POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Amid nationwide teacher shortages affecting Tampa Bay area schools, Polk County Public Schools has doubled its staff recruited from around the world.
The school district hired 70 teachers from overseas this year, according to a spokesperson. There were already 70 on staff last year.
The principal at Denison Middle School in Winter Haven tripled her internationally-recruited staff this year, from two teachers to seven.
“My kids – they are excited like, they hear your accent, they know you’re different. They want to know where you’re from. They want to know about it,” said Shenese Booner, a teacher from Jamaica who is returning for her second year at the middle school.
Booner and her husband moved here last year.
Ulpiano De La Bajan moved to Florida while his wife and 2-year-old daughter remain in the Philippines.
“For years, I’ve been very much fascinated with the American culture, even though I’m on the other side of the world. I just love the Americans,” he said.
De La Bajan taught science for 15 years in three different Asian countries before moving to Polk County.
“Having taught biology and environmental science for so long, I go to see so many beautiful lakes here in Winter Haven, that’s why I’m very much happy,” he said.
In addition to Jamaica and the Philippines, their principal, Terri Christian, also hired teachers from India and Zimbabwe this year.
“The opportunity to have teachers from another country come in that have experience, which can bring culture into our school but also fill a critical need we have in critical areas,” Christian said.
Polk County Public Schools works with the company TPG Cultural Exchange to recruit qualified teachers from around the world. Teachers and their families are given help to find housing and transportation.
Once here, they also became a part of the teachers’ union, Polk Education Association, according to the union’s president.
“This is a creative way that districts can not only help fill their vacancies but bring in other cultures that helps our schools,” said Stephanie Yocum, PEA president. “They have brought a wealth of knowledge and culture to our district and we welcome them. They’re part of our union and they’ve been great for our staff and our teachers.”
According to a school district spokesperson, there is still a 189-teacher vacancy at Polk County Public Schools.