Osceola school district hiring teachers abroad to help with teacher shortage

District is implementing certification program to help get more teachers in classrooms

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Gerardo Nuñez has a passion for teaching — so much so that he took his decade-long teaching experience outside his homeland of Colombia and brought it to Osceola County.

“In general, it’s really a good, good experience,” the 35-year-old from Cartagena, Colombia said. “It was like a call being here.”

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Nuñez is one of several international teachers brought in by the Osceola County school district.

“We have had great success, and actually, our last two years, we’ve had 100% retention rate on our teachers last year. But our overall retention rate is 87%, which is higher than the state average,” Tammy Otterson, chief of the human resources department for the school district, said.

The school district said five years ago they were already experiencing a teacher shortage when they decided to look into hiring teachers abroad. Right now, they have 170 teacher vacancies.

“Our biggest problem is our colleges that have education programs. People are not entering these programs, so there is a huge shortage nationwide,” Otterson said.

The district currently uses two agencies that are responsible for the vetting and selection process, including the teacher work visas.

“They take care of everything. Our district, actually, we do not have to pay for their health insurance or their retirement, so that money that we save is what helps to pay the fees for that agency, so we pretty much break even,” Otterson said.

The school district said that it’s not just about addressing the need for more teachers. It’s also about the cultural exchange in a diverse community. More than half of Osceola County’s population is Hispanic and Latino.

“It’s important for us for our teachers so our kids can see someone that looks like them can relate to them to hopefully give them a better educational experience,” Otterson said.

Aside from using the international teacher program to help bridge the gap, the school district is hoping a new initiative will help them get more teachers.

“We are looking toward alternative certification teachers now, so anybody that may have a journalist degree, language arts degree, something that’s not in education, we have a great program to help them to learn how to be a great teacher with us,” Otterson said. “We have a whole seminar on how to become a teacher. We actually offer it in English and Español, so we recruit a lot of teachers from Puerto Rico because their rate of pay isn’t the greatest down there.”

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Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.