School’s in Session, but Recruiting Challenges Continue in Las Vegas

By Jennifer Berkshire

Sep. 6, 2005

If Lina Gutierrez had her way, Las Vegas would not be known as Sin City. She’d drop the homage to legalized gambling and adult entertainment in favor of something that gets at what Las Vegas is really about these days: schools.

    It’s not such a stretch. Eleven new schools have opened in Las Vegas this year. More than 12,000 new students have joined the Clark County School District, which encompasses the vast Las Vegas metropolitan area and is the fastest-growing school district in the country. Gutierrez, executive director of human resources and licensed personnel for the district, knows the numbers by heart. She oversees the city’s latest hot commodity: teachers.

    “It’s crazy. It’s as if we’re opening a big new hotel every year,” Gutierrez says. She’s not far off the mark. For the 2005-06 school year, Gutierrez and her team of more than 100 principals and others involved in recruiting hired more than 2,100 new teachers—not quite enough to cover every class. “We have some gaps,” she says, noting that substitutes could fill some high-need areas, including special education, science and math. Meanwhile, recruiting for next year has already begun.

Scouring the globe
    When Las Vegas was still a sleepy desert town, the school district could rely on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for a steady supply of new teachers. These days, the search takes recruiters considerably farther afield. The district holds regular recruitment drives at universities across the country. Beginning in April, the height of recruiting season, Gutierrez and her staff of two directors, along with principals and other administrators from Las Vegas schools, spend each weekend traveling to colleges and universities across the country in search of likely prospects. “UNLV can’t provide us with the teachers we need, so we have to look other places,” she says.

    This year the school district even looked overseas. “Because of the tremendous need for teachers in special education and mathematics, we started foreign recruitment,” says Gutierrez, noting that the trips to Spain, the Philippines and Canada resulted in the hiring of 90 foreign teachers.

Like kids? Come on down
    While the school district plans to expand its foreign recruiting operation for the 2006-2007 school year, Gutierrez and her team are also focusing their efforts on residents of Las Vegas. The goal: to identify local residents who, with a bit of training, could join the district’s legions of teachers. “A lot of parents, male and female, say, ‘I’d like to be a teacher,’ ” Gutierrez says. “Our response is ‘OK. We’ll teach you how to be a teacher.’”

    The Clark County School District’s campaign, called A Call to Teach, includes newspaper ads and public service announcements using Las Vegas celebrities. The district is welcoming area residents with bachelor’s degrees into the classroom while they complete the coursework necessary to obtain a teaching license in Nevada. More than 150 locals have heeded the call this year, a number that Gutierrez hopes will be even higher next year.

    Gutierrez also sees potential teachers in the school district’s support staff, the administrative employees who keep the enormous school system running. For them she has a deal that may be too good to turn down: Attend the local university to get teacher training while the school district continues to pay your salary. “The support staff has already proven to me that they like kids,” Gutierrez says. “This is a way to take it a step further. You have credits but not a degree? Come on down.”

Home field advantage
    While the school district still recruits most of its new teachers from outside of Nevada, persuading local residents to join the school system is often far easier than getting teachers to relocate to Vegas. The reason: the Sin City factor, Gutierrez says. “We’re definitely fighting an image of what Las Vegas is all about. Some people are surprised to hear that there are schools here at all.” To counter that image, the school district sends every potential teacher a CD touting the city’s charms and recreational opportunities.

    Teachers who are offered contracts even get a call from a local ambassador–a representative of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce–in an effort to persuade them to make the move. Still, Gutierrez concedes, more than sweet talk may be necessary to lure new instructors to the city. “Housing is the latest challenge we’re facing. The price of housing has doubled here,” she says. “Now we’re working with the city to try and address that. How are people going to come teach here if they can’t afford to live here?

Referring friends
    Wherever prospective recruits come from, they all encounter the school district’s streamlined electronic application process. Potential teachers submit an interest form listing their educational background, any teaching experience and the subjects they’d like to teach. In two days, applicants who make the grade are invited to submit an application. “I download the applications every day,” Gutierrez says. “As soon as we hear from you, we start working your references. By the time you interview, we may be ready to offer you a job.”

    As for the interview process, Gutierrez and her team have recently added a new question: “Do you know anyone else who wants to be a teacher?”

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with