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Lee Schools spending Spring Break recruiting teachers in Puerto Rico

Posted at 10:30 PM, Mar 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-24 05:16:48-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Some Lee County teachers are headed to Puerto Rico for spring break... but not for vacation.

Teachers and district leaders are traveling to the island to help recruit more bilingual teachers, as the Hispanic population in Lee schools is now 43%. It's the first time the district has made the trip since the pandemic.

In 2017, Maria Santiago was one of those bilingual teachers who made the move from Puerto Rico. Now, she teaches at Tice Elementary, where 89% of students are Hispanic.

"When I decided to came over here I had 28 years of experience in Puerto Rico," Santiago said.

It was a career move she said would help set her up later in life.

"That's why I [made] the choice. In Puerto Rico we don't have social security. We pay our insurance. We don't have any of those resources. We don't have that."

And for Lee Schools, it set them up with a bilingual teacher.

"The need is great here in our county," Santiago said. "And that number just continues to grow."

Lee County began this past school year with 200 teacher vacancies. That's something Santiago doesn't want to happen again. So this year, she's going back to where everything began and joining the recruitment herself.

"I am an example that you can make it happen," she said. "You are not going to miss anything. We have beautiful beaches, you are going to feel like you are at home. We have a lot of Latin speakers here, you are going to feel like home."

Later this year, Lee County is partnering with St. Lucie County and Polk County schools to host an even bigger recruitment event in San Juan. Lee County hopes to bring back at least 30 to 40 teachers, and will even offer other positions within the district for their spouses and families.