DCPS working to fill teacher vacancies with new initiative

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Schools across the nation are feeling the impact of the teacher shortage, brought to the forefront by the pandemic.

According to the latest job report, in the U.S., there were 575,000 fewer local and state education employees in October 2021 than in February 2020.

Duval County School District officials said they’re feeling the impact at every level in their school community, but they are working to ensure student learning is not affected.

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Action News Jax Courtney Cole requested to learn how many teacher vacancies there are throughout the district now, compared to previous school years.

While she waits for that answer, she looked into the district’s efforts to recruit more teachers into the classroom.

“I have stood true to what I’ve been called to do,” said teacher DeWitt Robinson. Robinson has been teaching for more than 19 years. He’s worked at Andrew Jackson High School and Jean Ribault. He currently teaches history at Impact Christian Academy.

For Robinson, that calling has always been to find a way to impact the next generation.

Cole asked, “How did you end up in teaching?”

“Great question!” Robinson said. “Teaching was always embedded in me. My grandfather was a teacher. My great grandfather was a teacher. Several of my uncles were teachers.”

Growing up, Robinson said the pathway of education has always been at the forefront.

“Several teachers were influential growing up. Mr. Floyd, my seventh grade social studies teacher, my 12th grade, Mr. Taylor social studies teacher,” Robinson said.

Now he hopes to play the same role in the lives of his students.

Right now, the Duval County School District is looking for 1,000 teachers, men of color, to fill their classrooms by 2025.

It’s part of an initiative led by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. They’re partnering with the University of North Florida, City Year, and Teach for America.

The school district tells me it will help address the teacher shortage and diversity.

“When students are engaged with someone who looks like them, the talks like them, then we can certainly expect to see achievement skyrocket as well,” Robinson told Action News Jax Courtney Cole.

“I believe the celebrating teaching is part of the solution to recruiting more teachers, particularly more male teachers,” Robinson continued, “There is often the glorification of those that may be star athletes, perhaps pursuing something in the entertainment industry through music or production of music or the other arts. But I do think that one of the things that we all can do is celebrate those guys that are coming up to the school, showing up 180 days out of the year, to be in the forefront of the students.”

Duval County Public Schools tells me they have to work creatively to minimize the impact teacher vacancies have on students.

Right now, the district works with vendor ESS, which employs more than 2,200 substitute teachers in their pool. “This serves as the primary solution for a majority of our short-term teacher vacancy needs,” said Sonya Duke-Bolden, a member of the DCPS media team.

“For many schools, it is not unusual to find a principal, assistant principal, dean, academic coach, interventionist, or school counselor in the classroom teaching to ensure students are engaged in learning,” said Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene via email.

“These are truly heroes on the frontlines, engaged in a battle to recover learning loss from the pandemic during a moment when school districts across the country are working through the challenge of a teacher shortage. In addition to school-based personnel teaching in the classroom, we have also shifted the majority of our district-level academic team – academic coaches and specialists who normally provide professional development to educators – into the classroom as well. These are highly accomplished educators who have elevated to leadership roles because of their expertise. While these tactics help meet some of the need, I can’t stress enough that they must be seen as short-term. Our long-term solution is continuing to invest in teacher recruitment and retention initiatives, with an emphasis on strategic community collaboration. The persistent issue of teacher shortage is a comprehensive problem that needs a comprehensive, community-based solution.”

For those who are thinking of a career change or already planning to go into education, Robinson has this message to share:

“So consider it as an opportunity to give back, to make a meaningful connection, to better their community by paying it forward.”

The Duval County School District wants female teachers too, and people from all walks of life.

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The district currently has three other recruitment programs open. Here is the information:

  • LEAP – Helps individuals to earn bachelor’s degrees and encourage them to teach obtain their teaching certification, so they can be eligible for hire by Jan. 1, 2022.
  • S.T.A.R.T.: This is for current DCPS employees with an associate’s degree and a desire to teach. Through a partnership with St. Leo University, UNF, and FSCJ, the program offers an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in education at a low-cost.
  • Project Jumpstart: This is a program that helps place individuals who are eligible to teach into hard-to-fill content area positions. The program has a six-week training component, two weeks of which are spent apprenticing under a master educator in the classroom.
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