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Tough times for young teachers

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Isabelle Luna, 27, reads a book to pass the time Monday afternoon. Luna graduated in May with a degree in education hoping to get a permanent teaching position in South Shore. Apart from numerous substitute teacher opportunities, permanent teaching jobs have eluded her.
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Isabelle Luna thought it would be easy to land a teaching job at South Shore.

After all, the schools around the University of Arizona, where she received a bachelor’s in education in May, were hiring teachers at a fast clip. Schools were even accepting first-year teachers who had an associate’s degree, she said.

When she moved to South Lake Tahoe in the summer to be with her fiancé, Luna, 27, discovered a reality as school districts are cutting staff positions due to declining enrollment resulting in revenue loss and a competitive job market.



Being a young teacher is a tumultuous ride in South Shore, she and others have realized.

“I was really surprised that they were laying off so many teachers, because in Arizona they’re in such high demand for teachers,” Luna said. “I thought getting my bachelor’s would give me a step up but that wasn’t the case.”




As Luna soon realized, grabbing a permanent teaching position within the kindergarten to eighth-grade ranks was like spotting a sushi menu item at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Some high school positions were available but she wasn’t qualified. Open elementary jobs first went to teachers who were let go by the district.

So she helped fill the substitute teacher need in Lake Tahoe Unified School District, which recently announced it will recommend at tonight’s school board meeting the elimination of 17 teacher positions.

According to Human Resource Director Beth Delacour, there were 255 teachers at the beginning of the 2001-02 school year when the district first had to laid off teachers.

Conversely, at the start of this school year 212 teachers were employed. It’s a difference of 43 teachers in five years.

Kindergarten teacher Denise Preston expects to receive her third reduction-in-force notice next month since her 7.5 years in the district isn’t enough tenure to secure her job. The notice is the equivalent of a pink slip.

“It’s really depressing,” Preston, 31, said. “Teaching is my dream. It’s what I always wanted to do and to take it away from me is heartbreaking.”

Although she believes she’ll have a job next year with the possible addition of all-day kindergarten, she wants to stay at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School in Meyers. Sometimes, teachers who receive a reduction-in-force notice are rehired by the district but reassigned to different schools or different grades.

Sierra House Elementary teacher Cheryl Williams taught second grade at Al Tahoe Elementary School for eight years before getting a layoff notice when a decision was made to close the site for the 2004-05 school year. She was reassigned to teach seventh-grade at South Tahoe Middle School last year then moved to Sierra House this year.

Williams, who also expects to get a pink slip, doesn’t want to be reassigned again. But she’s glad she has 10 years in the district under her belt.

“I would feel really discouraged if I were a new teacher trying to get a job,” Williams said.

Janna Gard is near the seniority list with 30 years at South Tahoe High School. Although she doesn’t have to worry about getting a reduction-in-force notice, the constant staff changes at the high school has its own resounding influences, she said.

“It’s hard on teaches and you don’t know what teacher is going to be there next year because of the (staff) bumping,” Gard said. “People aren’t teaching where they want to teach but where they are qualified and every year you’re starting all over.

“It affects everybody within the school,” she said.

Lake Tahoe Unified is not the only school district undergoing staff changes. Douglas County School District’s Kingsbury Middle School in Stateline is expected to close after the 2007-08 school year because of declining enrollment at the three Lake Tahoe schools. Staff cuts were deemed necessary last month at Lake Tahoe Community College by President Guy Lease.

“For anybody new coming into teaching I would tell them to be careful about (putting) all their eggs in this basket,” Gard said.

So far Luna has placed her eggs in a variety of baskets. She has substituted 35 times this school year in grades ranging from elementary to high school and subjects ranging from music to English as a second language. She works part-time at Neighbors Bookstore and is about to begin a job as Whittell High School’s varsity softball coach.

Her eye is still on the prize of having her own classroom.

“I’d love to get a permanent job someday, but every time something comes up like layoffs and declining enrollment, it’s one more hurdle you have to get over and you know you’re not the only one trying to find (a teaching) job,” Luna said. “It’s not easy.”

If you go

What: Possible action on 17 teaching positions being cut

Where: Lake Tahoe Unified School District, 1021 Al Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe

When: Today, 5:30 p.m.


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