First-year Gilbert teacher Jason Carter was lured away from his home state of Iowa for the weather, the outdoor activities and the school district. The Boulder Creek Elementary fourth-grade teacher moved to Chandler in July after he was recruited at Iowa State University by Gilbert Unified School District staff.
"I wanted to get out of Iowa and try something new," said Carter, 24, who had visited the Valley once before. "I think the district is great. The mentoring program is very helpful for first-year teachers."
Carter is one of about 40 teachers hired from other states this year for the Gilbert district.
As East Valley districts struggle to find enough local teachers to fill their schools, many are recruiting out of state, visiting colder climates and states with low growth rates to find teachers who are willing to move to the Valley.
Certain jobs such as speech pathologists, special education, and math and science teachers are especially hard to fill, school officials say.
The Gilbert district has hired about 300 teachers each of the last four years to keep up with growth, and officials expect to hire about that many this year, said Nikki Blanchard, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources.
"What we're finding, and it's not just Gilbert, (local and state) universities are not producing the number of high-quality candidates we need," Blanchard said. "We're all in competition. The number of openings exceed what our own state schools produce. We're always searching for high-quality candidates, and sometimes that requires us to go out of state in our search."
Last year, the Gilbert district made 13 out-of-state trips and visited 25 job fairs, said district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers.
The district regularly visits job fairs, mostly at universities, in states such as Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, said Carla Melton, the Gilbert district's personnel coordinator who handles out-of-state recruiting.
Last year, Gilbert spent between $25,000 to $30,000 for out-of-state teacher recruiting visits and travel costs, Melton said.
SEEKING STUDENT TEACHERS
One of the strategies the district uses to find teachers is developing relationships with universities and student teachers, Bowers said.
Schools such as Iowa State University, where Carter came from, send their student teachers to spend a week in Arizona each March and shadow Gilbert teachers.
"This gives a potential teacher from out of state (a chance) to come to Gilbert and see what it's like in the district," Bowers said. "On our side, it gives us the opportunity to see how well those eventual teachers perform. That's working really well for us."
The district is also holding its first job fair March 1 at South Valley Junior High School, Melton said.
Williams Field High School English teacher Sean Lively was hired from Michigan to work in the Higley Unified School District this year. He also coaches swimming and basketball at Higley High School and track at Williams Field.
He had been a substitute teacher for three years in Michigan, and had finally received a permanent teaching job for a year when he was laid off because of budget cuts and dropping enrollment.
Lively said he chose Arizona because of the growth, the job security, and the "beautiful" weather and landscapes. His father has a vacation house in the Valley, and Lively has been visiting once a year for about 12 years.
"It was a huge leap of faith to move down here by myself," said Lively, 27, of Mesa. "The first six months were by far the hardest. (However), everything has been great. I have no regrets whatsoever. It was worth it."
The Higley district has more than a dozen in-state and out-of-state trips planned to recruit teachers, including visits to Illinois, North Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan, said Sara Bresnahan, the district's spokeswoman.
The district also has a job fair planned in March, she said.
Williams Field High math teacher Brian Butson moved to Queen Creek in June from Milwaukee. Newly married, he and his wife wanted a fresh start, and he liked the idea of starting at a new school. Williams Field opened in the fall.
"I think for a new school we're having our growing pains, but the people are very upbeat and very helpful," said Butson, who is in his fifth year teaching. "I didn't come into this situation thinking it was going to be 'peachy keen.' I think it's something that will work itself out."
First-year teacher Kenny Osborne, a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at Higley Elementary and Middle School, moved to Gilbert in July from Montana. He has family in Queen Creek and said he was attracted to the growth, opportunities and the weather.
"Montana doesn't have a lot of jobs available and doesn't pay well," Osborne said. "I grew up there and was looking to move."
He sought out the district and was taken with his school principal's philosophy.
"It seemed like a good match," said Osborne, 26. "So far I like it. I'm impressed with the school district, especially since it's dealing with so much growth. I like the people. It's been a good experience so far."
The Florence Unified School District needs to hire 60 teachers for the coming school year, said Superintendent Gary Nine.
The district plans to recruit in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, as well as in Arizona, and has a job fair planned Feb. 23 at Walker Butte K-8 School in Johnson Ranch.
Even though the district is searching out of state, Nine said he wants to recruit at least 40 high-quality teachers from surrounding districts. The goal is to get everyone hired by June, Nine said.
"We have a good recruiting plan for our kids," Nine said. "We think our teachers have the best sort of (public relations)."
The Queen Creek Unified School District is the exception to out-of-state recruiting. The district advertises at the local universities and with the Department of Education. It has never gone out of state to recruit teachers, said Kathleen Smith, the district's director of personnel.
"A lot of it is money, and we haven't had the need to do that so far, but we are growing and we may have to do that someday," said Smith, adding the district hired about 30 teachers for the current school year.
The Queen Creek district is opening Newell Barney Middle School in the fall, but Smith said she isn't sure yet how many new teachers will need to be hired.