Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 | 5:03 p.m.
Substitute teacher Mariella Castillo sat amid a sea of new teachers in the Venetian ballroom on Wednesday with one goal in mind — to join their ranks by the end of the year.
Castillo and her boyfriend had left their apartment and life behind in Pomona, Calif., to attend the Clark County School District’s teacher orientation. They still hadn’t found a place to live, but he had been hired as a full-time teacher and she had the opportunity she needed to become one.
While she was a substitute teacher in California, the jobs were scarce and the route to obtain a teaching license was complex and difficult. Las Vegas offered a classroom to substitute teach long-term and a program to receive her license by the end of the fall.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” said Castillo, who will teach fifth grade at Beckley Elementary School. “And Vegas opened the doors for me.”
Castillo was one of 400 long-term substitute teachers amid a sea of newly-hired teachers at the Venetian ballroom on Wednesday for Clark County School District’s teacher orientation. With the growing need for long-term subs to fill teaching vacancies and an expanding alternate route to a teaching license program, the district decided to include them in the orientation for the first time.
“What we’re doing with long-term substitutes is identifying who has a bachelor’s degree and wants to start our alternate route to licensure program,” said Staci Vesneske, chief human resources officer at the district.
This year the school district welcomed about 1,400 new teachers all experiencing a range of nerves and excitement. Some came from other school districts in search of better support, while others are starting their teaching careers fresh.
Craig Elementary School teacher Ranada Johnson was excited to be back in a classroom. She moved to Las Vegas with her family and decided to teach again after being an assistant principal in the Chicago Public School District for 14 years. Meanwhile, Leslie Fichtner was eager to prove herself at Manche Elementary School after years of subbing and struggling to find a full-time position in California.
“It’ll be my first full year teaching,” Fichtner said. “I’m overwhelmed and excited.”
The annual event is designed to acclimate teachers to the school district and Las Vegas. Teachers are introduced to Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and Mayor Carolyn Goodman, they attend curriculum orientation courses and are invited to sign up for social clubs.
While the teachers packed the ballroom for the event, the district is still facing a vast teaching shortage. The district needs to fill more than 600 positions before the start of school on Aug. 25.
Some of the positions will be filled with long-term subs, but the district is about 400 teachers behind last year’s pace when it hired 1,800 teachers. Part of the reason for the gap is a decrease in out-of-state teachers as other schools increase hiring to comply with a new standard of classroom sizes, Vesneske said.
As a result, only 39 percent of this year's new teachers are from out-of-state compared to 52 percent last year. With a dwindling pipeline of teaching graduates, those teachers are crucial.
Vesneske said turning some of those long-term substitute teachers into full-time teachers will be important in filling out the remaining vacancies.
Castillo hopes to be one of those teachers by the end of the year.