"Experienced teachers who don't live here say they have very little reason to come," said Pauline Rhodes, the superintendent of Coahoma County School District, which encompasses Friars Point Elementary, a school of about 150 students (down from 200 two years ago) and the town's only elementary school.
"It seems like the quality of the teaching staff is not getting better," said Rhodes
Until a few years ago, the Coahoma County district was able to employ teachers who weren't fully licensed, but excelled in the classroom nonetheless, Rhodes
When the state said it would stop issuing one-year provisional licenses, the district's options narrowed.
Fully licensed teachers who apply to Coahoma County from other Mississippi districts often have red flags on their resumes, she
One applicant, for instance, had earned her
teaching license but worked for seven years as a substitute in Oxford, Miss. without ever getting hired - a sign that something was not quite right.
"Ninety-percent of the ones with red flags end up to be marginal teachers," she
cites Friars Point
's reputation as a tough community as one disincentive for prospective teachers: In addition to an allegedly thriving drug trade, Friars Point has longstanding gang rivalries with nearby Jonestown.
For such a small community, it has posted a high number of violent crimes in recent years, including the night club shooting, the stabbing of a man in a domestic dispute, and the beating death of an unarmed man by five others outside the apartments near the school.
said the district has tried both strategies-recruiting widely and growing its own.
Neither has worked.
In Friars Point
, the district encouraged promising assistants to get certified as teachers, promising to reimburse tuition costs.
But over the course of several years, only one followed through and managed to pass the Praxis exams required to complete the certification process.
Teach For America has supplied the school with several motivated, talented instructors.
But most leave after their two-year commitment ends-if they make it that long.
"By the time you start to see the benefits, they are gone," said Rhodes
Friars Point Elementary
tried to keep one particularly determined and successful TFA teacher by promoting her
to a master teaching position.
left after a year in the new role, saying she
wanted to start a family elsewhere.
said the district has talked to representatives from a service that-for a fee-recruits teachers from foreign countries, even though the junior high school had to lay off one Indian teacher because of communication barriers.
The teacher did not come through a service and wanted to make the move on her
struggled to understand her
students, misinterpreting curses as jokes, Rhodes
The district has also started a modest financial incentive program that provides $500 to high school teachers whose students score well on standardized tests.
Yet as of May, Rhodes still had to fill 20 teaching positions across the district, most of them in Friars Point or at the countywide junior and senior high school.