Louisiana school districts brace for fall amid teacher shortage
As families prepare to send back to school students next month, school district leaders are working to overcome staff shortage and put enough teachers in classrooms by fall.
“We’re still filling jobs as we speak,” Vermilion Parish School System Superintendent Tommy Byler said.
The back and forth in hiring is normal over the summer, Byler said, but the need to fill positions is “more critical than before” with a national teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.
Like other Acadiana superintendents, Byler is confident that Vermilion Parish will have enough teachers to start the school year strong, but many of them will not be certified, he said.
“There aren’t enough certified people to go around,” Byler said. “Currently, no system finds certified people.
Behind Louisiana’s teacher shortage:Fewer entries into teacher preparation programs, many leaving the profession
“I needed it” :Vermilion Parish woman retires after teaching generations of families for 55 years
“We’ve had some great late recruits. A lot of the ones we’re getting now are people who want to try their hand at teaching and have a degree (in something else).”
St. Landry Parish School District Superintendent Patrick Jenkins said he is working to overcome a shortage of certified teachers in an ongoing process.
Among the 36 sites in Saint-Landry, some schools need one or two teachers, while others need more, he said.
“We are looking, like everyone else, and trying to bring in teachers and work with them to get certified,” Jenkins said.
What are the critical areas of shortage?
Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that Louisiana is currently experiencing shortages in all grades in five subjects – English as a second language, special education, math, science and world languages.
This comes as no surprise to Byler, who continues to see the same critical shortage areas in his district. This year, the greatest needs are in math, science and special education.
Byler said college grades are the hardest to endow, another common thread in education.
At St. Landry, the toughest positions to fill are in math and special education, Jenkins said.
“Others are tough, but these are the toughest,” he said.
He and the school board took a proactive approach in the spring, implementing ways to attract teachers to hard-to-fill positions or schools.
Last spring, the board approved incentives for new employees, not just teachers, at all five Opelousas schools of up to $4,000 over the next two school years.
“It’s a challenge to fill some schools, so we’re encouraging,” Jenkins said.
And he saw success with incentives by increasing the number of bus drivers for schools in St. Landry Parish.
Last spring, the board also approved training and testing fee reimbursement for CDL drivers, and in return, drivers commit to the district for a minimum period.
“It helped tremendously,” Jenkins said. “We will start the year with no shortage (of bus drivers). We hope to have reserves of replacements by the time we start.”
Teachers in the Lafayette Parish school system have a similar opportunity, with several one-time allowances offered for 2022-23. Qualified teachers could be eligible for multiple stipends for a combined net effect of $9,000, according to a district statement.
The board approved three proposals in April, with two stipends being paid in one lump sum. They are:
- A one-time $5,000 recruiting allowance to attract new teachers to the district to teach at one of the identified schools. This also applies to teachers transferred to one of the 12 schools.
- A return stipend of $5,000 to be paid in a lump sum to existing teachers returning to an identified school.
- A $4,000 retention allowance for any returning, transferred, or newly hired teachers to remain at these schools, paid over two years, based on attendance.
It would attract and retain teachers at 12 schools with large at-risk populations, schools that the district has historically struggled to staff enough, said LPSS Director of Employee Services John Mouton.
In addition to targeting specific schools, the Lafayette school system has declared critical shortages in subjects needing more teachers. These include the core subjects of math, science, social studies and English for higher grades and special education from kindergarten through third grade, Mouton said.
While there are still vacancies in the district, Mouton said it’s not as bad as last summer. As of July 5, LPSS had about half as many vacancies as the same time last year, he said.
But they are still actively looking to hire more teachers before school starts, advertising on billboards, online and in person at job fairs.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to let people know we’re hiring,” Mouton said. “Even though there is a shortage, there are plenty of qualified people. Sometimes we have to look for them or create our own.”
What does it take to recruit and retain teachers?
Incentive programs like those offered in Acadiana and throughout Louisiana are part of the vision U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently outlined for revamping the teaching profession.
In addition to incentives for historically hard-to-fill positions, he talked about raising salaries and infusing teacher training programs with more mentorship, hands-on experience and a concerted effort to attract more people from color in the profession.
Byler said recruiting and retaining teachers isn’t just about money. It’s a matter of respect and support.
“Education is tough right now,” he said. “The profession has lost respect. Social media has kind of killed the profession. Educators are still being criticized.”
Previous cover:Louisiana raises teacher salaries again. Will it help retain experienced teachers?
In other news:How preschool teachers and Louisiana lawmakers plan to keep kids out of jail
That’s why Vermilion joins with districts across the state to implement “development” programs such as Educators Rising Clubs to get young people thinking about careers in education.
“We have to do a better job,” Byler said. “We have to give our support as best we can.”
Support can vary depending on the teacher’s experience, Mouton said. A new teacher, a new uncertified or rotational certified teacher, and a veteran teacher all have different needs, but Mouton said district and school staff are available to provide varying levels of support.
“We’re also trying to connect new people with mentors, someone who’s been through the journey before,” Mouton said.
Either way, you have to start early, especially to keep teachers around longer, Byler explained. He calls it making them “go through the 3-5 year bump.”
Nationally, almost 50% of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. In Louisiana, about a third of new teachers quit every year.
“You’ll lose them early if you don’t support them early,” Byler said.
Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.
We start Educators Rising and partner with universities for our paras to return and work on their certification – working to develop our own