John A. Mirra has confronted his share of teacher shortages. Last year, the chief human resources officer of Virginia Beach City Public Schools hired approximately 750 teachers to fill vacancies. This year, he expects that number will be roughly the same.
Despite Virginia closing schools for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s not worried about being able to hire hundreds of qualified teachers in time for next school year. “I believe that, if everything goes as planned, we should be fine for the start of next year,” Mirra said.
The confidence Mirra exudes comes from experience—with technology-based communication platforms. For several years, his district has used them to screen and, in some instances, interview teacher applicants.
Amid the unprecedented and widespread school closures due to the virus pandemic, districts that are accustomed to using technology-driven virtual methods to screen and interview teacher candidates appear to have a distinct advantage during this year’s teacher hiring season, which generally peaks in April and May. For school districts with less experience interfacing with job applicants electronically, teacher hiring appears to be slowed or at a standstill.
Overall Hiring Outlook Uncertain
At the same time, the economic fallout from the virus is complicating fiscal planning and hiring strategies in many places.
In a March 23 survey of district leaders, the Education Week Research Center found that 48 percent of respondents who are superintendents or other senior-level administrators said they had made “no decisions yet” about hiring for the fall, while 22 percent said that coronavirus has not impacted their plans for hiring at all.
At Vancouver Public Schools, in Washington state, where the coronavirus outbreak has hit hard, only hiring deemed “essential” is happening right now, according to district spokesperson Patricia Nuzzo.
She says that staff members are using phone, video conferencing, and in-person social distancing methods (with fewer than six people in a room) to fill vacant positions for principals, associate principals, and an executive director position. “All other hiring is on hold until more direction is given by the Office of the Superintendent,” Nuzzo said.
But at other school districts, prior experience with virtual communication platforms is enabling hiring to continue as planned. Greg Dietz, who oversees human resources at Illinois’ Maine Township High School District 27, says that hiring in his district has experienced no slowdown—despite the district’s closure since March 20.
“We’ve been using video interviewing technology for about four years,” Dietz said. “It has really come in handy and been key for us during this period.”
It’s even allowed the district to get students involved in the hiring process. Student volunteers, most of whom are involved in the district’s drama department, pose pre-recorded questions to applicants during the asynchronous, virtual-based screening portion of the hiring process. This gives applicants some exposure to the district’s students before they see them on campus.
Applicants also get a glimpse of the district’s facilities during this screening process. Student interviewers pose their questions against the backdrop of various key locations throughout the district’s three high schools: in a computer lab, a fitness center, and an auditorium. Even before applicants access the initial screening portion of the process, they watch a video introducing the school district. “It’s all about branding and promoting our school district through our interviewing process,” Dietz said.
The Illinois school district uses a video interviewing platform from Chicago-based company InterviewStream to accomplish this blend of showcasing its brand to job applicants while screening them and, in circumstances such as the current shutdown, interviewing those selected by the district’s hiring committee.
Ron Wilson, CEO of the small, but growing video-conferencing company, says it currently has about 125 education-based customers who choose to pay for its services largely because of the platform’s greater complexity over other, free ones. InterviewStream allows users to pre-record virtual interviews asynchronously, to send out branding messages, and customize user options. The company is offering new users two free weeks of usage through April 30. “We’re trying to service industries that are in a bind,” InterviewStream’s Wilson said.
Expanding Online Platforms
Other school districts, drawing from past experience with video conferencing, have expanded their use of such platforms to ensure relatively seamless hiring for the upcoming year.
For the past few years, Virginia Beach City Public Schools have been using a virtual platform provided by InterviewStream as a means to screen and track candidates. The virtual asynchronous screening interview, in which teaching candidates answer a few questions online, gets about a 50 percent response rate, Mirra estimates.
Now the district is expanding the use of that platform. Normally, the district holds an annual “meet and greet” for its existing teachers seeking transfers. Originally scheduled for March 16, the in-person event was canceled.
Instead, teachers wanting to transfer within the district can respond virtually to a two-question digital interview, powered by the same video conferencing system it uses to screen external candidates. Principals then reach out to candidates they want to interview and schedule digital meetings using whatever video platform they prefer: Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or another video format.
Mirra says he’s not sure what his district would have done if it hadn’t already put in place the technology infrastructure to digitally screen and track job candidates. He is certain of one thing, however.
“With the teacher shortage,” he said, “we have to hire as soon as possible.”