Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg gains new teachers, but the numbers still don’t add up

Benjamin Franklin High School on 6th Street in Harrisburg.

The Harrisburg School District has reduced its district-wide teacher shortage since the beginning of the summer but still began the school year with 12 unfilled positions, according to a district spokesperson.

Kirsten Keys, public relations coordinator for the district, said that most of the vacancies are at the 9th to 12th grade level, specifically at John Harris High School campus.

At the start of the summer, the district had 40 vacant teaching positions. School officials intensified recruitment efforts by holding the district’s first-ever hiring fair, which took place July 13 at the Lincoln Administration Building on State Street. The event allowed district recruiters to interview more than 115 candidates in person and via video call. Keys said that the hiring fair ultimately brought the district between eight and 10 new teachers, since not all applicants who interviewed met state standards.

She said that the district considers the fair “a big success” and plans to host another in 2018.

Teacher shortages are a perennial problem among districts in Pennsylvania, where the number of graduates from teacher-training programs has declined in the past four years. According to data from the state Department of Education, the number of newly certified teachers has fallen from 16,631 in 2013 to 6,125 in 2015.

As the number of qualified teaching applicants has declined, retirements have increased as baby boomers age out of the workforce.

Pennsylvania schools can obtain an “Emergency Permit” from the state, meaning that if they advertise for a position and find no qualified applicants, they may hire an applicant who has not obtained a Pennsylvania teaching certification. The candidate must have earned a bachelor’s degree from a state-approved college or university and must meet all other eligibility requirements, according to the Department of Education website.

Keys said that the district currently employs 28 teachers who were hired under an emergency permit. They will fill other vacant positions with short- or long-term substitutes that they find through a professional substitute agency.

Staffing a school doesn’t end with the recruiting and hiring process, however. Harrisburg schools have struggled in the past with teacher retention. More than 50 employees resigned last year, despite a new, district-wide mentorship program meant to promote retention.

Author: Lizzy Hardison

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