NEW ORLEANS - Wanted: Idealistic teachers looking for a Peace Corps-style adventure in a city in distress.
Some of New Orleans' most desperate, run-down schools are beset with a severe shortage of teachers, and they are struggling mightily to attract candidates by appealing to their sense of adventure and desire to make a difference. Education officials are even offering to help new teachers find housing.
"There's been an incredible outpouring of sympathy toward New Orleans. We feel we're trying to say, `Here's a clear path to go down if you want to act on that emotion,'" said Matthew Candler, chief executive of the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, which is trying to recruit teachers.
The school system in New Orleans was in desperate condition even before Hurricane Katrina struck 17 months ago, with crumbling buildings, low test scores and high dropout rates.
After the storm, some of the worst of the worst public schools were put under state control, and those are the ones finding it particularly hard to attract teachers. The 19 schools in the state-run Recovery School District have 8,580 students and about 540 teachers, or about 50 fewer than they need _ a shortage so severe that about 300 students who want to enroll have been put on a waiting list.
"Recruiting is a challenge," said Kevin George, principal of Rabouin High School in downtown New Orleans. "The housing market is terrible. The area has a poor image due to the violence. ... And then there's just coming into a place that historically had just a terrible track record of education."
In hopes of finding at least 150 new teachers for the state-run district in the 2007-08 school year, when more schools are expected to open, education officials are trying to recruit candidates at job fairs, on the Web or through newspaper ads that show the raised hands of students and read plaintively: "We need you ... so do they."
The Recovery School District is also working with a real estate agent to help candidates find affordable housing. In addition, it plans to collaborate with Teach for America, which pairs college graduates with a school-in-need for two years.