Originally Published: September 28, 2017 6 a.m.
Teacher shortages in Yavapai County this year were better than last, but there are still 38 positions that were not filled, meaning that schools have had to get creative about filling positions, including the use of long-term substitutes, larger class sizes or using technology to provide course material.
Humboldt Unified Schools Superintendent Dan Streeter said his district has about seven openings across their 10-school district. For the most part, he said those losses are being filled by teachers willing to accept higher workloads for a small stipend, or in one case, a teacher dividing time between two schools. The biggest impact has been in the area of special education, and the need for three new elementary teachers at the beginning of the school year to fill vacancies and respond to higher enrollments than expected, he noted.
“We’ve been able to address those (vacancies) with some creative staffing,” Streeter said. “We have some outstanding teachers who have stepped up for us.”
Like many educators across the state, though, Streeter said Arizona needs to take a hard look at why teacher shortages are such a problem when there are plenty of certified teachers in the state who simply are unwilling to teach in this state’s public school system. Arizona has gained a reputation for a less-than-supportive environment for education.
“We have some tremendously talented people who do everything they can for our students every day,” Streeter said. “But finding additional teachers that meet the same standards as our existing staff is becoming a difficult task for us.”
Asked to identify those reasons, Streeter was clear: “It’s teacher pay and working conditions.”
Prescott and Chino Valley districts are faring better, but leaders in those districts are far from insensitive to the realities of what is occurring across the state.
At this time, Chino Valley Unified District Superintendent John Scholl said his district has filled the 28 positions that were vacant as of last spring. In the coming week, he said, the district will be seeking to replace the high school band director who just recently resigned.
Scholl said his district benefited from a Yavapai County Education Service Agency-organized, five-district recruiting trip to South Dakota that netted the combined districts about a dozen first-year candidates; Chino received four of those teachers.
“The other advantage we have, and it’s huge for us, is a four-day work week,” Scholl said.
Prescott Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read said there are no teacher vacancies – one new hire for the pre-school based on enrollment needs. The district worked hard to determine the expected number of vacancies in the early spring, and then started actively recruiting candidates to replace 24 jobs.
“And it really paid off,” Read said, noting most of those positions were filled by early summer.
Part of the recruitment effort was a Yavapai County Education Service Agency-organized, five-district trip to South Dakota that netted the Quad-City districts about a dozen first-time teaching candidates.
“And they’re all great. They’re all doing amazing jobs,” Read said of the PUSD teachers.
Prescott, traditionally, does not have the difficulty with teacher vacancies that they do in the Valley because it is considered such a desirable place to live, Read said. The district also is able to attract retired teachers with pensions from elsewhere who still want to spend a few more years in the classroom, she said.
“So we don’t often feel the shortage in the magnitude that they do in the Valley,” Read said.
Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter, the state Board of Education president, does not dispute the struggle, noting that low teacher pay combined with difficult job demands and lack of support and appreciation for the profession are becoming harder and harder to combat. Districts are having to rely on teachers to instruct additional classes, accept higher than average student-to-teacher ratios, rely on substitutes or eliminate courses intended to enrich student education.
“We lose 24 percent of our first year hires, and 20 percent of our second year hires,” Carter said. “Show me an industry that loses 44 percent of their new hires and don’t realize we have a problem.”
Arizona is not the only state that is suffering from teacher retention and recruitment issues, but it is certainly in the eye of what Carter has referred to as “the perfect storm.