Wednesday, July 13, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Could this be the year when Clark County schools start to turn around the teacher shortage?
It’s looking increasingly possible, according to school district hiring data released this week.
As of this week, the district has around 470 full-time teaching positions left to fill. While that’s still a lot, it’s a major improvement over the roughly 1,030 empty positions the district was scrambling to fill around this time last year.
Even better news: The district has made the most progress filling positions in Title I schools, which serve large numbers of low-income students. Those schools often suffer the highest number of vacancies due to a perception that teaching in them is more difficult than at schools where families have more means.
Vacancies in Title I schools are at 358 compared to 825 in mid-July last year, according to the district.
At many of the district’s 24 primarily low-income Victory Schools, which received a combined $20.7 million in extra funding last school year to improve performance, vacancies have been drastically reduced.
Valley High School, for example, went into last school year short around 15 teachers. Now, administrators there are looking to fill only five positions with over a month to go before school starts.
The difference is staggering, especially considering how many teachers leave the district through retirement, moving out of state or switching professions. Turnover is typically 6 to 9 percent every year.
“We did hire a lot of people last year, just not enough,” said Michael Gentry, the district’s interim recruitment chief. “Starting in January, we embarked on a more direct campaign.”
That included purchasing the contact info for thousands of teachers across the country and flooding inboxes with pitches for jobs in Las Vegas, Gentry said. A key selling point: a recently renegotiated contract with a higher starting salary and better pay across the board. First-year teachers now make $40,900, up from $34,000.
Gentry said the district had been particularly successful at drawing teachers away from Chicago, California, Pennsylvania, Miami and Dallas. A major reason is the cost of living. Housing costs can be more than 30 percent cheaper in Las Vegas than in other major cities.
“If you roll all that up, it becomes a pretty attractive sale particularly for young teachers,” Gentry said.
Gentry estimated the district’s marketing, including more than a dozen Facebook ads, has reached more than 2 million teachers across the country.
The effort has been helped by a number of other positive developments, including an easing of teacher licensing requirements by Gov. Brian Sandoval and a renewed push to hire hundreds of teachers previously turned away from the state.
The issue of the teacher shortage has also been a prime topic in local education circles, producing a number of programs designed to put teachers back into classrooms.
New teachers are being trained with the state’s Teach Nevada scholarships and others are being enticed by bonuses for teachers who work in at-risk schools. On top of that, schools like Western Nevada College are offering robust licensing programs.
More troubling is a persistent shortage of special education teachers. Special education vacancies account for the majority of vacancies in all but four of the CCSD’s 16 Performance Zones, groups of around 20 schools overseen by an academic manager.
Gentry wouldn’t estimate where the district would be with vacancies when school starts in late August.
“We still have five or six weeks to go, and we’re pushing as hard as we can,” he said.