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Schools Suffering from Staff Shortages

Aug. 28, 2006 — The territory's public school system opened for the year with 110 staff vacancies, according to Education Department Human Resources Director Alcess Lewis-Brown. She said Monday that the department has about 1,400 teachers and 17,000 students.
She said the vacancies exist for a variety of reasons. "Some people just didn't come back," she said, adding that this situation occurs every year.
Lewis-Brown said that in some cases, teachers wait until school starts for the next year to turn in their resignation because they don't want their health insurance to lapse. She said that although they may have found other jobs, a lag often exists before the new health insurance policy kicks in.
She said that some teachers don't give ample notice because they fear they won't get paid through the summer if they quit when school ends. However, she said that isn't the case and teachers do get paid.
She said that about a dozen teachers turned in their resignations in the last 10 days.
Additionally, she said that 23 people hired from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines are still "in the pipeline" of getting their immigration paperwork processed.
Lewis-Brown said that she screened 10 more teachers over the weekend, but said that they will need approval by the superintendents before they get hired.
She said that although people apply for jobs, they are not qualified unless they can meet the requirements of the No Student Left Behind Act, which mandates that teachers be qualified in their field.
Lewis-Brown said the department needs special education teachers, speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists, as well as elementary, social studies, math and reading teachers. The department also is short on librarians, music teachers and school nurses.
She said she is doing an assessment to fine tune the numbers where the department is short teachers.
Lewis-Brown said that Education Department staff members with teaching credentials will probably be called upon to fill in some gaps.
"A math coach may have to teach a math class," she said.
She said the department will call on its pool of substitute teachers. "And some retirees have agreed to substitute."
Lewis-Brown said superintendents are looking at using technology to combine classes, for example, in subjects like calculus. She said there are usually only a small number of students taking that subject at each school.
Lewis-Brown said the Human Resources Department also suffers from shortages. She said several people quit in both the St. Thomas and St. Croix offices. She said they told her the workload was very heavy and the pay small.
She also said that problems in the building meant the department had to move several times over the summer, which increased the stress on her staff.

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