by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
Despite academic excellence and strong ties to the community, fewer and fewer local college graduates are landing teaching jobs in the Park Hill School District.
The Park Hill School District's most recent new hire--an out of state college graduate--is a clear illustration to the question many local graduates are left asking: If not me, who was offered employment?
The answer—56 regional university graduates and 14 out-of-state graduates.
In preparation for the 2015-2016 school year, the Park Hill School District hired five times the number of graduates from regional or out-of-state universities compared to graduates of local universities.
Only 14 local college graduates who earned a degree at Park University, William Jewell, UMKC, Baker University, Rockhurst University, or Webster University were hired by the district.
The district had 2,163 qualified teacher applicants for the current school year. The district’s human resources department interviewed 700 applicants for 84 vacant teaching positions. Eighty-four percent of those hired graduated from an out-of-state or regional university.
Data suggests the district's preference to hire non-local graduates has been growing over the past decade. In 2005, the district hired twice as many regional university graduates than local university graduates. Additionally, the district hired 12 out-of-state applicants.
A majority of the well-paying teaching positions are being awarded to graduates from Northwest Missouri State University, Missouri Western University, the University of Missouri, or the University of Central Missouri.
A number of local graduates with strong ties to the community believed they would be the top choice when it came time to landing a job at Park Hill. Some graduated at the top of their class, were awarded student-teacher of the year, and completed hundreds of hours training in the field of education at local urban, rural, and suburban schools.
A number of others graduated with honors from the Park Hill School District, completed their college internship in the district, and raise their children in the district.
But many of these graduates say they are being forced to relocate, change their course of study or take a job in another field.
It raises questions in the minds of some observers as to whether qualified undergrads are simply not being taken seriously by the district.
In response to the data that illustrates the dramatic disparity between the numbers of local grads who are able to obtain employment compared with out-of-state or regional graduates, Jenifer Phillips, a Park University graduate and former teacher, said she is saddened.
“As someone who went to Park Hill schools K-12, substituted a few times in the district, student taught at Chinn and coached/choreographed at one of the high schools, I've been one of many truly disappointed local college graduates,” said Phillips.
“Now, I'm a Park Hill parent and have even volunteered at Graden at times. I love the district or we wouldn't live here. However, I do know that other local districts value their alumni more in terms of hiring practices. I think it's hard enough to find a quality teaching job but it's harder when a district you've grown with, love, and trusted for so long won't give their alumni the consideration deserved. I also know I'm not alone, as I can think of at least two to three others who've put in many years with Park Hill and are alumni, and they've also been turned down for teaching jobs,” said Phillips.
“It kind of is a slap in the face to our local colleges, too, knowing a prominent district such as Park Hill won't likely hire their grads,” she added. “If I had known these stats, sure it may have persuaded me to stay at Northwest, where I started, instead of transferring to Park.”
Another Park University grad, who desires to remain anonymous to protect her current position at her current district, expressed distress upon hearing data that suggests the district may favor regional or out-of-state graduates.
“When I began my educational career at Park University, I was told Park Hill always hires Park University graduates. However after getting my degree, I found myself applying for many different teaching positions (at Park Hill) and never being hired.”
Rather than leaving a field she finds rewarding, she decided to take a teaching assistant position at an area school district.
“Even though I still have the privilege of working with and educating children, I don't make a teacher salary. The pay is way less than I anticipated upon graduating.”
She said if she is unable to get a full-time teaching position before the start of the next year she will be forced to “change career avenues.”
“With Park Hill not hiring local graduates, it creates more competition and forces graduates to take less paying positions or change their career field altogether.”
Last year, only three Park University graduates, four UMKC grads, and one William Jewell grad obtained employment in the Park Hill School District.
When asked why so few local grads were offered employment, Bill Redinger, assistant superintendent for human resources in the Park Hill School District, indicated the district shows no favoritism to local universities.
“When we screen applications at Park Hill we use the same criteria regardless of the undergraduate university. We look at grade point average, activities and leadership success in college as well as the candidate's references. The application is then used to decide whether we will grant a screening interview,” said Redinger.
Park Hill acknowledges that many Park University students choose to complete their practicum and student-teaching experience in the Park Hill School District. Many undergrads view this as an opportunity to make a real connection with educators in the district. A number of them view this as an opportunity to get their foot in the door. But when it comes down to local graduates actually obtaining employment, they are on equal footing with out-of-state grads.
“The reasons for any local grad to not be granted an interview at Park Hill (or later a position) are the same as those reasons we would have for not interviewing or hiring a candidate from any other university,” Redinger said. “If the candidate's application or interview responses do not meet the rigorous standards that Park Hill sets, the candidate may not get the opportunity. In our system this can happen at any time from the screening of the application all the way through the final reference check and interview with the assistant superintendent for human resources.”
Many undergraduates have a false impression that a four-year degree is enough to earn them a teaching position. That often isn't the case in the Park Hill School District.
“For the 2015-2016 school year, Park Hill hired 41 new teachers who already have a master's degree. Many of these teachers also bring several years of teaching experience with them,” he said.
“One difference in our hiring process is that we will accept all years of experience in order to place a teacher on the salary schedule. In effect, if a teacher has taught for 20 years in another district we allow the transfer of all 20 years to our salary schedule. Many other school districts do not grant all years of experience.”
Educators coming to the district as a first-year teacher earn an annual salary of $42,319. In comparison, first-year teachers earn an annual salary of $37,718 in the North Kansas City School District.
MAKING A CONNECTION
College students can't necessarily rely on universities to ensure that doors will be open for them. Park Hill school officials say William Jewell and UMKC haven't done much in terms of building their relationships with the school district.
“Overall Park Hill does not receive much outreach from either William Jewell or UMKC. We do attend their teacher job fairs in the spring each year. From time to time, Park Hill does place student teachers from both schools,” said Redinger.
Park Hill school officials admit they work more closely with Park University.
“We host many of their students for observations (sophomore in college, first classroom field experience) and each year we host a number of their senior level students to do their student teaching. Nearly all of these students are granted an interview for a teaching position with the district,” said Redinger.
Michelle Myers, Ed.D., Park University Dean of the School for Education, echoed Redinger's response regarding Park’s working relationship.
“Park University has a longstanding relationship with the Park Hill School District, including its retired and current administrators, and it is a go-to district for our School for Education students for their practicum placements,” said Myers.
“First-year graduates who are eligible to teach in the state of Missouri are up against years of experience—an average of 11.7 years of experience among all PHSD teachers,” said Myers.
Even though less than a handful of Park grads obtained employment in the Park Hill School District, a majority were hired to work in another school district.
Myers said 26 out of 32 graduates during the 2012-2013 academic year were employed in school districts in the state of Missouri. At least two others were employed in the state of Kansas.
“Park University's School for Education had a minimum placement rate of 87.5 percent,” said Myers.
In response to a decline in the number of Park University graduates landing a job in the Park Hill School District, Myers said, “While the numbers at a glance show close to a 17 percent decrease in local hires, without knowing the mix of hired teachers I cannot make an assumption that local grads are being overlooked. Some of the positions may require specific certifications or endorsements that Park and other area colleges may not offer.”
She pointed out that 83.9 percent of educators in the Park Hill School District have earned a master's degree or higher. A number of these graduates earned their bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to education. After exploring another study, the eventually decided to enter the field of education.
To address Myers’ concern, The Landmark requested more detailed information on the mix of hired graduates. In response, PHSD officials said they do not ask teaching position candidates to state their ethnicity or age. Once the district extended an offer, five new teachers were classified as minority candidates.