MPS is preparing for the new school year, after a huge turnover in personnel.
Many veterans retired last spring, because of Act 10. Gov. Scott Walker’s law stripped teachers of most of their bargaining rights, and forced them to pay more for health and pension benefits. The changes for MPS teachers took effect this summer, when their contract ran out.
The school district had so many retirements this year, that MPS held large hiring fairs, to fill vacancies. According to spokesman Tony Tagliavia, there are now mainly scattered openings.
“We’ve hired approximately 340 teachers so far, and we’re really pleased about that. We’re 99 percent of the way there,” Tagliavia says.
Tagliavia says most of the remaining one percent are openings in bilingual and early childhood education.
He says all brought aboard so far, are committed to working in a large urban district.
“Certainly, the increased salary has been a factor,” Tagliavia says.
MPS boosted pay for entry-level teachers by more than $3,000, to $41,000. Tagliavia says the jump helped MPS compete with private schools and surrounding districts. In some cases, MPS hired away experienced teachers from other schools.
Regardless of background, all new employees are going through training. The new hires at Rufus King high school had orientation sessions last week, because the school is back in session Monday.
“We have five new teachers -- actually two of the five were former student teachers here, so they’re somewhat familiar with the building,” says Principal Jennifer Smith.
Smith says veteran staff helped instruct the new hires on the culture and mission of the school.
“We’ve all been in the same sessions, and for most of the sessions, we have grouped teachers by department level or by grade level, so that they are working with experienced teachers side by side, offering, you know, ‘this is the way that we’ve done it in the past,’ new teachers saying, ‘OK, well, I have questions about this,’” Smith says.
Throughout the year, teachers will be able to meet with peer mentors after school.
Similar help will be available for the district’s new principals – 28 of them. When Smith started her job, she met with a mentor weekly, asking for advice on making tough decisions and evaluating staff.
Bob Peterson heads the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. He says the union offers additional assistance.
“We’re going to have drop-in sessions in September, every week, for teachers to learn about everything from their health insurance benefits to just how to manage things in their classrooms,” Peterson says.
Things such as learning to establish boundaries with students.
“Oftentimes, new teachers have a tendency to become almost too friendly with the kids. One has to be strict. At the same time, has to be also very caring and attentive to the individual needs of the student,” Peterson says.
Peterson says the union has already reached out to teachers at year-round schools and those that began early.
He says there will be a union rep in each school building, who’ll connect with new hires during the first couple weeks.
Schools on the traditional calendar start Sept. 3.