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San Benito County teacher shortage goes beyond full-time positions

As administrators scramble to fill vacancies, teachers are hiring more to make up for staffing and replacement shortages.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Kinsey Canez

Hollister High School had 29 teaching positions open before the 2022-23 school year.

Keith Thorbahn, assistant superintendent of educational services with the San Benito County Office of Education, said many county schools are scrambling to hire teachers.

“It’s hard to make sure you’re full,” he said. “There are more openings, in some cases, than there are teachers available or applying for positions. That’s a factor here in this area.

Some school districts have attempted to address shortages through recruiting practices such as job fairs, teacher preparation programs, and building relationships with nearby universities to bring in student teachers, but have consistently struggled to attract interested candidates.

In interviews, several human resource managers and school teachers from local districts said that it was particularly difficult to hire math and science teachers. In addition, some districts have difficulty finding specialist teachers.

“They are trying to recruit more professionals in this field, but it is not an easy change; it’s not something you can fix overnight,” Thorbahn said. “I don’t think there’s a lack of effort to try to recruit highly qualified teachers or highly qualified people in education.”

Public schools across the country are struggling to hire teachers. According a survey published earlier this year by the National Education Association, 55% of US public school educators plan to leave the profession “sooner than they expected.” Another one national survey by EdWeek Research Center reported that nearly “three-quarters of public school principals said they did not receive enough applications to fill vacancies.”

The need for teachers is complicated and complex. Factors such as pay rates, location, and increased job responsibilities are fueling the shortage, and schools are suffering differently.

Cindi Krokower, director of human resources at Hollister High School, said that in addition to receiving fewer applicants, there seems to be less interest in entering the education field or moving for a job.

“During recruitment, we find fewer people willing to move for a job than in the past,” Krokower said. “Applicants shared their reluctance to come to Hollister due to their concern with finding affordable housing.”

The district, which served 3,423 students in the School year 2021-22was able to fill all of his teaching positions before the start of the school year.

Anne Siri, director of human resources for the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, has noticed similar trends in her district.

“I think it’s especially difficult here because we’re more rural without big city infrastructure,” she said. “It also impacts our schools because we want to serve our students with fully accredited teachers.”

Siri attributes the staffing shortage to changing curriculum standards, stress, low pay and changing classroom environments since the pandemic.

“Our young teachers are starting out in a profession at less than $60,000 a year, which makes it very difficult to find adequate housing in this neighborhood,” she said. “I know some big neighborhoods are starting to offer subsidized housing, which is hard for a neighborhood our size to compete with.”

In the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, which serves 1,017 studentsSiri said there are 4 vacancies left to be filled.

Robert Huneywell, a history teacher at Anzar High School and vice president and chair of two departments of the Aromas-San Juan Teachers Association, said the teacher shortage predates the pandemic.

“While teachers have always fought for our proper salaries, people – both parents and the government – have continued to demand more and more of them,” he said.

In the years before the pandemic, staffing shortages forced teachers to take on even more tasks in their daily schedules, he said. And although this has been happening for decades, the responsibilities of teachers have become increasingly onerous since the pandemic.

“Remote learning showed who had the capacity to handle this new phase and unfortunately accelerated the retirements of those who said it was too much,” Huneywell said. “And now, with more and more vacancies, the burden falls on those who are still teaching.”

Sometimes, he added, when there are classes without teachers, students are placed in other existing classes, creating more assignments to grade and a greater likelihood of classroom management issues. And, since the pandemic, there’s been more pressure on teachers to help students regain skills they might have lost while teaching remotely.

Huneywell said schools are wondering how long they have before current teachers burn out and there is no one left to replace them.

And the shortage goes beyond teachers. Classified support staff – bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers – are also urgently needed, as are substitute teachers.

At Anzar, Huneywell noticed that the two main groups of people who regularly fill in – retired teachers and new graduates waiting for an open teaching position – have changed. “Many aren’t eager to walk into a cramped room with 30 other people who might have COVID,” he said. “Which further reduces our subpool.”

Nicole Felkins, a seventh and eighth grade history teacher at Marguerite Maze Middle School and president of the Hollister Elementary School Teachers’ Association, has worked in the Hollister School District for five years. This year, in addition to her history lessons, she is teaching art on an optional basis.

Due to the shortage of substitute teachers, Felkins said teachers often have to cover the periods of their absent colleagues.

“Administrators are scrambling to find contractors in the district. And if they can’t find a replacement, they ask the teachers to replace him during this preparation period,” she said. “So this is that hour you have, if you’re an introvert like me, to recharge your batteries, and instead you walk into a classroom. It could be that you are a fifth grade teacher and you walk into a kindergarten class and therefore it is not your element.

Even schools that were able to fill teaching positions before the current school year are anticipating shortages of substitute teachers.

John Schilling, principal of Southside Elementary School and superintendent of the Southside Elementary School District, only had to find a replacement for a part-time staff member, but said the biggest challenge would be “filling in the absences with substitute teachers. I think every school in the county struggles with that.

Schilling is not alone in this view.

Jenny Bernosky, principal of Spring Grove School and superintendent of the North County Union School District, said that while all teaching positions have been filled and the school is full, she expects her school is affected by the shortage of substitute teachers when teachers are absent.

To address this issue, some school districts are relaxing some of their requirements and increasing substitute teacher salaries.

In 2021, the San Benito School District voted to increase the daily wage rate $225 for substitute teachers. The Hollister School District has increased the per diem rate for substitute teachers to $213 and waived CBEST requirement for people with a bachelor’s degree.

“The best we can hope for is enough to stay and for new teachers to come in,” Huneywell said. “Worst? Well, let’s stay positive.

The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid skills development program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by the Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.

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