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Oklahoma school districts saddled with teacher shortage, survey finds

Administrators are hiring subs and under-qualified teachers to fill a void left by those who have left the profession or have moved out of Oklahoma, a group argues.
by Tim Willert Published: August 21, 2014
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photo - 
Fifth-grader Zyron, age 12, gets help from his teacher, Abbie Gatewood, while putting a cover on a notebook during the first day of school at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City on Aug. 7. At left is fifth-grader Kaliyah, age 10. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
Fifth-grader Zyron, age 12, gets help from his teacher, Abbie Gatewood, while putting a cover on a notebook during the first day of school at Positive Tomorrows in Oklahoma City on Aug. 7. At left is fifth-grader Kaliyah, age 10. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City Public Schools isn’t the only school district having a tough time filling classrooms with teachers.

Districts throughout the state are saddled with vacancies, and many are opting to hire substitutes and under-qualified instructors to counter the shortage, according to a survey conducted by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

“It’s certainly not the best case scenario for our students,” Shawn Hime, the association’s executive director, said Wednesday.

Districts representing nearly three-fourths of the state’s public school enrollment completed the survey during the first two weeks of August and reported more than 800 vacancies.

More than half of districts with vacancies have sought emergency certification for teachers who aren’t fully qualified to teach the subject and/or the grade level for which they were hired. About half of districts responding to the survey intend to use short-term or long-term substitutes in place of full-time teachers.

“The shortage is certainly real,” said Jim McCharen, a veteran educator who is superintendent of Choctaw-Nicoma Park Schools. “I’ve been in this business a long time and I never thought I would see the day we can’t find qualified teachers in Oklahoma.”

Low salaries and dissatisfaction are among the reasons teachers are choosing to leave the profession or moving to states that pay more, education officials said.

Hime said teachers in surrounding states earn between $2,000 and $10,000 more than teachers in Oklahoma, depending on experience and subject.

“Salary is obviously a big part of it,” said Phil Bacharach, a spokesman with the state Education Department. “There has been a problem with mentoring programs and professional development along with the ability to be promoted in the teaching profession.”

The Oklahoma City district has reached out to retirees and recent college graduates to cut its number of vacancies from about 150 to about 70. The remaining spots are being filled by substitutes.

“Of course we want a highly qualified teacher in every single classroom, but short- and long-term substitutes have value and serve a purpose in the interim,” said Chuck Tompkins, the district’s interim chief of human resources. “We are working diligently to hire the best and brightest teachers for our students and we are grateful to have caring and competent substitutes in place as we continue to work toward that goal.”

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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