Unable to land a teaching job in Western New York, Thomas Kazimir spent four years in part-time and substitute teaching positions in the Sweet Home, Grand Island, Maryvale and Cheektowaga-Sloan schools.
Then, at a Buffalo employment fair, a North Carolina district offered him a job on the spot. Kazimir, along with his wife and two young children, are now residents of the Tarheel State.
And they're hardly alone.
With the local public school job market exceedingly tight, large numbers of Buffalo-area teaching graduates are taking jobs in North Carolina, Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Nevada, Texas, Southern California, Georgia, South Carolina and even Hawaii.
"I think they have fully realized that, if you're going to find a job, you go where the economy is growing," said Charles Stoddart, superintendent of the Orchard Park school system. "We used to export steel and flour. Now our biggest export is the talented youth of our community."
For example, North Carolina's Alamance-Burlington School System near Chapel Hill this year hired 38 teachers from upstate New York, including Kazimir.
Numbers are not available on the total number of young teachers leaving the area, but clear signs of a substantial brain drain are everywhere. For example:
At a job fair for teachers in April at the Buffalo Convention Center, 78 of the 92 school districts that sent recruiters were from outside Erie and Niagara counties.
Maryland's Harford County Public Schools last year received teaching applications from 148 New York residents and hired 23 of them. Among those first-year teachers are five from Geneseo State College, three from Buffalo State College and one each from Fredonia State College and Niagara University.
Hawaii sends four to six representatives to Buffalo each year and -- despite a notoriously high cost of living and a starting salary of just $29,000 -- manages to recruit about five Western New Yorkers each time through.
"Their attitude seems to be: 'If I'm going out of state, I'm going to look for an experience I would never otherwise get,' " said Caroline Hasegawa, a personnel specialist for Hawaii's Department of Education.
Before graduating from Buffalo State earlier this year, Christina Kassad, who lived in Amherst, sent resumes to the 11 local districts that had openings for social studies teachers. She never heard back from any of them.
"Unless you had been subbing in a district for a while or had a lot of personal contacts, it was going to be nearly impossible to get in," she said.
Instead, Ms. Kassad took a job with the same North Carolina district that now employs Kazimir. And down the hall from Ms. Kassad is a Spanish teacher who grew up in Dunkirk and graduated from Fredonia State College.
Michelle Winiarski, a West Seneca resident, will graduate from Buffalo State in December with state certification in art education.
Although she describes herself as a "homebody" who wants to remain in Western New York, Ms. Winiarski and her fiance already have discussed the possibility of leaving town.
"It's scary," she said. "I've been going to school for four years to do something I absolutely love, and I don't know if there will be a job for me in the community I love."
With more teachers finding work elsewhere, Orchard Park's list of elementary school substitute teachers has dwindled from more than 100 to about 30.
Unable to locate enough substitutes, the South Davis Elementary School principal one day this month closed down a special education class and a gifted and talented class, and taught kindergarten himself.
The teacher exodus results from a bloated supply of local job applicants.
Buffalo-area schools -- including Buffalo State, Fredonia, Niagara, the University at Buffalo, St. Bonaventure University and Canisius, Daemen, Houghton, D'Youville and Medaille colleges -- turn out an unusually high number of certified teachers compared to many other regions, educators said.
Local schools, which have relatively static enrollments, are able to hire only a small number of them.
The Sweet Home Central Schools, for example, each year receive about 800 applications for 10 to 20 elementary school openings, said Gary R. Cooper, district superintendent.
College officials said many -- and probably most -- local education graduates would like to stay in Western New York. Some work as substitutes or teacher aides, while others take relatively low-paying jobs in local private or parochial schools.
But others increasingly are willing to broaden their job searches.
"Young people are very discouraged about this place," said Stephanie Zuckerman-Aviles, director of Buffalo State's career development center. "They think there are no possibilities, so they look elsewhere."
Out-of-state schools are eager to jump in. Many are experiencing dramatic enrollment growth and, in some cases, state mandates to reduce class size.
"It's a simple matter of supply and demand," said Matthew Plevyak, supervisor of Maryland's Harford County Public Schools. "The Maryland colleges and universities do not graduate enough teachers to fill our positions."
Job fairs, organized by local colleges each spring in Buffalo, Rochester and Cortland, serve as matchmakers for both recruiters and applicants. And out-of-state school officials like what they find here.
"The quality of the candidates is excellent," said Debbie Hill, executive director for personnel development for the Alamance-Burlington School System. "Your teacher education programs are apparently very comprehensive."
Candidates seriously considered for jobs in Western New York schools often have six or more interviews, may be asked to teach a class before a panel of reviewers, and sometimes don't get final answers until shortly before the start of the school year.
"I was a finalist several times, but unfortunately I never got that one break," said Kazimir, the West Seneca West Senior High School graduate now teaching in North Carolina.
In contrast, his principal in Burlington assisted Kazimir in locating an apartment and helped find teaching jobs for both his wife and sister.
"If you had asked me just a few months ago, I would have never considered leaving Buffalo," said Kazimir, the first member of his family to move out of town. "But it has been fabulous. Everyone here has been very supportive."
Ms. Kassad's parents, who live in Amherst, suggested that she stay home and work as a substitute teacher until she found a full-time job in the area.
"I didn't feel that was right for me," she said. "I worked very hard to be a teacher and I couldn't see going in and being a baby-sitter for a different class every day."
There is growing concern about the imbalance between teaching candidates and jobs in Western New York.
"We have four or five state colleges and five or six private schools, all of which are preparing teachers within a radius of about 60 miles," said Katherine Emihovich, director of the teacher certification program at UB's graduate school of education. "Maybe not every single State University of New York school needs to be turning out elementary education teachers."
According to Cooper, the Sweet Home superintendent: "One would have to conclude that they (local college officials) probably ought to get together and talk about that."
Bill Hirschen, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said any effort to trim teaching programs could backfire because 50 percent of the state's teachers are expected to retire within 10 years; since the expansion of prekindergarten programs in New York will require more staff; and because in the future the state might mandate maximum class sizes.
"What's true about the teaching market today might not be true a couple of years down the road," Hirschen said.
In addition, educators said, many local schools continue to seek special education, math, science, technology and foreign language teachers.
"If you're in one of those fields, there's a job for you in Western New York," Cooper said.
Ken Goldfarb, a State University of New York spokesman, said legislation is being prepared that would provide financial incentives to state residents who take teaching positions in New York City, as well as other districts across the state where there are shortages.
"Our objective is to meet the overall state need, and that is growing," Goldfarb said. "We're not here just to serve one region or another."
From a more global perspective, college administrators said, local education graduates are well prepared for success.
"If you're interested in teaching out of state, you're virtually guaranteed a job," Ms. Emihovich said.
Those seeking to stay in the area are urged to get certification in several areas, or to develop secondary specialties in music, art, foreign language or coaching.
"Students have to make themselves salable," said Jane F. Hogan, coordinator of student teaching at Geneseo State College. "A straight elementary education degree does not really get you into the job market."