PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Tuesday marks one year since Virginia schools shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, school divisions across the state have juggled getting students safely back in the classroom while also dealing with a teacher shortage.
Hampton Roads school divisions tell 10 On Your Side teacher vacancies have added another challenging layer to the pandemic, but they’re adapting and recruiting to get those positions filled.
In a year that’s been anything but normal, school officials said one thing has remained the same.
“We always have an issue with being able to fill all of our vacancies,” said Jessica Duren, executive director of Human Resources for Portsmouth Public Schools.
Teacher vacancies have been steadily climbing in the commonwealth over the last decade.
According to the Virginia Education Agency, there were 440 teacher openings 10 years ago. That number ballooned to more than 1,000 last year.
Portsmouth Public Schools currently has the highest number of unfilled teaching positions in Hampton Roads at 62 vacancies. It’s followed by Norfolk Public Schools with 54 vacancies.
Suffolk Public Schools has 38 vacancies, Newport News Public Schools has 37 vacancies, Chesapeake Public Schools has 33 vacancies, Virginia Beach City Public Schools has 19 vacancies, and Hampton City Schools has 16 vacancies.
Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools is the lowest on the list with just 9 teacher openings.
“We do have a slightly increased number at this point in the school year,” Duren said. “They are mostly in elementary and special ed.”
Duren said some teachers decided not to return for the current school year due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, but she added there are several reasons for the shortage.
“There are less people going into the education field at this time and also, competition here is very high,” Duren said.
Chesapeake Public Schools echoed that sentiment.
“Our candidate pool for this year is about 30% less,” said Dr. Sherry Wilson, director of Human Resources for Chesapeake Public Schools.
Wilson said the division currently has 33 vacancies. She tells 10 On Your Side filling special education and math positions is a challenge.
“Those are the areas that we are looking for teachers in all the time,” Wilson said.
Both school divisions said they’ve adjusted by using long-term substitutes and other teaching staff to fill the gap.
“We are thankful that we have been able to navigate it,” Duren said.
Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) told 10 On Your Side education has been hit hard by the pandemic. The recent American Rescue Plan will give Virginia K-12 schools more than $2 billion.
“In addition to that, to end the teacher shortage, you’re going to have to make sure that college is accessible,” Scott said.
He also said more needs to be done to retain teachers like increasing pay and improving working conditions.
Both Chesapeake and Portsmouth Public Schools have proposed increases for starting teacher salaries.
In Portsmouth, starting teacher pay is $46,745.55 for the 2020-2021 school year. A spokeswoman said that is expected to increase for 2021-2022.
In Chesapeake, the proposed increase in starting teacher salary is $47,150. The actual total will be finalized in May.
Virginia Beach school officials have also proposed a 5% raise for teachers in next year’s budget.
In the meantime, school divisions are actively recruiting through virtual job fairs. Chesapeake recently started using targeted online marketing to find applicants.
“If they type in certain keywords, Chesapeake Public Schools will populate and an ad will come up,” said Sarah Boone, who’s also with Human Resources for Chesapeake Public Schools. “From that ad, they were directed to our CPS recruitment website.”
They’re also finding new ways to stand out.
Portsmouth is offering $1,000 in sign-on and relocation bonuses and other perks.
School officials said they’re ready to hire qualified candidates and offer support every step of the way.
“We are excited to talk to anyone who wants to join our team and come shine brighter with us,” said Duren.
If you’re interested in learning more about teaching positions at Portsmouth Public Schools, click here.
If you’re interested in learning more about teaching positions at Chesapeake Public Schools, click here.