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Step Forward is hiring! Agency offers sign-on bonuses for Head Start staff

There is a crucial need for teachers across the country.

In 2019, the Economic Policy Institute estimated there would be a need for nearly 300,000 teachers nationwide, and only 100,000 individuals who qualified for those positions available. Then, the pandemic hit. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 500,000 teachers left the profession, with many opting for retirement. In 2022, there were more openings throughout the education sector than anyone had recorded in the past decade.

A teacher helps a student

The Ohio Department of Education has been working to address the ongoing teacher shortage for years. Citing an EdWeek Research Center survey, which showed one in four district leaders and principals had reported severe staffing issues, the Department of Education listed four strategies for hiring and retaining educators. The list mentioned increased wages, hiring and retention bonuses, improved working conditions including professional development opportunities, and more classroom support.

“When districts and programs don’t have their staffing secured, that affects everyone,” Maryrose Molnar, Step Forward’s Site Administrator at Villa Head Start, said. “The teachers who are working start to experience burnout because they don’t have anyone else to cover their classroom during break or absences. They have less time to plan their curriculum and activities. It can lead to larger class sizes, which limits individualized attention for each student.”

Molnar, who has worked with Step Forward for more than 20 years, acknowledged the increasing amount of stress that teachers across the country have been experiencing. In fact, EdWeek found more than 60-percent of teachers had shared they were feeling stressed, so much so that many were considering leave the profession.

“Teachers face a lot of pressure and responsibility,” she explained. “They work long hours to meet high job demands, and often, they are paid low salaries. Many feel they have a lack of resources or professional development opportunities, and some have shared struggling with an imbalance with work and home life.”

In 2023, Step Forward announced it was hiring for nearly 90 Head Start positions, many of which were teachers, co-teachers, education aides and more.

A teacher does an activity with students

“We are doing everything we can to attract and retain effective educators,” Ashley Morrison, Step Forward’s Staffing Specialist, said. “We are attending as many outreach events as we can and just recently started offering up to $1,000 in sign-on bonuses and $500 referral bonuses.”

According to Head Start’s Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, there are more than 580 vacancies throughout Head Start programs nationwide.

“It’s like I always say. We’re not just looking for warm bodies,” Dr. Thea Wilson, Step Forward’s Vice President of Children and Families, said. “The individuals we’re hiring require warmth, patience and an unwavering dedication to young children and their families. Head Start is about creating a nurturing space that cultivates a love for learning. The teachers are there to make a difference, one tiny heart at a time.” The agency recognizes teacher needs. It has recently zeroed in on staff wellness. In 2022, Dr. Wilson and the Head Start program invested in exercise equipment and massage chairs for each Head Start site. If the teachers or staff need a break from the classroom, they can take advantage of those resources. "We are also ensuring that we invest in the staff members," Dr. Wilson said. "Not only did we provide raises for each Head Start employee, but we are focused on providing professional development throughout the year and offering continuing education opportunities." While Step Forward Head Start teachers are required to have a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education or a related field, Step Forward has said it can offer education assistance. In other words, it will help pay for an individual's education up to a Bachelor's Degree for the related field.

A teacher helps students board a school bus

Step Forward is set to open seven Head Start centers throughout Cuyahoga County in August 2023. Based on its current staffing, the agency estimates it will have to keep 33 classrooms closed, meaning it may not be able to serve an additional 567 students as it had hoped.

“That could mean 567 families who need or want a high-quality education for their young children and won’t get it,” Dr. Wilson said. “This is a painful reality that we may be denying some students an opportunity to thrive. Every closed classroom represents a missed chance to inspire, educate and shape someone’s future.”

Step Forward Head Start is hiring!

The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full time employees and $500 for part-time employees.

Positions include teachers, family service workers, nutrition aides and more. Step Forward Head Start is looking for education staff passionate about preparing young students for the future and helping them develop a love for learning early. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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