Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 2 a.m.
With less than a month before the start of the school year, Clark County School District is facing a shortage of 800 teachers and doesn't have enough applicants to fill the positions.
At the end of July, the school district has filled about 1,200 of 2,000 open positions. The majority of those vacancies is concentrated at schools in low-income areas, which have a high turnover rate as teachers leave for better-funded suburban schools where student achievement is generally higher. Compounding the problem, the students in those low-income schools most need the stability of a teacher to start the year.
It’s a problem the district faces nearly every year, said Staci Vesneske, chief human resources officer at the school district. Teachers resign, veteran ones retire late in the summer, and the student population grows.
But this year, there have been added complications. Legislative actions reducing class sizes in several states have increased demand for teachers, making it difficult for the district to find applicants. At the same time, there has been a drought of schools producing qualified teachers. Students graduating with teaching degrees have dropped from 21 percent of all graduates in 1970 to just 6 percent in 2011.
As a result, the district is 500 teachers behind last year’s pace, Vesneske said. The school district expects to hire 200 to 300 more teachers before summer is over in a last-minute rush of applicants, but that still leaves a hole of at least 400 vacancies.
Here are a few ways the school district is attempting to solve the problem:
Every year, an army of substitute teachers is dispatched to schools throughout the district as temporary placeholders for the vacant positions.
Principals often have a preference of substitutes who will start the year with a class to ensure that students don’t fall behind. This year the district has hired 4,300 subs, its most ever. Typically, subs are only a short-term solution, patching the holes until they can be replaced by a midyear hire. Sometimes the school district is able to hire from the crop of substitute teachers to fill the role full time.
Not all paths to teaching are the same. With fewer and fewer students committing to a teaching degree in college, the school district has developed an alternate route-to-licensure program. This allows the district to target people with degrees in areas like microbiology or English, and turn them into teachers.
To become licensed, candidates take professional development courses on teaching, attend courses at UNLV and pass an exam to ensure they are proficient in their subject area. The program takes three months, and then the school district can hire the candidate. The district expanded its program to include elementary school teachers this fall and is expecting its largest class ever.
Virtual job fairs
In response to a decrease the district has seen in attendance at in-person educational job fairs, it also has turned to online job fairs hosted by job websites like CareerBuilder. The events allow the district to meet candidates through live webinar sessions and video conference interviews. These interviews allow district recruiters to reach a larger audience in the same way they would if it were a face-to-face job fair.
The district has job postings on nearly every major hiring website from CareerBuilder to education job sites to Craigslist. The websites allow the district to draw from the largest pool of applicants possible, but candidates also want to see where they’re going to work. To fix this issue, the school district created vegasteaching.org to provide a virtual tour of the district. It also encouraged schools with high vacancies to provide more details on the schools' website about their mission, programs and what makes them unique to attract the right candidates.
While life continues to go digital, the school district hasn’t forgotten about old-fashioned, in-person job fairs. School district representatives have set up booths in Oakland, San Diego, Long Beach, Calif., and all over Las Vegas. Although the career fairs allow them to reach hundreds of candidates at once, follow-up from candidates remains an issue.
“We went to a career fair in Long Beach, we got a lot of interest, but when it was all said and done we had very few applicants that actually filled out the application,” Vesneske said. “Even though we called them afterwards and followed up with emails, they just didn’t do it.”