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City schools cut back on hires from alternatively certified program

John Hilton left his journalism career in Pennsylvania to join an innovative Baltimore program that develops teachers for the public schools, hoping for "another opportunity to effect change for the greater good."

But after successfully completing the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, he was told that there wasn't a job for him.

"They were always very reassuring about us having a job every step of the way," Hilton said. "I gave up everything to join BCTR, so it's been a significant personal loss for me, and I've really had to regroup and very quickly pick up the pieces."

Hilton is just one of the promising teachers who lost out on jobs as the school system cuts back on hiring. Last school year, the city hired 170 people from the residency program, but this year, only 96 were hired.

School officials said the cutback was necessary as they grapple with a reduction of teaching positions due to budget constraints. The city is trying to reduce the number of surplus teachers — certified teachers without permanent placements — that have cost the district at least $18 million since 2008.

"With the number of available positions being fewer, the number of teachers from these pipelines has to be smaller," the school system said in a statement. "Any higher number would result in our having a surplus of teachers we cannot afford."

Overall, the city hired 240 fewer teachers for the school year that starts Aug. 29 than it did last school year. The school system would not provide the total number of teaching positions it lost this year because the number is subject to change as the district zeroes in on vacancies that could open.

The residency program, along with the national Teach for America network, has funneled hundreds of new educators into the city's high-need schools. Both programs offer fast-track teaching opportunities after an intensive summer institute and are designed for on-the-job training toward certification, usually obtained in two years.

While the school system had indicated last week that it would also cut the number of hires from Teach for America by 40, it said Wednesday that such a move was no longer necessary after officials with the organization's Baltimore office told The Sun that it was not anticipating a reduction.

The system's CEO, Andrés Alonso, has championed both programs as an avenue to strengthen the city's teaching corps. As recently as January, he sent a mass email to the community encouraging those interested in a career change to join both programs.

The cuts did not result in a cost savings, city school officials said.

"We believe in the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their significance in providing a leadership pipeline in our schools," the system's statement said. "Many from these pipelines are now serving as principals and central office leaders, so there is value to these programs beyond the effectiveness of individual teachers."

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she was heartened to see that the system's burgeoning applicant pool and steady retention rates cut the necessity to recruit as many teachers from the alternative certification program.

She said she believed it was a reflection of the union's new landmark, lucrative contract, which city school officials have linked to the stark uptick in applications. The number of applications had doubled just months after the contract was passed in October.

"There was a time where recruiting a lot of teachers was heavily necessary, but our contract is attracting teachers from all over," English said.

English said teachers recruited from both programs are "valuable, especially when we had a need for teachers and to introduce them to the field. But we hope that this contract will attract people to stay here for the long haul."

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