By Caylor Ballinger \ El Paso Times
Math and science teaching positions are tough to fill in many school districts across Texas. For the El Paso area, though, help is on the way.
The University of Texas at El Paso will receive $3.2 million in a five-year grant through the U.S. Department of Education, targeting about 250 recent college graduates, midcareer professionals and early retirees to teach math and science to middle- and high-school students. UTEP is the only Texas university that will receive the grant money.
Darlene Brown, director of UTEP's Alternative Teacher Certification Program and grant leader, said that even though school districts did not need as many teachers this year because of state budget cuts, science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers are still in demand and will be for years to come. Brown said, "This is a wonderful day" upon hearing about the grant for local school districts and UTEP.
The alternatively certified teachers from the program are required to teach for three years in a high-needs school, meaning that at least 30 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Brown said the most recent state reductions have resulted in fewer teaching positions available to university students and, in turn, around 200 fewer UTEP students want to be teachers.
"By 2014, we are going to be hurting for teachers," she said.
Brown said retirement will also play a role in the future because about 70 percent of the teachers in the El Paso and Ysleta districts are either eligible to retire or will be in the next couple years. She said the Socorro district is growing and will need more teachers for its growth.
Officials of the El Paso and Ysleta districts could not directly confirm their percentages of teachers eligible to retire. However, district officials said Brown's estimate sounded about right.
Mariano Silva, assistant superintendent of mathematics and science in the El Paso school district, said state budget cuts have affected the district's number of hires this year and that does not change the need.
Silva said that a number of the district's math and science teachers are eligible to retire, and that if they all did, the district would be put in a difficult position.
"There is a potential need," he said. "If a significant number of teachers were to retire, it would be really tough to replace them."
Tom Miller, area associate superintendent for the Ysleta district, said the grant will have a huge impact on Ysleta and other county school districts. He said mathematics and science teachers are always in demand. Often, he said, university students with math or science backgrounds end up going into other professions, which generally pay more than teaching.
"It's hard to lure people into the public schools with the salary we offer," he said, and he noted that the demand is constant in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "There are better jobs elsewhere."
Edward Gabaldon, superintendent of the Clint school district, thinks the grant will have a big impact on the teachers the district hires.
"It's going to produce highly qualified teachers," he said.
Xavier De La Torre, superintendent of the Socorro district, said that his growing district needs several teachers, and that mathematics and science teaching positions are always the hardest to fill.
"I think this is going to be a great advantage to our district," he said.
De La Torre said the grant may also help by providing the district a new pool of applicants. He said a lot of mathematics and science teachers are teaching with minimum teaching requirements, but he added that this is not a reflection on their ability to teach.
Through the grant, De La Torre said, "we'll have teachers going into the profession who have a passion for it."