Division looks to address teacher shortage, plans to be outlined to School Board

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Suffolk Public Schools officials plan to address the division’s teacher shortage as the new school year approaches during the School Board’s work session Thursday.

As of Aug. 5, the school division had 106 teaching vacancies — 47 of them in elementary schools, 17 at middle schools and 42 at high schools, according to an instructional overview document prepared for the meeting. The issue of teacher shortages is not unique to Suffolk, as school divisions across the region, state and country also work to address it.

And while hiring continues, the division has prioritized how it will mitigate any vacancies once the school year starts Sept. 6.

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Currently, the division’s plans note that it can address 26 of the 47 elementary school vacancies through a combination of condensed classrooms (nine) and long-term substitutes (17), leaving 21 positions unfilled.

At the middle school level, it can reduce six of the 17 vacancies through condensed classrooms and three more with long-term substitutes and another four by using its virtual platform.

Of the 42 high school vacancies, it currently plans to address six of those through long-term substitutes, 12 by having a sixth-block class and another 14 by using its virtual platform, leaving 10 unfilled classroom positions.

Its first choice at all levels is to make condensing classrooms to mitigate vacancies the priority. Its second choice at the elementary and middle school level is to use long-term substitutes, and by adding a sixth-block class at the high school level.

Its third priority at the elementary level is to use a hybrid sync teacher and learning facilitator, and use the division’s virtual platform for middle and high school vacancies.

Next, at the elementary level, it would use the virtual platform, and at the middle and high school, use a hybrid sync teacher and learning facilitator.

Chief of Schools Dr. Stenette Byrd III is expected to outline the division’s approach to addressing teacher staffing shortages. Among the strategies, it has increased pay for teachers by 7.46% to 8.26% and for support staff by 5% to 5.5%. Bus drivers also received a 5.84% raise, with their minimum pay increasing to $15.30 per hour.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III has said the raises are needed to be competitive in pay with neighboring school divisions to help retain staff and attract new people to the division. The pay scale for teachers increased by about $3,000 at the low end of the scale, from $46,350 to $49,316. At the higher end of the scale for more experienced teachers, it increased by about $5,000, from $77,641 to $82,609.

The division also plans to provide added compensation for extra duties, along with in-classroom instructional support at schools with high numbers of long-term substitute teachers, additional student support and take a strategic approach to staffing.

Some of those student supports include intervention support staff at the high school and middle school level, virtual facilitators, after school tutoring for secondary students, continuing with the SPS Saturday Academy, implementing a Virtual Virginia study skills block for SPS Online students with disabilities and using university instructors as tutors.

This school year, there are 220 students enrolled in SPS Online — 78 for elementary, 85 for middle and 57 for high school.

Gordon said in June the division would continue with staff bonuses for new hires ($250) and hard-to-fill positions in areas such as math and special education ($2,000) and said it would expand its reach to find new staff.

The SPS Strategic Plan will also be on the work session agenda, and among the items on the regular meeting agenda include a recap of the SPS Summer Series.

The complete agenda for the Aug. 11 board meeting can be found at https://suffolk.ic-board.com/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=521. The work session begins at 5 p.m. and the regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School.