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In Florida, a bid to expand the teacher pool

A district confronts shortage by recruiting teens to train.

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In Florida's Broward County, the looming challenge for its school system is perhaps best summed up in a single statistic: the need for 13,000 new teachers in the decade ahead.

It's a challenge that faces school districts across the nation, especially in big urban areas with often lean budgets. No one has found a magic solution, but here in the Fort Lauderdale area, officials are responding with an innovative notion: recruiting people as young as 14 for the job.

People like Bonnie Stacy. The high school senior won't go straight to the front of the classroom, but she has made an early commitment to become a teacher. And the district is making a commitment to help, offering her everything from mentoring to college tuition to a teaching job once she finishes school.

The gambit won't eliminate the shortage on its own. But the experiment in America's fifth-largest school district does hint at one slice of the solution: Fill inner-city teaching ranks by recruiting in those same areas.

For example, the program has given Bonnie, once an average student with little hope of attending college, a clear career path and an incentive to excel. The Broward County Public Schools District, for its part, hopes people to find a cadre of new teachers especially committed to teaching in this region. Currently, by contrast, half of new teachers in the county's inner-city schools quit within three years.

"Universities are not producing enough teachers and the result is that we have a crisis in education," says Broward County School Board member Bob Parks, who helped pioneer the Urban Teacher Academy Project (UTAP). "What better way to confront the teacher shortage than to grow our own?"

If successful, programs like this could be imitated elsewhere as urban public schools nationwide push to fill some 700,000 teaching slots between 2000 and 2010, in an effort to meet classroom demand and improve school quality. Since the problem is a national one, driven by school demands and the high faculty turnover, other states and cities have also been focusing on teacher recruitment.

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