A savvy California superintendent has turned to the internet to help solve the growing problem of teacher shortages–a situation that threatens education reform in his state, among others.

In Los Angeles County alone, almost 17,000 substitute teachers without actual accreditation are teaching with so-called “emergency credentials,” said Donald Ingwerson, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). In an effort to alleviate the growing problem, Ingwerson is using the internet to hold a “virtual job fair” and attract quality teachers from across the country.

“There just aren’t enough teachers out there–people don’t want to take the time off to do the student teaching,” said Stacy York, LACOE’s assistant technology specialist. Part of the California requirement for teachers is a year of non-paid student teaching.

“Right now, we need 4,000 teachers at all grade levels,” she said. “Schools are getting a lot of long-term substitutes and ending up without full-time teachers.”

To fix the growing problem, LACOE’s teacher recruitment center–which represents 60 school districts in the Los Angeles area–applied for and received a $1.4 million grant from the governor’s office. Five other recruitment centers in the state received similar grants.

According to Bill Bermudez, assistant director of LACOE’s teacher recruitment center, the grant money went toward two major recruitment initiatives, both making innovative use of the internet and teleconferencing technologies.

“A while back, our communications people had seen a virtual fair that had to do with finding lost children. It had nothing to do with teacher recruitment, but it seemed like a good idea,” said York. Recruiting center officials decided to duplicate the online fair as a way to recruit teachers from across the country.

“We are going to have a virtual job fair with a live television broadcast, videoconferencing, and internet streaming,” said Bermudez.

The program will allow school administrators from LACOE’s 60 districts to get online and speak with potential teaching candidates logged on at the same time from anywhere in the country. Users can simply log on to a computer with the assigned URL to view presentations from school administrators about job openings. They can eMail any questions or call into the live television broadcasts being aired on several local TV stations.

The first job fair was held live on the internet on May 16.

“As far as we know, this is the first time in the United States that schools have held something like this,” said Bermudez. “This has all been made possible by our governor–he’s funded the teacher recruitment centers–and our superintendent, Mr. Ingwerson, who said to explore all avenues and make this happen.”

Already in place is the second portion of the center’s plan to attract educators from other states to California.

Through state grant money and strategic partnerships with organizations such as Office Depot, Helpcity.com, and Bank America, LACOE has been able to send recruiters, armed with the latest technologies, out to other states’ teacher colleges to conduct on-site interviews with potential educators.

Bermudez and LACOE have reached out to potential teachers using an innovative device created by Aqcess Technologies. The company bills its Qbe tablet as a “slim, portable alternative to the traditional desktop.”

Powered by a 400 MHz Pentium II processor, the lightweight tablet, about the size of a legal pad, supports a Microsoft Windows 98 operating system. It also features a 13.3-inch display with touch screen navigation that users can navigate naturally, with the simple touch of a finger or the Qbe stylus pen.

The Qbe even allows recruiters to take still photos or video clips of potential teachers, using a digital video camera mounted on top of the device. Aqcess Technologies loaned six tablets to the county indefinitely.

“We have had so much response when we go to the job fairs and take [the Qbe tablet],” said York. LACOE has five different recruiters who go to the universities and set up a booth with the tablets.

If they meet a candidate who is interested in relocating to California, they can immediately contact the district and either meet right then or set up a time later on that day, depending on whether that district has a videoconferencing lab of its own.

“The administrators are really excited to do the interviews online–and since you can see the interviewees, it is more personal and it saves money on flying them out here,” said York.

Such cost-savings are a major benefit to using the Qbe tablets for recruiting, officials say. Besides the savings in airfare, using the internet saves on long-distance phone charges and keeps districts from sending their own staff out to do recruiting.

“In the past, all 60 school districts have had to send out their own recruiters, and now we are recruiting for 60 districts,” said York. “We’ve spent $40,000 going to these fairs. So imagine if each district had to do this instead of us. That’s $40,000 each.”

Administrators have been enthusiastic about the job fair and the Qbe tablets, officials say, and out of 20 interviews, five new teachers have accepted positions so far. The other 15 are still negotiating for the next school year.

“We want to make a difference in kids’ lives by finding the best candidates out there and bringing them in here,” said Bermudez.

Los Angeles County Office of Education

Aqcess Technologies