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Local teachers gear up for US posts

By David Williams, Freelance Writer

WITHIN LESS than two weeks, Jamaican teachers accepted to work in New York City public schools will be heading off to the 'Big Apple' to take up their new posts.

Close to 300 teachers packed the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston early yesterday morning to collect their acceptance letters and visa packages, which were being distributed by officers of the Centre for Recruitment and Professional Development of New York City Public Schools.

Robert Antoine, co-ordinator of the Centre's Caribbean Recruitment Initiative told The Gleaner that while the number of local teachers recruited was estimated at about 300, it was difficult to give an exact figure since "a number of packages had been printed at the last minute".

August 10 is the latest date for hired teachers to arrive in New York for their orientation sessions ahead of deployment to "hard-to-staff" public schools with below-average students and high immigrant populations.

By then, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture should have a clearer picture of the human resource deficit they will likely have to make up at the start of next school year in September. Education Minister, Senator Burchell Whiteman has maintained that the local educational system can cope with the exodus of teachers, and has sought to recruit recently retired teachers to help fill the gap that is anticipated.

Yesterday, the applicants, many of them accompanied by their spouses and children, were noticeably more relaxed than two months ago when they thronged the recruitment centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus, to complete applications. Many applicants were busy filling out visa forms to meet the requirements for the J1 visa, which will permit them to work in the United States, while others listened attentively as the recruitment officer made a roll-call of persons still to collect their packages.

An otherwise calm atmosphere was interrupted by collective gasps and sighs, evoked by the first flashes from the Gleaner photographer's camera. Some applicants complained that they were averse to being photographed because they were still not sure if their applications had been approved. "A lot of people haven't sent in resignations so their principals don't know they're possibly leaving, and they don't want people to see them in the paper applying for a job. They're waiting until they get the visa in their hand, because some people who got acceptance letters could be turned down at the Embassy when they go for the visa and then be left without a job," one applicant told The Gleaner on behalf of her camera-shy colleagues.

"I've given my principal my resignation, but I'm asking her to hold it until I actually get the visa," added the 29-year-old English teacher from a high school in St. Catherine.

The distribution of packages continues today.

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