School officials acting on anticipated teacher shortage

Pass resolution to support creating task force

Though school district representatives in St. Charles Parish say the matter has not reached a critical point locally, they admit an ever-shortening number of teachers getting certifications statewide is a growing concern.

At its last meeting, the St. Charles Parish School Board unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Louisiana State Association of School Personnel Administrators’ request of Governor John Bel Edwards and the Education Committee Chairs of the Senate and House of Representatives to create a task force that would address teacher shortage.

The resolution noted that despite ambitious recruiting efforts, the school district has seen a decline in the pool of teacher applicants, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and special education. It also states the parish would benefit from more teacher applicants, but also the implementation of the more diverse workforce that could come with that.

Parish School Board President Alex Suffrin said the resolution is intended as a proactive way to address the concern.

“The number of educational program ‘completers’ at universities continues to decline. Consequently, our teacher applicant pools continue to decline, causing the shortage, especially in the areas of mathematics, science and special education,” Suffrin said. “It is our hope that with the proper dialogue, engagement and collaboration by all parties concerned with public education, we can overcome the challenge and improve the shortage dilemma.”

Tresa Webre, assistant superintendent of Human Resources and Administrative Services for St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said that while the need for more teachers is at a critical level in many districts, St. Charles Parish has been able to keep classrooms staffed with certified educators.

“It’s more about the future,” Webre said. “If we don’t see something to change this path of fewer students going into education at the university level, then eventually I’m afraid we’ll all be trying to hire the same candidates. They’ll be fewer and fewer. Right now, we have certified teachers in our classrooms, so there isn’t a sense of urgency for us, but we want to be proactive and not wait for the point where we do have that big problem to solve.”

Webre added that while there has been coverage for teachers who may have to leave unexpectedly due to illness or transfer, that pool of substitutes has also become thinner.

Parish Schools Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker noted that the State Department of Education superintendent has started a campaign addressing the same issue.

“We’re hoping that the passage of this resolution to ask the government to create a task force, along with the work the state superintendent is doing will complement each other,” Gomez-Walker said.

She said changes made over the years in education have made it more challenging to be a teacher.

“People are looking at what’s happening on the national landscape, as well as in the state, when they’re making decisions about what they’re going into,” she said, “and they’re looking in other areas.”

Sonny Savoie, School Board District 4 member, agreed something has to be done to reverse the trend.

“When you look at the amount of teachers in the pipeline and the amount of need, it’s very, very unbalanced,” he said. “We’re at a disadvantage with the population we have, and the population is growing. It’s a double-whammy for school systems and it’s a big problem.”

Savoie blamed increasing negativity aimed at teaching for the problem.

“For too many years, people around the country have really blasted the teaching profession, talking about how schools are terrible,” he said. “So why would that encourage anyone, anywhere to become a teacher and face that disregard for the profession?”

Savoie added, “There’s a group of people out there that would like to turn education upside down. I don’t know that it helps. If you want to help, you don’t degrade the people working in the school system and ask them to perform at a high level.”

He said it’s especially harmful to a profession that is more a vocation than a job.

“You have the love of education, you stick it out for awhile, but eventually, when people keep beating on you, you look for something else,” Savoie said. “We have to reestablish the mindset that this profession is a noble profession.”

One way of combating the problem is the STAR (Students Teaching and Reaching) program at the Satellite Center, where students interested in becoming educators attend and learn through active engagement and real-life teaching experiences. The school system has also beefed up recruiting, speaking with students early to talk about what it means to be an educator.

“We know we need to jump ahead by building our own (teachers),” Webre said. “We know if our students go off and become teachers, they’re more likely to come back, move here and stay here and ultimately become a part of our community in a big way.”

Data gathered by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) found that the number of undergraduate completers earning teacher certification in colleges of education throughout the state decreased from 1,638 to 1,378 between the 2012-13 and 2016-17 school years, according to OPSB’s own resolution that passed on the matter last week.

Other points noted in the Orleans resolution were:

*The number of alternative certification completers throughout the state decreased from 518 to 366 that for three consecutive years, from 2012-13 to 2016-17.

*Over 80 percent of those who obtained certification did so in physical education, elementary education and pre-Kindergarten through third grade, with less than 20 percent earning certification in all other areas including middle school and high school education and math, science and English.

*As a result of the decrease of certified teachers, 1,517 individuals were issued a temporary authority to teach since September of 2014, accounting for 4.3 percent of all teaching certificates issued from Sept. 1 of that year through November 13 of 2017.



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