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Fiscal picture, turnaround open more spots for new teachers

A slightly improved fiscal picture and a higher-than-usual number of anticipated vacancies mean more new teachers are likely to enter city classrooms this fall.

Two groups that prepare new teachers, the national nonprofit Teach for America and the city’s own Teaching Fellows program, both say they are planning to boost the number of recruits that they direct toward city schools. Together, they are anticipating hiring about 1,100 new teachers — far fewer than in their heyday but up by more than a third since last year.

The groups are by no means the only source of new teachers for city schools, whose principals also hire teachers trained through traditional certification programs and teachers who are already working in other districts. But their anticipated enrollment represents a barometer for evaluating the city’s teacher hiring climate, which for years has been dampened by restrictions introduced in 2009.

Then-Chancellor Joel Klein introduced the restrictions as a way to cut costs when economic recession kicked in and the city’s fiscal picture dimmed. They have not been lifted, but over time the Department of Education exempted some subjects and geographic areas and now says on its teacher hiring page that restrictions f0r the 2012-2013 school year “are unavailable at this time,” suggesting that principals might well face different or fewer constraints when filling open positions this year.

Why the change? One big reason is that the city’s finances are on the upswing: Unlike in recent years, Mayor Bloomberg is not threatening teacher layoffs this summer, saying that the city’s improving fiscal picture does not warrant them. In addition, the city is planning a massive organizational change, “turnaround,” at 33 schools that could free up as many as 1,700 positions for new teachers — many of which would fall under an exemption in the existing hiring restrictions.

According to federal guidelines, schools that undergo turnaround must replace half of their staffs in order to receive School Improvement Grant funding. The city’s turnaround plans involve closing and reopening the 33 schools with new staffs that draw from the old school. Even in 2009, new schools were allowed to pull 40 percent of their teachers from outside the system, and the reopened turnaround schools have been told they will have the same flexibility. That means that the schools will potentially be able to hire externally for more than 1,300 positions, in addition to positions that are exempt from the restrictions.

The schools will be able to recruit from other schools in the city and from a tiny pool of teachers that the Department of Education has trained specially for schools undergoing radical reform efforts. They are also likely to turn to products of Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows’ longstanding alternative training programs.

Teach for America is anticipating placing about 175 teachers in Department of Education schools, up from about 135 last year, according to a spokeswoman, Danielle Montoya. Another 200 or more Teach for America recruits will find jobs in charter schools and early childhood programs, Montoya said.

The city’s Teaching Fellows program, which at its peak brought thousands of new teachers into the system each year, is anticipating a class of about 700 teachers, according to a Department of Education spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan. Virtually all of those teachers will enter special education positions or other high-need spots, such as science.

Together, the groups are planning to take on more than 1,100 new teachers, up from 800 last year and fewer than 650 in 2010. Teachers trained in those programs get help finding jobs but must be chosen by principals according to the principals’ own hiring criteria. If the recruits are not hired by a school by midway through the fall semester, they are cut loose from the training programs’ payrolls.