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School District eyes recruits from incoming Puerto Rican population

Posted on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
The Osceola County School District is recruiting much-needed teachers and school support staff from the incoming evacuees from Puerto Rico.
Osceola and Orange counties have been among the most popular destinations for Puerto Ricans fleeing the island since Hurricane Maria hit Sept. 20. The U.S. territory was devastated and much of its infrastructure remains inoperable. Food, water and medicine are still in short supply and the power grid will take months to repair.
Osceola County’s student population has been exploding for years, but the influx of 800 students – most from Puerto Rico – over the past six weeks has been unprecedented.
Through Nov. 14 the school district will be hosting orientation sessions for new students and their families at high schools throughout Osceola County. The evening events will provide dinner, question-and-answer sessions and information packets for newcomers.
Meanwhile, the need for teachers, paraprofessionals and other school support staff has been exacerbated by the wave of new students, with potentially more on the way as Puerto Rico struggles to rebuild.
The school district is staffing a recruitment desk at Orlando International Airport as part of the Central Florida reception center for those coming from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The district is also working closely with Osceola County, which is managing a reception center in Kissimmee where storm refugees can get information and relocation assistance. The transition process from Puerto Rico is not easy, but because Puerto Rico is a U.S. Commonwealth and the U.S. Virgin Island a U.S. Territory, its citizens are considered American.
Schools, housing, employment and social services have been the most pressing issues for Osceola County officials working to both ease the strain of the population spike while welcoming the newcomers with open arms.
The school district is one of Osceola County’s largest employers with roughly 7,600 teachers, support staff and administrators and more than 62,000 students. Its annual budget is nearly half a billion dollars.
There are 90 instructional vacancies and 80 support staff openings, 30 of which are for bus drivers. The bus driver shortage has forced office staff and other qualified drivers at local schools to take routes until more can be hired.
“Our recruitment efforts are focused on the instructional positions but support staff is also needed, especially our bus drivers,” said the district’s Human Resources Director Tammy Otterson, who’s been working at the district’s recruiting station at OIA during the past few weeks.
The district continues to participate in local job fairs with other major Central Florida employers including Disney World and Westgate Resorts organized to help connect Puerto Rican storm refugees find work while they are here, whether it’s short-term or long-term.
The influx from Puerto Rico is straining schools, but the district is trying to cherry pick education professionals leaving the island to help meet the new demand.
District staff also are working closely with Valencia College and Florida Teachers, a company that specializes in alternative certification courses, to get would-be teachers and teacher assistants in the classroom as soon as possible.
“It’s a community effort, a network of agencies working together to see how we can help people,” Otterson said.