Hundreds of new teachers prepare to enter Philadelphia classrooms

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As she sat at the lunch table in the cafeteria of Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in her colorful shirt and long ponytail, fresh-faced Kimberlee Holness looked more like a student than a teacher. She felt like one too.

"The first day (of school) is definitely going to be nerve-racking for me," she said through her bright yet nervous smile.

Holness is one of nearly 700 new teachers and counselors who'll be teaching in Philadelphia Public Schools in the upcoming school year. The new hires began their orientation week on Monday at Arts Academy of Benjamin Rush with a packed house as Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, spoke to them on connecting with each other and with the students.

"They're going to spend a week learning how to be a teacher here in the School District of Philadelphia," Hite said, adding that the district has filled 99 percent of its open positions.

About 40 percent of the new teachers have taught in other school districts before. Others, like Paul Long, will be teaching for the first time.

"I think it's a good thing that people are coming here, but it's kind of a shame that we have that much turnover," said the recent Temple graduate.

Retaining teachers is one of the issues that the school district focuses one.

"We have a first year retention rate of about 90 percent," said Hite. "But we want them to remain on for the second year and then a third."

One way to do that, Hite said, is by understanding the cultures of different students and their neighborhoods. Isaac Dunn, who has taught in other schools before, agrees with that sentiment as he prepares to teach at Thomas Edison High School.

"I believe culture does play a significant role in coming from children of different backgrounds in particular," he said. "I do believe that if they are exposed to good teaching, I believe they can learn."

A reality of today's classrooms is preparing for unthinkable situations. With two mass shootings across the country this past weekend, Hite says the issue of school security is always top of mind. The district recently received a state grant to help cover the costs of making Philadelphia's public schools more secure.

"That grant allows us to install a lot of measures on like cameras, locking doors and training individuals on restorative practices," he said.

Philadelphia public schools begin the new year on September 3rd. Kimberlee Holness will be ready to teach her middle school students with a focus on special education. She says she knows the city's public schools are the right fit for her.

"I've never been in an inner-city urban area before because I'm a military kid so I've always traveled," she said. "It touched a part of my heart to help those kids have the experience that I did (teaching) them about the world that's out there outside of Philadelphia."
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