After completing his bachelor’s degree at Mississippi State University, Tyrell Harmon went back home to Kosciusko, still unsure of what he wanted to do in the future.
An internship at the Oprah Winfrey Boys and Girls Club in his hometown changed that. After building such a strong connection with the kids, Harmon decided to pursue a career in education counseling.
“These kids would come up to me and say ‘Mr. Harmon, I hope I’m like you when I grow up,’ and it would always catch me off-guard because I knew they could be,” Harmon said. “But, unfortunately, a lot of these kids don’t have the same support system at home encouraging them to take the right path.”
Harmon will earn his master’s in May, and he was one of the candidates who attended the Columbus Municipal School District’s first recruitment fair with hopes of starting his first counseling position at Columbus Middle School.
The recruitment fair, which was held Monday at Brandon Central Services, was the brainchild of Interim Superintendent Craig Shannon as an effort to recruit quality teachers and educators. There were administrators and representatives from each school in the district available to speak with potential candidates about the individual schools they were representing, and their openings.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, The Dispatch reported CMSD was five teachers short, despite hiring 73 new teachers for the school year. In 2015, the district started the school year 15 teachers short, with about eight of those positions still vacant as the 2016 school year rolled around.
With such high turnover in recent years, CMSD is starting each year with a large number of teachers that could be new to the area and new to the classroom entirely. Because of this, Shannon said the district is making an effort to not only recruit quality educators, but retain them as well.
“We’re really trying to get the community more involved, so parents and students can understand the value of hardworking and quality teachers,” Shannon said. “But all teachers need strong support and encouragement from the administration as well. So we (administrators) need to make sure we’re doing our part in providing them with the resources they need to succeed.”
The three-hour recruitment event had about 80 potential educators, which Shannon said was a huge success for the district.
“I’m very encouraged by the momentum our district is picking up going into the next school year, and by the efforts our teachers and administrators are making,” he said. “Last night showed we have a lot of quality applicants interested in coming to our district, so I hope we can get some of them on board soon.”
CMSD has openings for assistant principals at Cook Elementary and Columbus Middle School, a middle school counselor, psychometry-certified teachers, secondary education teachers and elementary teachers. However, Shannon said, with the recruitment process ongoing, the district will accept applications for all positions, including all support positions, special education teachers and gifted program teachers.
Shannon said some schools have already started the interview process, but the hiring process will start, in earnest, on April 1. He said he hopes to have all vacant positions filled for the 2018 academic year by June.
‘Grow where you are planted’
The recruitment fair was not limited to educators from other areas, but also those who already teach at CMSD, like fourth grade teacher Angela Salter, who is seeking an assistant principal position in order to serve the district and its students in a different capacity.
Salter began teaching at CMSD two years ago, and said she believes that, in order to grow, one must “grow where you are planted.”
“I think it’s important to remember that you’re going to have hardships and obstacles to overcome in all jobs, but it’s really about how you handle those obstacles that matters,” she said. “You can’t give up when things get hard. You have to find a way to help the current position or place you’re in, in any capacity. That is what ultimately leads to growth.”
Harmon too was hopeful at the end of the fair.
“I’d really like to start out at the middle school level, and Columbus Middle School has a vacant counseling position,” Harmon said. “I think this was the first step in the right direction.”
Others, like Oretha O’Neal, wanted to take their part-time classroom experience to a full-time position. O’Neal has been a substitute teacher at West Point since 1989 and was looking for a teacher assistant opening on Monday.
“The children really need to feel that somebody cares about their education,” O’Neal said. “Even when they give up, they need to know somebody still cares.”
Dispatch photographer Deanna Robinson contributed to this report.
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