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Southwest Florida school districts struggle with teacher shortages as new school year approaches

CCPS Courtesy Photo

The Collier County Public School District is seeing a critical teacher shortage with just two weeks left for teachers to report to school.

The district has about 100 instructional positions open out of a total of 274 employment positions listed on their website at the start of the week.

Collier Schools’ Executive Director of Human Resources Valerie Wenrich said there are multiple factors that contribute to the teacher scarcity issue in the Southwest Florida area and across the state.

“We are seeing less and less teachers coming from traditional education programs,” said Wenrich.

According to the Florida Department of Education, the shortage represents many teachers who are not certified in the fields they are hired to teach. The Department also says postsecondary institutions are not producing enough graduates to meet demand.

President of the Teacher’s Association of Lee County Kevin Daly said he sees the issue in Lee County too. He said the scarcity issue will cause more stress on teachers because they will have to cover more classes, missing planning periods.

“I think that teachers will be suffering,” he said. “An employee who isn't necessarily taking care of themselves doesn't have the time they need at work, to just kind of reset whether it be during lunch or during planning.”

The critical shortage areas for the upcoming school year are English, Exceptional Student Education (ESE), General Science, Reading, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Mathematics, and Physical Science. Those are all vacancies the Collier County system is looking to fill.

Out of a total of 591,461 classes the state offered last year, about 59,117 of them (10%) are taught by teachers who are not certified in the field. Most of them were Exceptional Student Education, English, Reading, Sciences, and English as a second or foreign language.

To fill the vacancies, the school board is providing internal programing for teachers who do not meet the minimum certification and want to become a full-time certified professional teacher.

“We work them through these certification courses and provide them on the job training within the classroom,” said Wenrich.

There were a total of 9,079 projected vacancies for the last school year, and only 3,377 students in post-secondary institutions earned certifications in those areas in the state.

The number of students earning the certifications gives an estimate of the number of new teachers available to fill vacancies in the state.

The shortage of students is impacting areas like business education, computer science, and foreign languages.

According to the FDOE, there are six high priority schools in the Collier County area. These six schools are low density, low economic schools in rural areas, out of a total of 194 high priority rural schools in the state.

Wenrich said the education field is facing a lot of scrutiny with mandates, legislation, and pay problems that are also exacerbating the shortage.

“In the overall respect of the teaching field and of teachers, it’s been difficult to combat,” she said. “And they’re under a lot of scrutiny. There’s a lot of responsibility there… it does tend to push people away from a career like this.”

Wenrich said while the district is not seeing a reduction of applications, some people applying are having problems before completing their onboarding process.

“We are facing some concerns with folks when they apply. And they accepted a position that they struggled to find some housing in the area. So that might prevent them from coming to complete their onboarding process.”

Number of 2021‐22 Vacancies and Projected Vacancies by Certification Area

There were a total number of 4,489 vacancies in the 2020-21 school year in public schools statewide, with a total of 9,079 projected vacancies. The highest projected vacancies make up most of the recommended critical teacher shortage areas for the 2022‐23 school year. This information is collected from each district and is typically used to plan recruitment efforts.

The public school system has been trying to solve this problem and mitigate its impacts.

“We try not to have an impact. There are a lot of ways to mitigate shortages in a district creative scheduling,” said Wenrich.

The public school system pays some teachers to work seven of seven periods to accommodate for the shortage. Typically, teachers work six out of seven periods to have a planning period. The district has been recruiting all year.

“You know, guest teachers are what you probably know as substitute teachers. We call them guest teachers here in Collier,” said Jennifer Kupiec, communications specialist with CCPS.

CCPS has a total of 800 guest teachers after recruiting methods.

Wenrich said the vacancies could be reduced when principals come back on contract Monday.

Click here to apply at the district’s website

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