What will it take to recruit and retain teachers in the Socorro Consolidated Schools District?

That was one of the main topics of discussion at the STORM FORCE strategic planning meeting last week.

For those who don’t know, STORM FORCE is a coalition of community members that is seeking to improve STEM education and career opportunities for students in this community, which includes Magdalena and the Alamo Navajo Reservation.

What does teacher recruitment have to do with the goals of the coalition?

Plenty.

Among the wish list of coalition members is that Socorro become the No. 1 place for a STEM education.

Half of that has already been accomplished. We already have one of the top science and engineering universities in the country.

The challenge is bringing the local school systems up to that level.

And if you’ve been to economic development meetings, community meetings and school board meetings, you’ll know we have a long way to go.

A factor in improving the performance of our schools is the quality of classroom instruction.

We must have quality teachers teaching our kids.

Who says this?

Socorro Superintendent Ron Hendrix. And he’s not alone in that belief. Dr. Kati Haycock, the CEO of the national organization Education Trust, voiced that same opinion at the Leadership New Mexico conference I attended and had some pretty impressive statistics to back up that belief.

Hendrix pushed the four-day week proposal as a way to recruit teachers to Socorro. He took a lot of criticism for it. But a couple of months ago, an 1,800 student school district in the Denver suburbs approved a four-day week for the very same reason.

The four-day week proposal did not come up again at the STORM FORCE meeting.

Other potential incentives were discussed.

Why do we need those incentives? The harsh reality is that Socorro and other rural districts find themselves in competition for teachers with Albuquerque, Las Cruces and other larger and wealthier districts.

There are good teachers in our system. I spotlighted a few of those in last week’s edition.

But as of last week’s coalition meeting, Hendrix said Socorro Consolidated Schools had 15 positions to fill.

And others at the meeting said some of our better teachers are nearing retirement.

Hendrix told the coalition it’s hard to compete with Albuquerque for an education student graduating from the University of New Mexico. APS can offer higher salaries to go along with what more urban communities have to offer.

Again, he’s not the only one who holds that belief. It was expressed by officials at board meetings under the previous administration.

Las Cruces, one official said back then, has the same advantage with education students graduating from New Mexico State University.

Former HR director Keith Bausman had to recruit teachers at job fairs in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Among the possible incentives mentioned at the meeting included getting the alternative licensing program started back up at New Mexico Tech.

Socorro and Magdalena have both benefitted from the program in the past. There are teachers in both systems who are on their faculties because of that program.

A few of those teachers were present at the meeting.

A stronger connection with Tech doesn’t end with the alternative license program.

It was suggested teachers could be offered services at Tech such as the use of the gym or the pool for free or at a more discounted rate than they receive right now.

I was going to ask if shared faculty is a possibility.

New Mexico Tech Professor Bill Stone mentioned at a Socorro City Council meeting earlier this month the university was also making an effort to recruit and retain faculty members.

Is it possible for the university to share a position with a local school board? Salary is considered an issue for both when it comes to recruiting and retaining faculty. Maybe funding from both could sweeten the pot for an associate professor or two who could also log time in the classroom at the high school.

Or is this idea totally way off base?

Improving the performance of the local school districts doesn’t end with the recruitment of quality teachers.

The access to dual credit classes is another. A couple of the members of the coalition who are New Mexico Tech faculty mentioned the possibility of removing hurdles to make it easier for students at Socorro High School to take dual credit classes.

If that could be achieved, I would suggest promoting it a little more on either the Socorro Consolidated Schools website, the New Mexico Tech website or both.

Based on a conversation I had with graduating seniors at Socorro High a couple of weeks ago, and I think it would be good to make students aware of what is offered.

There was also a discussion of maybe expanding what’s offered at the high school through the use of clubs on the university campus.

Promoting what’s offered at the high school could be a way of recruiting more families to this community.