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To combat teacher shortage, Palm Beach County schools hire educators from around the world

District has hired 45 teachers from Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Jamaica, Guyana, and Spain
Teacher Ralph Paddayuman instructs students at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach on Sept. 19, 2022.jpg
Posted at 3:59 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 23:48:43-04

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — As school districts nationwide grapple with teacher shortages, some are looking internationally to recruit.

The School District of Palm Beach County has a multi-million-dollar contract to bring in qualified teachers from all over the world to work in local schools.

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Ralph Paddayuman is not only new to the School District of Palm Beach County, he's new to the country.

"I'm here in the U.S. to make some change," Paddayuman said.

Paddayuman is from the Philippeans, one of five teachers at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach hired internationally this year. His wife is another.

"To learn different cultures here, and learn from other teachers about the different ways of how to touch the lives of children," Paddayuman said.

Teacher Ralph Paddayuman instructs students at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach on Sept. 19, 2022 (1).jpg
Teacher Ralph Paddayuman instructs students at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach on Sept. 19, 2022.

"My teacher, Mr. Ralph, he's different," student Heitor Lightner said. "The way he gives us information is the better way of learning."

So far, the district has hired 45 teachers from around the globe including the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Jamaica, Guyana, and Spain. All of them are currently in classrooms instructing students.

18 of the teachers are bilingual in Spanish.

Shernet Gordon spent 20 years teaching in Jamaica before she wanted a change.

"I just had this thought that it would be good to experience a different culture, a different place, a different setting. Because I do love teaching," Gordon said.

Teacher Shernet Gordon instructs students at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach on Sept. 19, 2022.jpg
Teacher Shernet Gordon instructs students at Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Riviera Beach on Sept. 19, 2022.

It's been a learning curve for her, too.

"I'm not there yet, but I can see where I'm making progress, how to deliver the lesson, how to keep them on task, and all of that," Gordon said. "It's taking a little time, but I see where it's happening."

The school district's contract with Educational Partners International can cost up to nearly $8 million a year. The district pays the company $13,500 per educator for administrative fees. Their salary is on the same pay scale as U.S. teachers with an equal degree and experience.

In addition, the district also gave the teachers assistance with housing and transportation.

"It's a great opportunity to literally bring the world inside of our classrooms," principal Katrina Granger said.

Granger added this new program is helping her tackle critical teacher vacancies while infusing new cultures into her classrooms.

"I have some positions I've advertised for more than two years without any success in identifying a suitable teacher for those positions," Granger said. "So to participate in this program and be able to fill vacancies with individuals who have the heart, the passion, and the desire, and the willingness to learn the culture and teach the lessons has really been the solution to the teacher shortage for my school."

So while they come from different worlds, these teachers know education is universal.

"Maybe the objectives would have been stated a different way or the standard may be phrased a different way, but when you get down to it, you are still learning how to add and subtract. It's still the same at the end of the day," Gordon said.

The teachers are on J-1 visas for educational and cultural exchange programs. The school district's contract with Educational Partners International is for three years with an option to renew for an additional two years.

The Martin County School District also employs international teachers.