JCPS struggling to fill more than 100 teacher vacancies
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – District officials are struggling to fill more than 100 vacancies in Jefferson County Public Schools so that students have qualified teachers in their classrooms.
The issue came to light during Monday night’s school board meeting when board member Linda Duncan said she was concerned about the number of teacher vacancies in the district.
“Many of these vacancies are in our priority schools and some other schools that are tiering that way,” Duncan said. ““We are coming up at mid-year – is this unusual? It seems to be a pretty high number to me.”
Michael Raisor, JCPS chief operations officer, said while the numbers are not that uncommon, it does concern the district.
“I’d say we have a few more than we typically do, but nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “Being a large organization, we are constantly experiencing resignations, retirements, new openings and we are always working diligently to fill those.”
Duncan’s concern over the vacancies came one day after a WDRB investigation showed that some of the district’s teachers are resigning over bad student behavior and a lack of district support.
Of the 107 teacher openings, 47 of those are in high schools, 20 in middle schools and 13 are at the elementary level. The rest are in special education, early childhood and other areas.
“That’s only about 1.4 percent of our staff, but if that is your child’s classroom, we understand that is 100 percent of their learning,” Raisor said. “It’s something we take very seriously.”
Raisor said that while some schools have been given a list of teachers they can interview or hire for the open positions, others don’t have any candidates to choose from.
At the Academy @ Shawnee – one of the state’s lowest performing schools – there are currently six vacancies and there aren’t any teachers available.
“There are students here who will go through two, three or four class periods in a day that are being filled by substitutes,” said Gay Adelmann, whose son is a senior at Shawnee. “And we have had these 5-6 vacancies since the start of the school year. With three more teachers out on extended leave, we start each day with as many as 8-9 subs as our baseline.”
Adelmann said it’s a frustrating situation for students and parents, especially since Shawnee has been designated as a ‘priority school’ by the Kentucky Department of Education because of low test scores.
“I want to know what the district is doing to treat us like a priority,” she said. “When we have all of these vacancies a third of the way into the school year…why isn’t the district doing more to make sure they are filled first. That’s what the word priority means, taking precedence over others.”
Duncan said she doesn’t understand why schools like Shawnee aren’t being staffed first.
“Most of our vacancies are at our schools that are in the highest need of qualified, certified teachers,” Duncan said. “This is a huge concern to me.”
Adelmann, who spends a lot of time at Shawnee and volunteers in the community, said she has discussed the issue with principal Venita Benboe, who took over the school’s lead on Aug. 10 – two days before the first day of school.
“One of our students told me that one of his subs handed out a worksheet and said, ‘Don’t ask me any questions, I’m not an English major.’” Adelmann said. “We also have an 11th grade math sub who has never taught math.”
Benboe told WDRB News on Wednesday that Shawnee is “partnering with human resources to fill these positions as soon as possible with people who are the best fit.”
In the meantime, preferred subs are being used at Shawnee, said Bonnie Hackbarth, a JCPS spokeswoman.
“Preferred Substitute slots are allocated to some schools to assist with filling teacher assignments due to leaves such as sick leaves, professional development and personal leaves,” Hackbarth said, adding that preferred subs receive an extra $15 on their daily rate to report to the assigned school every school day.
Benboe said the preferred subs are people who are “in the building every day, the students know them and they know our students.”
Meanwhile, Duncan said she met with Superintendent Donna Hargens on Tuesday to talk about the resignations, vacancies and how to move the district forward.
“I want to know if there is additional support that our schools need,” Duncan said. “As a board member, I am there to approve what we need. If we need more people in individual places, I'm there to support that and approve that.”
Dozens of JCPS teachers from different schools contacted WDRB saying students are verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing other students, teachers and staff. Some of the teachers say the situation has gotten so bad they're resigning.
Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, 72 teachers have resigned. That's an increase from 62 teachers during the same time frame last year.
“I don’t want parents worrying that every teacher is heading for the hills,” Raisor said. “But just like every kid, every teacher is important to us, every staff member is important and we are trying to support each and every one of them.”
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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