For the Taos Municipal School District, recruiting science and math teachers is an uphill battle. The issue is largely financial. The district’s pay grade is relatively low, and there aren’t many teachers qualified to teach math and science already in the community.
Superintendent Rod Weston told The Taos News he had one teacher who took a $25,000 pay cut to come to Taos High School to teach math. The teacher only stayed one year.
At the end of August, Gov. Susana Martinez announced an initiative in which she plans to give a $5,000 stipend to teachers across the state who teach science and math in “hard to staff” schools. The release did not specify how the governor’s office defines “hard to staff” schools, and the state’s Public Education Department spokesman did not return calls as of press time.
Weston said any school with a pay scale that is $25,000 below others in the country should be considered “hard to staff.”
“This initiative continues to show a lack of understanding of how schools operate,” he said. “The time to do it is spring — the time to do it is when we’re hiring people.”
Kaila Pavelka, a science teacher at Vista Grande High School, a charter high school in the district, came here from Austin three years ago to teach at Vista Grande. She could have had her pick of teaching jobs in Austin, where she would have been making about $15,000 more than she makes here. But she said she came here because she has a passion for rock climbing and always had a dream to live in the mountains.
She said even though she isn’t getting paid as much as she would have gotten in Austin, she enjoys the school system here more. Here, she said she’s allowed to teach how she wants. She said students in Taos often enjoy learning more than in Austin because they see it as an opportunity to elevate themselves.
“For these kids, education is a guiding light for them,” she said. “This is an opportunity to make gains with students.”
Weston said Pavelka is a quality teacher and the district is lucky to have her. “She’s very dynamic,” Weston said. “If we could clone half a dozen Kailas, we’d be in good shape.”
Mark Barela, a math teacher at Vista Grande, said he was an engineer elsewhere but came back to Taos to be with his family. He said that in addition to the low pay, teaching math here can often be difficult because the students often don’t appreciate its value. He said this is unfortunate because math and science-based jobs offer students the most pay after they finish school.
Weston said it’s hard to predict the level of difficulty the district is going to have hiring and retaining math and science teachers.
“A lot of it is the luck of the draw,” he said. “You just see who shows up.”