Aug. 15, 2002 – Facing 11th hour resignations and other teacher shortages for the school year about to get under way, as well as the mandate to form a functional substitute pool, Education Department officials are asking former teachers to come out of retirement and help to fill the gaps — with limited success so far.
Alscess Lewis-Brown, the department's human resources director, said that although there are more than 10 vacancies throughout the territory at the moment, things are looking up in terms of personnel. "This summer, I think we did pretty well in terms of identifying and finding people for all of the vacancies that we had when school closed," she said.
A problem now is a spate of recent teacher resignations. "We're trying to discourage people from leaving us at the drop of the hat," Lewis-Brown said. "It really isn't professional at all."
According to an Education release, 10 teachers have submitted their resignations since Aug. 1 — four on St. Croix and six in the St. Thomas-St. John district. Lewis-Brown said several more have followed suit since then.
"A great deal of planning and recruitment activities … must be conducted in order to achieve proper staffing levels for each school year," she said. "The department must have sufficient lead time in order to provide adequately for the growing needs of our student population."
In an effort to put together a sufficient substitute teacher pool, Education officials are reaching out to retirees and others in the community, in part to fill in where needed because of vacancies. Lewis-Brown said the department is seeking candidates who fulfill the basic requirements for serving as a substitute teacher.
In order to be considered, applicants must meet at least one of the following criteria:
– Have five years of teaching experience and passing grades on a minimum of five regular or advanced-level subjects at a recognized learning institution.
– Be a current college student with at least two years of college, an associate degree or 60 semester hours of credits.
– Have four years of post-secondary education with at least a bachelor's degree.
– Be employed by a V.I. or federal government agency or business and able to work two days per week on dual employment for at least an hour and a half each of those days.
– Hold a valid or expired teaching certificate.
Last November, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools terminated its accreditation of the three V.I. public high schools that had been accredited. One of the reasons cited was the territory's lack of a functional substitute teacher pool. Another concern that has been expressed repeatedly is the lack of teacher certification for many of those in the classrooms.
Retired teachers are being targeted for the substitute teacher pool because "they would be the best substitutes in terms of the system and the students," Lewis-Brown said. "We are trying to encourage them."
She said retired teachers interested either in working as substitutes or in returning to the classroom on a full-time basis should contact the Board of Education, at 774-4546 on St. Thomas or 772-4144 on St. Croix. There is a new certification process with a $10 fee, she noted.
"We've had maybe four or five expressing interest in filling the substitution pool," she said. "On St. Croix, we've had one return to full duty." She added, "We're hitting the phones and hitting the files and making calls. So far, we're trying to steer the boat and we're trying to avoid the reef."
According to Lewis-Brown, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has approved an expedited Notice of Personnel Action — or NOPA — process for teachers, making it easier for Education to get new hires on board and paid. She said further information on the NOPA process would have to come from Noreen Michael, acting Education commissioner. Michael did not return repeated calls leaving messages for her on Wednesday and Thursday.
Education spokeswoman Juel Anderson said the new NOPA process will make things easier for incoming teachers. "They're working really hard to get people in," she said of the Personnel Division. "People who accepted jobs — they're just going to rush their NOPA's through to get them in for school."
Anderson said the school system should have enough staff for the Aug. 27 start of the school year. And with adequate staff, she said, a shortage of substitutes will not be an immediate problem. Orientation for new students has already begun at several schools, she said.
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