‘They had to throw old ways out the window’: an inside look at MCPS’ race to hire 1,000 teachers over the summer


Vassili Prokopenko

MCPS began the 2022-2023 school year with 99% of positions staffed, but joined other school districts across the nation this summer in a scramble to fill teacher vacancies.

After nearly 7.6 percent of the MCPS teachers retired or resigned at the end of 2021-2022 school year, school district officials relied on “aggressive” recruiting tactics and cash incentives to fill roughly 1,000 vacant teaching positions this past summer.

MCPS began the 2022-2023 school year with 99% of positions staffed, but joined other school districts across the nation this summer in a scramble to fill teacher vacancies. In Maryland alone, 5,516 out of the state’s 60,000 teachers resigned from their positions at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. 

Efficiently filling vacant positions over the summer before the school year was a priority for MCPS, according to Principal Robert Dodd. 

“We’ve aggressively interviewed candidates and had to move faster in offering positions so that we didn’t lose prospective staff,” Dodd said. “There was a point early in the summer that I was a little worried because we had a fair number of vacancies and we weren’t making that much progress. But once July hit, we really started to fill some key positions.”

By the end of May 2021, more than 6.5 percent of MCPS teachers had announced their intention to retire or resign; however, by July 2022 the figure had increased to 7.6 percent. With predicted enrollment expected to reach 160,000 students by 2025, staffing shortages are straining the steadily-growing school district’s capacities — a reversal from the drop in enrollment during the 2020-2021 school year.

Acting MCPS Human Resources and Development Chief Susan Marks worked closely with teachers union and school system officials to fill teacher vacancies, and said that MCPS is exploring creative methods to attract new talent.

“What we have to do is build the pipeline and increase the interest of people to go into education, either in traditional ways or nontraditional ways,” Marks said. “We want to make sure that we have good compensation and benefits, a total compensation program and a good salary.”

A new teacher with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make upwards of $52,000 per year, according to MCPS’ 2022-2023 school year salary schedule. The school district offers health and life insurance, defined benefit plans for retirement and flexible spending accounts.

However, the school district has offered further incentives for specific positions. After MCPS officials held a press conference on Aug. 8  to announce that the district would have adequate staffing for the 2022-2023 school year, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) criticized the school district’s lack of urgency in its approach to filling open positions.  The teachers union identified vacancies in special education positions as among the most pressing out of the approximately 1,100 teachers who left, with 102 vacancies concentrated in special education jobs. Two weeks later, MCPS announced a $5,000 incentive to dual-certified special education teachers who voluntarily transferred from their current positions into an identified special education vacancy, along with a quarterly incentive for current special education teachers who took on additional students’ caseloads. As of Sept. 7, only one teacher transferred after accepting the incentive.

Special Education Resource Teacher Brooke Supinski said that the uptick in special education staff vacancies have affected her teaching by placing additional burdens on an understaffed group of teachers. 

“With a lack of staffing, our students with disabilities are being disproportionately impacted,” Supinski wrote in an email to The Black & White. “We are being asked to address a variety of challenges in our students without sufficient resources to do so.”

Special education positions are traditionally among the hardest to fill in the county, Principal Robert Dodd said in an interview.

“Special education has, historically, always been viewed as a more challenging and rewarding sector in teaching,” Dodd said. “Being a special educator requires specialized training. So special education teachers were really a hot commodity.”

MCPS incentives like tuition reimbursement and higher education partnerships aim to support students and teachers seeking teacher certification, continuing professional development or pursuing career advancement opportunities. MCPS has partnered with universities in order to offer training for teachers to receive initial teaching certification. The school district also offers programs for leadership positions and teachers continuing education to get masters and graduate certificates as well as tuition reimbursement in cases for employees in permanent positions who have accrued debt from universities or colleges. 

“We’re trying to streamline it and make it easy for people to apply using more technology,” Marks said. “Teachers can apply online and get to be interviewed by principals or hiring managers. We also want people who are highly qualified; half of the teachers hired were brand new to the profession.”

MCPS recruits directly from teacher academies at Kennedy and Albert Einstein High Schools, which offer programs to prepare students for teaching positions that require state certifications through mentorship programs and test preparation. The school district’s partnerships with local universities also support “career changers,” or students who did not originally intend to study education, according to Marks.

“We want our student teachers to consider coming into the county after they finish their student teaching,” Marks said. “One thing we know is we have many, many teachers who come to our district who were students in our district.”

MCPS’ new hiring tactics and initiatives have played a key role in their ability to enter the 2022-2023 school year with 99% of positions filled, allowing them to hire new teachers from a variety of different positions to fill key positions. 

As the school district emerges from the staffing shortages of the 2021-2022 school year, officials hope to approach the hiring process with a newfound versatility, Dodd said.

“Out of being in a crisis, we’ve learned some things about how [MCPS] can be more proactive and flexible in hiring,” Dodd said. “I think they, as a lot of school systems across the nation [did], learned some hard lessons from the pandemic. School systems are not necessarily set up to be nimble, especially a system as large as this one, and I think they had to throw old ways out the window and find new, more expedient ways to do things.”