• High school: Hixson
• College: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
• Certification: Special education, grades pre-K to 3; grades 4-8
• College GPA: 3.86
• High school: Soddy-Daisy
• College: UTC
• Certification: Early childhood education and special education
• College GPA: 3.46
• High school: East Ridge
• College: Lee University
• Certification: Language arts, secondary education, grades 7-12
• College GPA: 3.70
Four years ago, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales made a promise to honor graduates with the best grades in the class of 2007: Get an education degree and you'll have a job waiting back home.
On Thursday night, Scales made good on the promise, introducing three women to the Board of Education who graduated from Hamilton County schools with perfect grades and will return this fall as classroom teachers.
"Almost four years to the month, we made this promise as a way to recruit the very best talent coming out of our schools to come back and teach here," Scales said.
When Gov. Bill Haslam visited Hamilton County schools earlier this month, he praised the program as one of the more creative teacher-recruitment tools he had seen.
"One of the challenges we face in the whole country is attracting our best and brightest to teaching positions," Haslam said. "That's a really innovative idea, and it's one that I will take and pass onto other areas."
Scales holds an annual honors banquet for the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class. Those students, he said, typically have never earned anything less than a A in high school, and also scored extremely well on either the SAT or ACT. In that group, you'll find future doctors, lawyers, military officers, but not always teachers, he said.
"We wanted to elevate the field of teaching," Scales said. "We wanted to have a pool of the highest-quality teachers available."
Though two of the women who will be hired had always dreamed of teaching, for Callie LaFleur, the offer just seemed like a nice gesture four years ago.
"I wanted to be a pharmacist, but then I started working with high school students with my church," said LaFleur, a East Ridge High School graduate who will graduate from Lee University in May. "I started to think this could really be for me, and then I remembered the certificate."
Scales signs a job offer for roughly 250 graduates every spring. It promises them a job if they get a teaching degree, are certified to teach in Tennessee and Hamilton County Schools has an opening in their field when they graduate.
Back in 2007, it might not have seemed like such a big offer. Teaching jobs were plentiful. But now education budgets are tight and many school systems, including Hamilton County, have asked teachers to take early retirement and some teacher positions have been cut to save money.
"The job market right now makes searching for jobs a little nerve-wracking," said Kaylan Cline, a Hixson High School graduate and one of the students who received a job offer from Hamilton County. "So many people don't have offers right now. It's competitive."
The certificate offered nice job security and helped provide focus while in school, said Amanda Hudson, a graduate of Soddy-Daisy High School, who will earn her degree from UTC in May.
"I've wanted to be a teacher forever ... so I kept the certificate in a safe place, so when the time came, I would have it," Hudson said. "It was exciting to know that I had a job before I had even graduated high school. It was a great motivation."
LaFleur has already been offered a job teaching high school English pending her graduation. And Hudson and Cline are interviewing next week for positions in elementary schools.
"I hope I can use my experience as a motivator," LaFleur said. "I see a lot of kids who want to give up and just work. But in today's economy, it's hard to get by without a degree.
"I think I can use my experience to show them that, if you're like me, you didn't grow up rich but worked very hard, you can accomplish your goals."