided to go into teaching. He will teach sociology and economics. He took his teacher’s certification exam and the bar exam this summer. He will know if he passed the bar in September.

Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

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