Anne Arundel County school officials are trying a new tack in an effort to attract highly sought-after teachers and aides during the midyear recruiting doldrums: a job fair that nobody has to attend.
Through Jan. 30, school officials are accepting applications for a "virtual job fair" on the district's Web site in hopes of hiring more special education teachers and speech, physical and occupational therapists. The postings can be found at www.aacps.org/html/teach/virtjobfair.asp.
Virtual job fairs are intended to mimic the market-like atmosphere of their live counterparts with online applications, job listings and interviews via videoconferencing.
Although the county Web site does not include real-time interaction, it does have job descriptions, contact information for key people and online applications.
The appeal has been a success in recruiting applicants for typically difficult-to-fill positions, said Florie Bozzella, director of human resources for the Anne Arundel County public schools. The school system has received 29 applications at a time of year when teachers are under contract and are not interested in applying, she said.
"It's a very creative way to use an existing resource to promote key jobs that are in high demand," she said.
Since implementing an online application process three years ago, the school system has conducted annual surveys of hundreds of new teachers to determine how well the process is working. Last fall, about half of the approximately 600 new teachers responded, and half said they learned about their initial job opening from the system's Web site, Bozzella said.
"So I thought, 'Let's try to use the Web to do some of the work we do,'" she said.
Special-education teachers and aides are always in high demand, but next year there will be an even bigger push to recruit them.
Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell is seeking $3 million in the next fiscal year to expand a special education program that he says has been understaffed for years. The money would pay for 44 special-education teachers, aides, and occupational and physical therapists.
Maxwell says he is hoping the investment in special education will pay dividends in the system's progress under No Child Left Behind. Academic performance among special-needs children has been a problem at many Arundel schools, including Annapolis High, which faces sanctions if it doesn't improve its reading scores among special-education students, minorities and low-income students.
Recruiting teachers in specialty areas is compounded by a decades-old teacher shortage in Maryland. Every year, state colleges and universities turn out 2,100 new teachers and Maryland school systems hire 7,000 teachers.
To fill those positions, many school systems - including Anne Arundel County - recruit nationwide, Bozzella said. Virtual job fairs save travel time and money. Most Maryland school systems have an online application process.
That doesn't mean that Anne Arundel County will forgo its live job fair. Last year, the county received more than 700 applications at its job fair at North County High School. Because of the number of people, this year's fair, scheduled for March 29, has been moved to the Old Mill schools complex in Millersville because it has more parking.
Also this year, the Maryland Association of School Personnel Administrators is hosting its first statewide job fair, on April 5 at the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel, said Stephanie Moses, the association's president.
The new Maryland Education Recruitment Consortium, made up of representatives of all 24 Maryland school systems, will have four interview rooms, a suite staffed by state certification officials and information booths. The idea is that once out-of-state teachers come to Maryland, they are likely to stay.
"Let's get them to Maryland, and we'll divvy them up among us," said Moses, who also is director of human resources for the Wicomico County public schools.
Moses said the consortium hopes to make the fair annual. She has sent advertisements to 478 colleges in surrounding states and in states that have teacher surpluses, such as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.