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Would-Be Teachers Flock To Normandy Job Fair

Even though the school transfer issue aroused passionate debate last year, the issue still isn't resolved.
File | Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio

The Normandy Schools Collaborative is looking for a fresh start. So is Andrew Nardi. He’s hoping the two desires fit and he’ll get his first teaching job when classes start next month.

Nardi was one of more than 220 people who expressed interest in working for Normandy at job fairs being held this week. At the first session, Thursday evening at Barack Obama Elementary School, Nardi and others took part in half-hour interviews after filling out an online application, taking an assessment designed to show how well they would succeed in a setting like Normandy and submitting a lesson plan.

District spokeswoman Daphne Dorsey said would-be teachers and those seeking other positions should hear in the next week or so. Teachers are scheduled to report for their first day of work on Aug. 4, with students starting class on Aug. 18.

After a year of turmoil, where the district almost went broke because of the costs of tuition and transportation for transfer students, then was taken over the by state, Dorsey said the interest in working for Normandy was a hopeful sign.

“It has been challenging,” she said, “because of the uncertainty that was out there. But the fact that we’ve had over 200 people to pre-register online says a lot of people are interested in working within the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

“This is an exciting time for us. There are some neat new things going on curriculum wise. And so, we’re very encouraged by the numbers of people who have applied who are interested in working here.”

As of earlier this week, the district said it had hired 80 percent of the staff it will need; it did not give out specific numbers, saying that those have yet to be determined because it’s not clear how many students will be enrolled next month.

At least four districts have said that they will no longer accept any transfers from Normandy, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimates that those decisions will result in at least 600 students returning to the district. But the state board of education also voted this week to relax some restrictions on who can transfer, so the number remains in flux.

When the old Normandy district was replaced on July 1 by the Normandy Schools Collaborative, all contracts lapsed, so any teachers or other employees who wanted to keep their jobs had to reapply. Chris Nicastro, Missouri’s commissioner for elementary and secondary education, said this week that about half of the former teaching staff had been rehired.

Superintendent Ty McNichols confirmed that number. In an interview after Wednesday night’s meeting of the collaborative’s appointed Joint Executive Governing Board, he said Normandy is trying a variety of techniques to complete the hiring process before the school year starts.

Normandy superintendent Ty McNichols
Credit Dale Singer/St. Louis Public Radio
Ty McNichols

“We have a number of strategies that we’re using,” McNichols said. “We’re looking at various universities. The commissioner’s office has sent stuff across the state, into other states. We’re also considering, if necessary, do we want quality retired adults who might be willing to come back and work full time. So that is one of the options. It’s not the only option. We’re looking at all the options that we think will help us get quality people.

“We’re also talking to all the local and regional and state universities. We’re also talking to other superintendents about do they have people they’ve interviewed they think are quality people. They might not have applied to Normandy but they might apply there. So we’re doing that as well.”

The issue is not only the right number of people, he said, but the right people period, so he’s not surprised that it is taking a while to hire all the staff members who are needed.

“If we were just looking for anyone to fill seats, I would say no,” McNichols said. “But we have a very thorough process, and we’ve been very highly selective.”

Lots of applicants, lots of interviewers

Those who showed up at Thursday’s job fair hope to be some of those yet to be selected.

For Nardi, who said he was looking to change careers after managing a shift at a warehouse, it would be his first time in front of a classroom. After having some student teaching experience, he was hoping to land a job in a Normandy elementary school.

He said he thought his interview went well. Asked how he sold himself, Nardi replied:

“I’m the right person for the job. I believe I bring a lot of energy, positive behavior and all that to my classroom. I believe they can relate to me.”

The controversy surrounding Normandy doesn’t dissuade him from wanting to work there, he added.

“Absolutely not,” Nardi said. “They need a new start, and they’re bringing in a lot of people to hopefully bring them to that next level.”

Dorsey said 15 interview teams were talking to job candidates. Besides personnel from Normandy, the interviewers came from other districts, including Ferguson-Florissant, University City and Hazelwood, as well as Education Plus and DESE. Of the positions that remain open, she said, one-third are for teachers.

She said those who make it through the process should be notified within the next few days whether they have been chosen for a job or will be called back for another interview.

“We want to make sure that by tossing the net out there, we get as many people in as possible that we feel would make a good fit for our system,” Dorsey said.

Another candidate looking for her first teaching job is Liz Renaud, who wants a position in physical education. She graduated in May and has been attending a lot of job fairs since that time, seeking to get her foot in the door.

Credit Dale Singer/St. Louis Public Radio
Liz Renaud

“There are openings,” she said. “However, it is still a tight market. They want the best teachers who are out there.”

Like Nardi, she is not daunted by the turmoil that Normandy has gone through in recent months.

“I that what they have now is good,” she said. “The state is here, and they’re just looking for the best teachers they can. The most important thing is the children, so they can get a quality education.”

As opposed to the teaching rookies, Shirley Jefferson is a veteran of many years of teaching reading, in St. Louis Public Schools and elsewhere. She wants to join Normandy, where she had worked before, to help the kids and help herself as well.

“I think I can get my students to achieve,” she said. “Whatever I need to do, I’ll do to get the children to achieve.

“I’ve been busy teaching all my life. I’d rather do that than sit at home and look at TV and be on the Internet. I’m just trying to stay busy.”

Tamara Baxter said she had been working in Riverview Gardens but lives near Normandy and would like a job in special education. She said she would use a creative approach, and no one should worry whether she can control a class just because she’s in a wheelchair.

Credit Dale Singer/St. Louis Public Radio
Tamara Baxter

“I’m a very, very creative teacher,” she said. “Things you would think I wouldn’t be able to do, I have creative ways of doing it. For instance, teaching kids math with a beach ball. I do crazy things like that. Things they would think I wouldn’t be able to do because I’m in a wheelchair, I can do.”

Observing the interview process was Graylon Brown, an official with the Missouri National Education Association. He cast doubt on whether Normandy really had hired 80 percent of the staff it needs and called the hiring process up to this point “chaos.”

“With the 600 children coming back,” he said, “we just don’t know how they’re going to fill all the slots necessary to adequately educate children.”

Still, Brown said, he would not dissuade anyone from seeking a job in Normandy.

What would he tell someone who asked about the district? He replied:

“I think the children need you.”

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.