NEWTON COUNTY – This year, the Newton County School System (NCSS) welcomed 176 new teachers. However, the school system is experiencing a shortage of faculty, staff and substitute teachers – with the majority of vacant positions occurring within the county’s middle schools.
Nyree Sanders, the Newton County Board of Education’s director of human resources, provided an update to The Covington News regarding the shortage, the status of open positions and what the board is implementing to address these concerns.
With around 40 vacant teacher and paraprofessional positions, Sanders said this year’s number of available jobs is higher than last year’s number at this time. The issue surpasses the past two school years or just Newton County, according to Sanders.
“It’s difficult to find teachers to fill any school, anywhere in Georgia and at this point anywhere in the nation… When we attended job fairs, there were less candidates who were graduating from a college of education and not only were there less candidates, even fewer of them would actually attend the job fairs,” Sanders said. “I would say when that started happening is when we realized we had a problem… and I would say that’s been going on before COVID, maybe about 2016, 2017.”
Of teacher and paraprofessional jobs, there are 10 open spots at the elementary level, 27 open spots at the middle school level and four open spots at the high school level. These numbers do not take into account positions in specialized areas, such as occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, psychologists, etc., which Sanders considers to be the hardest to fill.
Though teachers, paraprofessionals and substitute teachers are what Sanders considers to be the top three most prominent positions in need of being filled. Bus drivers, custodians and school nutrition workers are also scarce.
To combat this issue, the county offers a $1,000 new teacher incentive to encourage educators to come work in the Newton County School System and to compete with other counties also struggling with staff shortages.
Incentives are also offered for the retention of veteran teachers and school system employees, depending on “what the budget can sustain and support.”
The reason for the shortage in education – which is not exclusive to the NCSS – can be explained by the lack of individuals enrolled in colleges of education, teachers entering retirement and educators relocating, according to Sanders.
“If there’s not a pipeline of individuals who are going to school to be educators, then we are not going to have the educators we need when it’s time to fill the positions,” Sanders said. “I think everybody knows it and recognizes it and now the question is, ‘What can we do to address it?’ There’s going to be a number of things that would have to be done, but if we can’t find ways to attract young people into education, then what we’re looking for are non-traditional educators. So then it’s that process of getting them ready to go into the classroom, making sure that they complete the test and get certified, and so it takes a lot longer versus having gotten someone right out of school who’s been prepared and can walk straight into the classroom and start teaching.”
Interviews are underway for some positions currently open in the NCSS, however, finding a candidate who is the “right fit” is another process hindering certain jobs from being filled, Sanders said.
To address the staff shortage issue, the Newton County Board of Education is working to find ways to support their teachers as well as work with schools in order to identify their needs. Contractors and virtual teachers serve as resources to fill in “gaps” while a permanent candidate is being decided. Currently, there is one virtual teacher within the NCSS, with the possibility of two more virtual teachers being added.
“We offer [virtual teachers] as a resource, which means the district will provide a facilitator or a sub to be the in person staff member who’s managing the class and making sure that they’re coordinating everything with the virtual teacher who’s able to Zoom in and provide any type of instructional needs that the kids have,” Sanders said.
For parents concerned about the lack of a permanent teacher in their child’s classroom, Sanders says to keep in contact with school personnel for additional updates and information.
“Ask for an update as often as they need one, because I’m sure that there is one. It may not always be that we found a teacher, but it could be, ‘Here’s where we are in the process.’ We had two board meetings in August, and we hired a few teachers. It wasn’t a ton, but it was a few, so we’re doing that at each and every board meeting we have, where anyone that we’ve identified as being eligible to start working as a teacher, we’re doing that and bringing them on as quickly as we can.”
Sanders says there are candidates currently on track to be hired, which will be a part of the Board’s Sept. 12 work session, but expressed her ideal timeline for acquiring more employers.
Filling vacant positions within each building typically gains momentum after Labor Day, when the board can assess 10 day counts and identify needs that must be met, according to Sanders.
“The goal is to get all of [this] tied up in September. When we come back after Labor Day, schools will find out what true vacancies they have,” Sanders said. “Then, we’ll work with them individually to identify a plan for those. It could be a virtual teacher or, in some cases, they may have someone in their building that they’ve identified who may be finishing up a program that they’re going to offer the position to them. So it’s just making sure that we know exactly how they plan to fill those positions between now, and to get through the rest of the school year.”