Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spring Branch Draws Teachers From Across the Nation

Enjoying a special meal at Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant recently were several new and recent district teachers who are out-of-state recruits. They include, left to right, Daniel Jeannotte of New York, teaching at Spring Woods Middle; Nicholas Longdo of Wisconsin, Landrum Middle; Megan Gordon of New York, Northbrook High School; Samantha Hall of New York, Shadow Oaks Elementary; Brenda Balbontin of New York City, Edgewood Elementary; and Christopher Villarreal of Kansas and California, Memorial High School.
A successful recruiting season by Spring Branch ISD’s Human Resources Department has filled 27 positions for classroom teachers with recent education school graduates from across the nation, including new hires who grew up in New York, California, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Brenda Balbontin, who grew up in Little Neck, N.Y., a neighborhood in Queens, graduated from Adelphi University in suburban New York City with a master’s degree in early childhood special education and a desire to experience something removed from the quite amazing, but crowed and rushed life pace of her native city.

She also holds a bachelor of science degree in applied psychology from the State University of New York at Binghamton (SUNY-Binghamton), a highly rated national university.

An Adelphi University reporter writing about School of Education graduates who decide to teach elsewhere asked Balbontin about her decision to join Spring Branch ISD.

“I thought, with my background in special education as well as being bilingual in Spanish – my family is from South America – I could make a better contribution where they didn’t have as many resources and [as much] diversity as we have in New York,” she said.

Read Adelphi University story about Balbontin:
Get Out of Town: Students Receive Out-of-State Teaching Offers >>

Balbontin became an Edgewood Elementary School teacher in August. She’s still working on a case of culture shock, including “the size of Interstate 10 and the fact that you drive 75 mph on some roads,” as well as drivers penchant here for viewing turn signals as optional. On the other hand, people have been incredibly kind and helpful, and you don’t find that much in New York.

“Random strangers have said hello and greeted me, while in New York it’s usually an unkind glance or total disregard. Houston . . . doesn’t have quite the hustle and bustle of New York and its boroughs, and for that I’m glad,” Balbontin said.

About 1 out of 10 new teachers in Spring Branch ISD were recruited through job fairs or related outreach efforts outside Texas. The district, like other public school systems across the state and nation, is finding it increasingly difficult to fill all its openings by “shopping” for new beginning or even veteran teachers in Texas. The district hired 356 classroom teachers this year to fill open vacancies.

In all, SBISD will employ 422 new professionals when school librarians, counselors and related degreed employees are counted.

Recognized teacher shortage areas in Texas public schools include bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL), mathematics, science and several areas of special education. However, campus vacancies can occur in non-shortage areas depending on retirements and other factors.

Pine Shadows’ Jenna Alyea grew up on a 1,000-acre farm in rural Williamsburg, Ind., population 1,634. As graduation from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education neared, Alyea took a student teaching assignment in Spring Branch ISD.

The district has a partnership with Indiana University to accept expected education graduates as student teachers. Alyea described her student teaching as “a no-strings-attached chance to go somewhere new – to see if I should move somewhere else on graduation.”

Alyea surprised even herself, and that’s a reason why she can be found in an Adaptive Behavior class at Pine Shadows Elementary this fall.

“Little did I know that I would quickly fall in love with the diverse cultural haven that is Houston, Texas, and the wonderful teachers, staff and students of Spring Branch,” she said.

People here have helped her think of Houston as her “new” home, plus the food options are good and diverse. “Never have I ever had so many different types of tacos in my life!” she proclaims.

In August, SBISD’s Human Resources recruiting team hosted a dinner at an area restaurant. The dinner was arranged to welcome new teacher recruits to Houston.

Joining the new recruits were Samantha Hall, recruited from New York Long Island University-Post, now in her second year of teaching at Shadow Oaks Elementary, and her friend, Megan Gordon, also from New York, who teaches social studies and coaches swimming at Northbrook High School.

“Human Resources sponsored the dinner in an effort to increase both recruitment and retention of out-of-state teachers,” said Karen Heeth, a Human Resources director. “Samantha and Megan shared their stories of relocating and teaching in Texas, while the team gave advice on many practical matters for newcomers and fielded questions on a variety of topics.” 

New Memorial High English teacher and volleyball coach Christopher Villarreal grew up in two states, Kansas and California, before graduating from the University of Nebraska in Omaha, and later teaching English and speech and coaching volleyball for seven years in the same city.

A Houston Chronicle newspaper story about Memorial High Principal Lisa Weir he read led him to query about job openings. The school did have openings for an English teacher and volleyball coach. “She sounded like the type of principal for whom I wanted to work,” Villarreal said.

The traffic is rough, even for a California kid, but “the positives outweigh that,” he said. Spring Branch’s mostly sunny climate even reminds the new coach a bit of San Diego.

Nicholas Longdo, who is teaching eighth-grade English language arts at Landrum Middle School this fall, knows small towns like Alyea, too. He grew up in Colfax, Wis., and became first in his family to go to a four-year college.

Longdo graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, in Superior, Wis., with a major in English education and minor in history education. A high school teacher inspired him to consider teaching, and Spring Branch ISD won him over after graduation.

His dream goal is to one day write and then publish young adult fiction.

“The vision of Spring Branch is what attracted me most,” he said. “The work that the district is doing is phenomenal, and that was something I could see myself . . . wanting to be a part of.”

Even with the match in vision and goals, rural northern Wisconsin and urban southeast Texas are not kissing cousins in culture, climate or traffic patterns and volume.

“There are huge differences between Houston and where I grew up – the weather, the traffic, the tolls and the size. The weather is very hot and humid; the traffic is insane; the tolls are still something I’m getting used to; and every day I am in awe of Houston’s size,” Longdo said.

On the bright side: Longdo is ready for a snowless and warm (by Wisconsin standards) winter!

Asked what classroom goals are most important to them this year, these three new, out-of-state recruits took on this topic with sharp, assured responses.

“I am very excited about having my own classroom,” Longdo said. “Some goals that I have are implementing various instructional strategies to meet the needs of a diverse group of students and learning how to effectively support ESL (English as a Second Language) and ELL (English Language Learner) students in my content area.”

“I want to build healthy relationships with my students first and foremost,” Alyea said. “I want to teach them content of course, but without a firm understanding in them that I care for them and that I am their biggest cheerleader, all the focus on TEKS and STAAR is pointless. I want my kids to know I care, and then I want to teach them the joys and the mysteries of learning in all parts of life.”

Balbontin has no intention of being quiet about asking for help. “I want to be able to ask for help and guidance when I need it,” she said. “New teachers constantly want to show that they have complete control and are able to handle everything, but we all have questions and concerns. So I want to work on reaching out more when I need guidance.”

If Memorial High’s Villareal sounds like a coach, well, he is. “My main goal is always the same: I want to be better tomorrow than I am today!”

Welcome aboard, new teachers!


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