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Getting the right faculty is paramount for private schools

Perks like family tuition breaks, input on curricula help procure talent

Maya Crosby recently started working at Allendale Columbia as director of STEM, innovation and research. (Photo by Kate Melton)

Maya Crosby recently started working at Allendale Columbia as director of STEM, innovation and research. (Photo by Kate Melton)

As a faculty member at an independent school in Maine, relocating for a new job was not on Maya Crosby’s radar until a colleague mentioned an open position at Allendale Columbia School in Pittsford.  For Crosby, Rochester was more than just a dot on a map: She graduated from the University of Rochester, and her husband grew up in West Irondequoit.

“The way that the job description was written was a little bit different,” says Crosby, who recently started working at Allendale Columbia as director of STEM, innovation and research. “Honestly, it was a little bit more creative, so that drew me to the position.”

The methods Rochester-area private schools use to attract faculty vary as much as their missions and histories. Some turn to search firms that have a national reach, while others run ads on religious websites.

When looking to hire Judaic studies teachers, Derech HaTorah of Rochester advertises online in downstate Jewish newspapers, principal Lea Goldstein says.  The Jewish day school cannot tap the local talent pool alone because Brighton-based Ora Academy and the Talmudical Institute of Upstate New York on Park Avenue in Rochester also conduct searches for Judaic studies teachers.

A website designed by a Derech HaTorah parent, www.torahrochester.com, also helps bring in resumes and has prompted 20 downstate families over the past two years to relocate to Rochester and enroll their children at the school.

Attracting general studies teachers tends to be more challenging because of limits on what the school can pay, Goldstein says.

“I haven’t done any real research on this, but it does seem that there are fewer teachers out there looking for jobs,” she adds.

Still, offering tuition remission to faculty who enroll their kids at the school has helped with teacher recruitment, Goldstein says.

Upgrades at Derech HaTorah, which serves kindergarteners to eighth-graders and has 20 faculty members, could also help with faculty recruitment and retention. In 2015, the school moved from a cramped space at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit to a former Greece Central School District elementary school. Plus, a new STEM lab with 20 laptop stations, greenhouse windows and a large smartboard are now getting finishing touches.

Today’s teachers want to work in modern facilities “where they know they’re going to grow and make a real difference,” Goldstein says.

As is the case at Derech HaTorah, the faith-based mission at The Charles Finney School in Penfield plays a key role in recruiting teachers. Founded in 1992, the pre-K-12 Christian school gets the word out about open positions through its own website and through organizations it belongs to, including the Association of Christian Schools International.

Offering tuition remission to teachers who enroll their kids at the school helps with recruitment efforts, says Finney president Michael VanLeeuwen.

Faculty turnover has remained low at Finney for several years, VanLeeuwen adds. Of the 35 faculty members, two did not return this school year.

Finney looks to professional-development opportunities to keep faculty on the job and motivated.

“It’s a requirement here—20 hours a year, and we provide funding both through the school and also through Title II professional development,” says VanLeeuwen, referring to a federal program that provides funds for teacher, paraprofessional and principal training.

Strategies for recruiting teachers to Allendale Columbia have grown more inclusive over the years, says head of school Michael Gee. For example, students now participate in the process as search committee members.

“They’re involved right from identifying candidates to narrowing those candidates down, and eventually the committee makes a recommendation to me,” Gee says.

Formed in the late 1960s when Columbia School—founded in 1890—and Allendale School merged, Allendale Columbia offers a college preparatory program for students from nursery school through grade 12.  It is sixth on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of private schools, ranked by total enrollment, with roughly 400 students.

Allendale Columbia currently has 65 faculty members with an average tenure of nine years. Several teachers who had retired have returned to the school to teach part time or work in the development office.

Nearly everyone interviewing for a faculty position at Allendale Columbia asks about professional-development opportunities, and the school is moving toward letting faculty choose their own paths for enriching their teaching skills and areas of expertise, Gee says.

“We think that teachers need to keep learning, and we hire people who want to keep learning,” Gee adds.  “And so we have a pretty generous professional-development budget.”

Allendale Columbia’s retention efforts include throwing an annual party to recognize service anniversaries.  A faculty member celebrating 25 years of service at the school receives a custom-made chair.

Since retention efforts, regardless of industry, often sink or swim based on whether employees feel valued, Gee starts meetings throughout the year by inviting faculty members to give shout-outs to one another.

“So I would say the first 25 percent of any meeting is people getting recognized by their colleagues,” he says.

Crosby says that tuition remission was a consideration when weighing whether to accept a job offer from Allendale Columbia.  Her two daughters—a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader—are now enrolled at the school.

When learning more about the school during the interview process, she also took note that students at Allendale Columbia hail from 10 countries and nearly one-third identify as being of color.

“One of the draws for my family to come back to this area is more diversity for my daughters and their experience as they grow up,” she says. “Maine is not terribly diverse.”

Filling untraditional faculty roles at Allendale Columbia—for its center for global engagement and center for entrepreneurship—takes more legwork, but it has not been a problem overall.

“We’ve done really well with people boomeranging back to town for various reasons that lived in much more expensive parts of the country…We’ve not really struggled,” Gee says.

Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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