This story first appeared at The 74, a nonprofit news site covering K-12 education. Sign up for free newsletters from The 74 to get more like this in your inbox. This story is part of a series about “the new normal” in America’s schools today. Read the other pieces here.
Like his colleagues nationwide, Florida principal Adam Lane worried about teacher shortages caused by the pandemic — but he’s come up with a unique solution that’s kept classrooms filled.
Lane’s strategy: Tapping into his alumni network and recruiting students to become teachers and other staff while they’re still enrolled at Haines City High School in Central Florida.
An idea he came up with four years ago as teaching vacancies became difficult to fill, Lane has avoided staffing shortages — part of a new normal unfolding across the country as schools face bus delays, canceled classes, repeat meals and student mental health.
“The mentality of most principals is to graduate them, prepare them for the real world and send them off,” Lane told The 74. “I started thinking, why am I sending them off when I’ve got all these vacancies? Let me start inviting them back and work with them so they can make a great career right here with me.”
Today, 35 of the school’s 147 teachers are Haines City High School alumni, with graduates dating back to June 2018.
In addition, eight alums are part-time substitutes, three are classroom aides and three are secretaries.
“The [alumni] are super excited because they truly respected and liked their teachers,” Lane said. “Now they’re hand-in-hand, side-by-side working with the people they grew up respecting in their own classroom.”
To get students interested in returning to Haines as teachers and other staff, Lane works to create “unforgettable moments” while they are enrolled.
“You’ve got to make sure your current students love the school,” Haines said. “You have to make sure there’s a focus on building relationships between the teachers and the students.”
For Lane, recruitment starts with on-the-job training by placing juniors and seniors in student aid positions working directly with teachers, custodians or secretaries.
As they graduate, Lane continues on-the-job training by encouraging them to take on substitute roles as they pursue their college degree.
“When they’re in college, I work with them to take their classes either on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and substitute for me Tuesday, Thursday or vice versa,” Lane said.
After college, Lane said they’re on the top of his list to hire for full-time positions.
“I have even tried to put our alumni either next to the same planning room as their favorite teacher or even in the same hallway where they have their favorite teacher from their high school days as their mentor,” Lane said. “It’s just an amazing process to see.”
Crushed by negative news?Sign up for the Reasons to be Cheerful newsletter.
Nia Getfield, who graduated from Haines City High School in 2018, went from being a part-time substitute to a provisional teacher this school year.
“It’s just that familiarity and that security they were offering when I first came out of college that really brought me back,” Getfield told The 74.
Getfield said Lane became principal when she was a sophomore, improving students’ perception of coming to school.
“As a student, I was always able to say that Mr. Lane’s cool, he knows what he’s doing and I can trust him,” Getfield said. “As his employee now, I can still say the same thing.”
Adrianna Ramos, who graduated from Haines City High School in 2014 and is now a classroom aide this school year, agreed.
“Getting to work with teachers that inspired me back in the day feels so good,” Ramos said. “And I tell them, yeah I’m back because you guys made an impact on me.”
Sonia Gutierrez, who graduated from Haines City High School in 2005, has been a front office secretary for over 6 years.
This school year, Gutierrez was promoted as the school’s financial secretary and athletic business manager.
“We’re like a family here,” Gutierrez said. “Mr. Lane makes it fun here as an employee and it’s just been a great experience to be back.”
Lane said Gutierrez is one of three front office secretaries who are alumni.
“Do you know the sense of pride they deliver on the phone and when visitors walk through to say they were alumni and now work the front office to greet people? It’s amazing,” Lane said.
Because of its success, Lane said he will continue recruiting students to fill future vacancies.
“I always tell my students if you want to go off and do something else, I’ll prepare you for it,” said Lane. “But if you’re not sure, you got a spot right here with me.”