Staffing schools with teachers certified in math, science and special education proved difficult this year with some schools starting this school year with substitutes, local superintendents said during an Acadiana Press Club forum Monday.
It used to be easy to fill a room with candidates searching for jobs, but now, anyone who denies there’s a teacher shortage is seriously misinformed, Iberia Parish Superintendent Dale Henderson said.
“No longer does the day exist where we had teachers looking for work and we couldn’t hire them,” Henderson said. “There is definitely a teacher shortage.”
Henderson and superintendents from area parishes weighed in on the teacher shortage, Common Core and charter schools during the back-to-school forum. The panel included: John Bourque, of Acadia; Brian LeJeune, of Jeff Davis; Donald Aguillard, of Lafayette; Lottie Beebe, of St. Martin; Leonard Armato, of St. Mary; and Jerome Puyau, of Vermilion.
The superintendents attributed the teacher shortage to changing education policies, fewer graduates in specialized areas of the sciences and special education and employees opting to retire rather than stay in the classroom.
“There’s a smaller pool to pull from. More teachers are leaving,” LeJeune said. “You used to get people who stay past 30 years. These days, they get to their 30 and go to other things.”
Henderson hired 93 new teachers this school year. In Lafayette Parish, the number of new teachers is more than 150.
The Lafayette system also had to advertise twice that there was a critical shortage of teachers in math and special education, allowing the district to hire retirees certified in those positions. Lafayette schools still began last week short of 13 positions, which were staffed by substitutes.
In St. Martin Parish, there were four vacancies as of Monday and while the positions were previously filled, the teachers left for jobs in other school systems, Beebe said.
“Teacher attrition is always a concern for school systems,” Beebe said.
In Vermilion Parish, 60 new teachers were hired. “It’s the first time ever that two-thirds of them were first-time teachers out of college,” Puyau said. “It throws a new level of instruction and we’re happy to have the influx of bright ideas and energy.”
He jokingly thanked the other superintendents for contributing to the training for the other third that Vermilion Parish hired.
“It’s been a trying year to fill some of these positions,” he said.
The superintendents also addressed charter schools — asking for more oversight of those schools — and they also asked for better implementation of the new state tests that accompanied the Common Core State Standards.
While controversy over the Common Core State Standards has died down somewhat compared with the past two years, some of the superintendents questioned the implementation because educators won’t receive student performance data until October or likely November.
“We’re making decisions on last year’s data,” said Armato, the St. Mary superintendent. “We’re sitting there not sure which way to go. We may have made adjustments that don’t work. That we don’t need to make. November is just too late.”
Aguillard agreed: “We’re trying to adjust to difficulty of the Common Core and implementation of Common Core and how to make adjustments instructionally for our children this school year, yet we do not have any data to give us a direction on how to improve our practice.”
Puyau supports the standards but said the implementation should have been more gradual.
“I think the standards are fine,” he said. “Problem comes in if you don’t have the measure. If you don’t have those test results.”
A state standards review committee will address some of the ongoing criticism of the standards, Henderson said. The committee involves more than 100 educators from across the state.
“One of the early criticisms was that standards at early grades were not developmentally appropriate for those younger kids,” he said. “That will be a big emphasis of the work that the committee will do.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.