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Jobs, outdoors bring teachers to area schools

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff
Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson
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Kim Freese made a dramatic move last summer. She uprooted her two children, sold her house in Minneapolis and trucked her husband halfway across the United States. She did it all to start a new job as a teacher in the Garfield School District Re-2.Freese is not alone. Re-2 recruits heavily from Minnesota. After Colorado, that’s where most of the district’s teachers come from, said Ava Lanes, Re-2 assistant superintendent.New teacher recruitment for next year is already under way. And Re-2 has a lot of recruiting to do this year. “Before we even get out of the chute with resignations, we have 30 positions to fill,” said Lanes, who is in charge of recruiting teachers. The district’s need to staff the new Coal Ridge High School, which opens this fall, spurred the seeming hiring frenzy.’This is just heaven’Lanes attended the year’s first education job fair in Salt Lake City on March 21.Salt Lake is one of only three out-of-state job fairs Lanes regularly attends. The other two are in Laramie, Wyo., and Minneapolis.The job fair in Minneapolis netted Freese last year. She was laid off from her teaching position in Minneapolis and remembered how much she loved visiting Colorado when she and her husband were first engaged and he had a job in Denver. Freese now teaches second grade at Roy Moore Elementary School in Silt.”My husband and I enjoy the outdoors immensely,” Freese said. “Coming here from Minnesota, this is just heaven – the lifestyle, the mountains, the scenery.”Freese didn’t know anything about Re-2 or Garfield County. She’d never been to this part of the state before. But she wanted to move to a small town in Colorado, so she was happy to come out for the interview.”I came out here and just fell in love with it,” Freese said.The mountains lured another Minnesotan here last year. Matt Miller, who now teaches music at Rifle Middle School, applied only to schools in Colorado and Montana.”I wanted to live in the mountains,” Miller said. “I’m really into all of the things you can do here – camping, fishing, hiking, skiing … “Miller first fell for Colorado when he was a kid visiting the state with his parents. But he saw the Western Slope for the first time after he met Lanes at the Minneapolis job fair last April.”The data supports that people apply because they want to live in Colorado,” Lanes said.Not just pretty sceneryThe mountains weren’t the only item that set Freese and Miller on Re-2. Freese said she liked the administration and the vision that then-principal Mark MacHale presented.”The school just had a really great feeling – really warm and welcoming,” Freese said. “I like Re-2’s philosophy on teaching, and I really think they have high expectations for kids and don’t let any of them fall through the cracks.”Lanes said recruiting new teachers all comes down to finding the right fit.”Initially people look at us for the location, but they decide to come here because of the fit,” Lanes said. “We talk a lot about our standards-based education. We have a lot of support and training for new people so they don’t feel like they’re just groping through their first year.”Lanes said the “fit” goes both ways. District administrators ask the teachers they’re most interested in to take the TeacherIncite poll administered by Gallup, a questionnaire about teaching preferences and philosophies. “They’ve done the research to see how the very best people in the industry answer the questions,” Lanes said.Miller said he preferred the position at Rifle Middle School over one he was considering in Hot Springs, Mont., because it was more in line with the kind of music he wanted to teach.Time and moneyFreese said she was offered a job with Eagle County School District Re-50J.”I turned it down. The cost of living is a lot higher there, and the pay wasn’t much better,” Freese said.The base beginning salary for a new teacher in Re-2 is $30,451. Three years ago, the district changed its salary schedule to be more inviting for experienced teachers by offering more pay for more experience.The beginning salary at Re-1 hugs the state average for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree, which was $30,901 in the fall of 2003, according to the Colorado Department of Education Web site. Roaring Fork District Re-1 starts new teachers at $33,200, and Garfield County School District 16 starts its salary schedule at $28,882. Colorado is 16th in the nation for beginning teacher salaries, which range from more than $38,000 in Alaska to less than $24,000 in Montana.”Plus, (Eagle County) called me after I’d already accepted this job,” Freese said. She knew in May she had a position with Re-2.”If I were someone looking for a job, I understand it would be ideal to know early,” Lanes said. “Some years the negotiation process ends earlier than others.”Negotiations wrapped up early enough last year that Miller knew he had a job here before he even walked across the stage at his college graduation in Moorhead, Minn.He even had to beg out of a final interview with the school district in Hot Springs, where he said the pay was much lower.”The cost of living was probably lower, too, but it was a big difference in money,” Miller said.Lanes said the district makes its earliest offers between March and May. It will continue to extend offers through July and even later if it has to when unexpected resignations come up. “We’re still a little heavier on the new people to the profession,” Lanes said.Miller is among those who are new to teaching.”I absolutely love it here,” Miller said. “I love the mountains, and I love my job.”


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