The Madison School District is on pace to add 300 new teachers this year — the most in at least 19 years.

Already this year, the district has hired 260 new classroom leaders, largely a response to a wave of teacher retirements prompted by a new law curtailing collective bargaining by public employees. Another 40 or so could be added throughout September.

For the thousands of students heading back to school Thursday, the turnover means both the loss of institutional memory and the potential for fresh ideas to reshape the classroom experience, Madison principals say.

“You lose a lot of knowledge around education that’s critical to helping kids be successful,” said Bruce Dahmen, principal at Memorial High School, which hired about 30 new teachers, including 12 first-timers. “With that change comes new opportunities. (New teachers) sometimes bring a different energy.”

Joe Bins, 23, a 6th grade math, social studies and reading teacher at Jefferson Middle School, where 18 of the 85 staff members are new, said he’s nervous about making mistakes on his first day as a teacher and anxious about how the profession is changing.

“It’s an exciting time to be a new teacher, but it’s also an uncertain time to be a new teacher and to enter this profession not knowing what direction it’s headed,” Bins said.

Public employee retirements soared this year amid debate over Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law. Teachers, in particular, raised concerns that the changes could eventually affect existing post-retirement benefits.

In the first six months of 2011, overall public employee retirements were double that in all of either 2009 or 2010, according to data provided by the Wisconsin Retirement System. That includes 4,935 Wisconsin school district employees, up from 2,527 in all of 2010 and 2,417 in 2009.

The Madison School District had 133 teacher retirements, up from 83 retirements the previous year. Other teachers left the district for various reasons, prompting additional new hires.

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‘Biggest’ new class

By the time the district finishes placing teachers next month, it will have hired nearly twice as many new teachers for the 2011-12 school year as it did last year, said human resources director Bob Nadler.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the biggest (new class of teachers) I’ve seen” in 19 years, Nadler said.

Schools are also experiencing turnover among teachers as those who remain with the district move from one school to another when vacancies arise. The district didn’t have information this week about how many teachers transferred from one school to another.

The 260 new hires as of Monday is already more than the final total for each of the last four years. Last year there were 163 new hires in Madison schools through mid-October.

Nathan Hutchins, 36, a new history teacher at Memorial, said the number of young teachers, especially, will push the district to adopt more technology in the classroom. At new teacher orientation last week he realized how the large class of teachers represents a new generation for Madison schools.

“Twenty years down the road they’re going to be talking about us,” Hutchins said. “Kind of like the Baby Boomers.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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