Dressed in their first-day-of-school best, Julius E. Sprauve School students, teachers and St. Thomas/St. John district Superintendent Dionne Wells-Hedrington began the new school year on Tuesday.
Wells-Hedrington, who until last year served as Sprauve principal, was on hand to welcome the students. She said someone from the district office was at every school in the district.
“My office is empty,” she said.
Across the district, a lot of teacher and nurse positions are also vacant, she said.
Wells-Hedrington didn’t have the total figure of needed teachers at her fingertips but said there were quite a lot of shortages. The need was especially high in areas like English language learning, Spanish, art and social studies.
While Sprauve has a fifth-grade teacher vacancy, Wells said elementary school slots are easier to fill so she expected that the post won’t be vacant long.
“We always have elementary applicants,” she said.
Wells-Hedrington said the department put out feelers to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the mainland. She said Dominica was also on that list but the recent disaster likely put the kibosh to recruiting teachers from that island.
And the district’s substitute pool is filled with retired teachers, Wells-Hedrington said.
The district also needs 11 school nurses, spots that Wells-Hedrington said will be hard to fill because the hospitals pay more. She said that they’ll fill those spots on a temporary basis with retired nurses who will work on a per diem basis.
After the opening bell rang, Wells-Hedrington took her turn at the opening assembly. “I need you to understand that you need to be involved,” she told parents.
As school opened, many, many parents were there. Irvinia Esprit, mother of 13-year-old Kizelle Esprit, said she was glad school had opened and she was glad her daughter was prepared for the eighth grade.
Wells-Hedrington vowed to make sure that Sprauve had what it needs.
Principal Ellen Francois had no complaints. She said the school was power-washed, there was a new room for physical education and the school filled its vacant business teacher post. A busy woman on the first day of school, she quickly picked up the microphone to welcome the students.
“Good behavior is expected,” Francois told them.
Several students said while they were happy to be back so they could begin learning, there was also another reason to relish the start of school.
“I get to be with my friends,” said Joel Ogeda, 14.
John Griffith, also 14, was looking ahead. “I’m looking to pass to the ninth grade so I can do my best and go to college,” he said.
Teachers were ready too.
“I feel like I’m rested,” first-grade teacher Tracey Maish said, adding that she stocked up on school supplies while in the states.