Severn River Middle School was in a bind. A new school year had begun and the school was scrambling for a qualified eighth-grade earth and space science teacher.
The search ended with Victorina Perez. Perez, one of 16 Filipino teachers the district recruited last fall to fill critical vacancies, who came to Severn River Middle about nine weeks ago with experience as a college instructor from her native country.
Without Perez, Severn River's principal Patrick Bathras said he might have been forced to temporarily hire someone without a science background or degree.
Perez is among about 60 foreign teachers the Anne Arundel County public school system has placed in 118 schools to fill vacancies in math, science and special education.
As critical teacher shortages persist, the district has drafted a new policy for hiring international teachers, including incentives that offer to sponsor their permanent residency in the U.S. to make the district more attractive.
The school board considered the proposed policy as an informational item at Wednesday's meeting. The public has 30 days to comment on the policy, and board members can also weigh in with their suggestions during that time. The policy will be up for vote in December.
"This really helps us improve our recruiting," said Florie Bozzella, the system's director of human resources. "We've had interest from some of these teachers, and usually their first question to us is: 'Will you sponsor our [green card]?' We didn't have a set way to handle that before and this policy helps us make sure we're consistent with all the applicants about what they can expect us to do for them if they're hired here."
Regulations accompanying the proposed policy outline the requirements under which the district would support a foreign applicant's efforts toward permanent residency.
Among other things, the policy states the district would help an applicant apply for a green card if they've had satisfactory job evaluations, a clear disciplinary record with the district and agree to stay with the school system for at least two years once they've gotten their green card.
If foreign applicants feel the school system is supporting their goal to become American citizens, Bozzella said, Anne Arundel is more likely to recruit and keep qualified foreign teachers.
The efforts to become more welcoming to international applicants help the district address two key areas of concern, teacher recruitment and turnover, Bozzella said.
At the school board meeting earlier this month, Bozzella told school board members that Anne Arundel County public schools lose about one in 10 teachers every year, half of them leaving within five years of being hired.
Board members also learned that although the district had intensified efforts to diversify its teaching ranks, fewer minority and multicultural applicants joined the school system this year, some of them shying away because they had heard Anne Arundel schools were not welcoming to staff members from diverse cultures, according to schools human resources.
District officials say they hope to improve both of those conditions, with international applicants not only filling critical openings, but also providing much-needed diversity, Bozzella said.
Anne Arundel's challenge to plug openings with international applicants isn't rare. Across the country, more than 10,000 teachers have been recruited from foreign countries, according to a 2003 report (the most current available) by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union.
Two years ago, Baltimore City schools began joining the trend by hiring 45 teachers from the Philippines. Anne Arundel followed suit last fall, hiring 16 from that country, including Severn River Middle's Perez.
The school's principal, Bathras, said he was grateful for her arrival.
"You risk students having gaps in students' knowledge if you have to hire someone to teach outside the certification, without the experience in the subject," he said.