At a recent job fair at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, more than 200 teacher recruiters -- some from as far as Atlanta and Denver -- competed for the attention of about 330 graduates clutching freshly printed résumés.
The recruiting team from Loudoun County public schools, which needs to hire more than 700 teachers for the coming academic year, left the fair with a long list of interested candidates. But many of those candidates also had been talking with recruiters from Fairfax, Prince William and Montgomery counties.
Loudoun school officials say their odds are much better when they can recruit from within, drawing from the student teachers who have had a semester-long tryout in a county classroom. They also expect that hiring homegrown teachers will become easier soon because of a plan by George Mason University to offer an elementary education program at its Sterling campus in the fall.
The GMU program, which is part time and designed to accommodate students who can't attend classes during the day, is mainly geared toward those who live in Loudoun and want to work in Loudoun schools, said Lynne Schrum, coordinator of elementary education and a professor of education at George Mason. GMU has similar programs at its Prince William, Arlington and Fairfax county campuses.
The university is accepting applications now for the Loudoun program, which will start with 12 to 15 slots. After a year and a half of coursework, students will spend a semester in a classroom with a teacher. Loudoun school officials said they were looking forward to keeping pace as the GMU program grows.
"We are constantly looking for good candidates," said John O'Connor, staff development supervisor with Loudoun schools. "This is one more effort being made to identify people who can have a successful teaching career in Loudoun County."
School personnel directors say it is much easier to hire someone who has been pursuing an education degree locally than to lure candidates from family or friends in distant places.
Last year, 141 teachers-in-training worked in more than 50 Loudoun schools, and 45 percent of them were hired by the school system the following year.
Student teachers are usually desirable hires because administrators "can see their performance, and they know what they can expect from them," said Delores Creech, employee relations specialist for Loudoun schools.
Schrum said George Mason would like to start a second program in Loudoun that would put student teachers in the schools for an entire year. That program could begin next January.
"As the program grows, Loudoun will also be growing and the population of schools will be growing," she said. "This is a good time to start it."
Last year, Loudoun used 51 teachers-in-training from George Mason, drawing from the other GMU campuses. That number was more than from any other university. In all, Loudoun's student teachers came from 16 universities. Other schools that provided 15 or more student teachers to the Loudoun school system last year were Shenandoah, Old Dominion and Marymount universities.
Even with the growth of a local pipeline for teachers, Loudoun schools will continue to depend heavily on out-of-town recruiting. The recent event at U.Va. was one of dozens of fairs that Loudoun recruiters will attend this spring in preparation for the high season of teacher recruiting. In March alone, Loudoun school officials have scheduled visits to Miami; New York; Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; Puerto Rico; Shepherdstown, W.Va.; and Richmond, among other places.
Officials began job fair hopping in October with trips to North Carolina, Philadelphia and Baltimore.