Swimming against the tide of Florida’s intensifying teacher shortage: Orange County Public Schools leaders visit with students and faculty at FSU’s Physics Department

Florida’s state government is not going to solve the state’s intensifying teacher shortage – at least not anytime soon.

So it’s up to the districts and their leaders to look for new ways to recruit the strong teachers that their students need to succeed.

While most districts confine their university recruiting efforts to the Colleges of Education, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) has been working with science and math departments directly and reaching out to students who had not previously considered teaching careers. And they’ve found some success in doing so – particularly at their hometown university, the University of Central Florida (described in an Orlando Sentinel article here).

But the OCPS leaders have reached out to the FSU Physics Department as well. During their visit to the department last year, the Superintendent’s Chief of Staff Bridget Williams, Senior Administrator for Science and Social Studies Rebecca Ray and Director of Talent Acquisition Bonnie Toffoli had some success. Cody Smith (B.S. Physics, 2018) is now teaching at Apopka High School. A second recruit from last year is planning to join the district in the fall.

Williams, Ray and Toffoli returned to the FSU Physics Department yesterday for another recruiting visit. Their audience was modest – smaller than last year’s – but it included two Physics Professors (Simon Capstick and Volker Crede, in addition to the host for the visit and the department’s designated school district liaison – me) and FSU-Teach Clinical Faculty Member for math and physics Logan Chalfant.

OCPS hosts Florida’s most important initiative for recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into the STEM pipeline – the Calculus Project (a Sentinel article on the project is linked here). The students who attended seemed to be left with a positive impression of how well they could change the lives of such students in Orange County, where there is leadership support for improving the preparation of students from a wide range of backgrounds for college STEM majors.

Regardless of the constraints imposed by limited budgets and the expanding challenges of running public schools in a large metropolitan area or indeed anywhere, students still deserve to learn the skills necessary to thrive in our modern economy, and our society owes them the opportunity to do just that. The three leaders who visited the FSU Physics Department yesterday are doing everything they can to help our society meet that obligation in an era of limited resources.

OCPS Chief of Staff Bridget Williams speaking to the audience at the FSU Physics Department on April 2. (Photo from Bonnie Toffoli)
The group assembled for the OCPS teacher recruiting visit at the FSU Physics Department on April 2. One person missing from the group is Bonnie Toffoli, who took this picture.
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