The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 02, 2018 1:00 am

57 vacancies: FWCS hit by national teacher shortage

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne Community Schools is entering its fourth week of the academic year but is still short an essential school supply: teachers.

As of last week, it had 57 teacher vacancies, including 11 elementary positions posted the second week of class due to increasing enrollment at some schools, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said. The district has about 1,800 teachers.

It's not alone in starting the year short-staffed. Schools nationwide are feeling the effects of a teacher shortage.

“We still have districts that have positions that are open. We're well area of that,” Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public education, said last month at the annual meeting of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

Other Allen County public school districts reported few, if any, teaching openings. East Allen had two in late August, down from four and seven in each of the previous school years; Southwest Allen had one; and Northwest Allen had none by the start of the academic year.

With the exception of the new elementary posts, the number of openings at FWCS is typical, Stockman said. She expects the new positions will be “relatively easy” to fill because of the availability of licensed elementary teachers.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 classrooms were staffed by underqualified teachers at the start of last academic year, according to a report the Learning Policy Institute released last week.

According to the nonprofit's analysis, Indiana scores low in teaching attractiveness, which considered compensation, working conditions, qualifications and turnover. On a five-point scale, with five being the most desirable, Indiana scored 2.07. It lagged behind Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, whose scores ranged from 3.22 to 3.48.

Even so, Trine University offers encouraging news from the Class of 2018: Of the 15 education majors now employed as teachers, 13 work in Indiana.

“Our state has a critical need for teachers, and Trine University and the Franks School of Education are proud to provide excellent educators – as evidenced by the consistently positive feedback we receive from principals and superintendents – to help meet this need,” Anthony Kline, the school's dean, said in a statement.

Overall, there was a 20 percent increase statewide in new teacher licenses from January 2017 through July 2018 compared to January 2015 through July 2016, said Adam Baker, Indiana Department of Education spokesman.

“But until we have two years worth of data, we will not know for sure if this is a trend,” he said in an email.

Effects of teacher shortages vary nationwide, and many states are working to address shortages and strengthen their educator workforce, the Learning Policy Institute reported. Efforts include teacher residencies, mentoring for new teachers, providing incentives for retired teachers to return to the classroom, and service scholarship programs – such as Indiana's Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship for students promising to teach in the state for five years. In exchange, students can receive up to $7,500 each year for four academic years.

The institute identified competitive compensation as another strategy to attract and retain teachers. Beginning teachers nationally earn about 20 percent less than college-educated people in other fields, it reported, and the gap widens to 30 percent by mid-career.

“We're in a really odd, interesting time right now, but a lot of it goes back to pay matters,” McCormick said.

Teachers are especially needed for special education, math and science, McCormick said. The situation mirrors a nationwide trend: The Learning Policy Institute reports nearly every state identified shortages in those subjects.

East Allen and Southwest Allen county schools reported a special education opening in late August.

Advance notice of a job change is appreciated, but Phyllis Davis, Southwest Allen's human resources director, knows that's not always possible. Of the 55 positions the district had to fill for the new year, only the special education role – created by a late-summer resignation – remains open. A licensed, long-term substitute is covering that class, she said.

Special education and math are Fort Wayne Community's highest-need subject areas, Stockman said. She noted 12 of the openings last week were for math and 18 were for special education. 

The district relies on substitutes until full-time teachers are hired, she said.

“For long-term subs, we use certified teachers whenever possible,” Stockman said in an email. “These would be retired teachers or other certified teachers who don't have/want a full-time position.”

Global Indiana is providing another resource for schools. It administers the Exchange Visitor Program for The Sagamore Institute, pairing schools with teachers from other countries. Along with foreign languages, the educators teach special education, math and elementary grades, said Martha Martin, board of trustees president.

The program has the added benefit of exposing students to other cultures, she said.

Participants include schools in Indianapolis, Columbus, Valparaiso and Decatur, where two teachers are assigned to Bellmont High School, according to a list Martin provided.

Although Indiana is its focus, Global Indiana also has partnerships in Arizona, Florida and New Mexico, Martin said.

“They desperately needed teachers on an Indian reservation,” she said of the latter.

Teachers, who have a J-1 visa, can teach in the United States up to five years, Martin said. She stressed they aren't coming to take work away from Americans.

“We don't have people to fill these jobs,” she said.

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