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SF curbs teacher shortage with new recruitment programs

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SFUSD is starting off this school year with only five open positions for classroom teachers, down from last year’s 38.(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco Unified School District has hired enough teachers for nearly all of its classrooms, resuming instruction today with only five open positions for in-classroom teachers.

Last year, comparatively, the school district scrambled to fill some 38 open positions by the first day of school, according to SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe.

“Last year we went in with 38 classrooms where we had to place teachers on special assignment or assign substitutes,” Blythe said.

The five remaining openings are for special education teachers, with the exception of one middle school science and one high school teacher for the hospitality and tourism industry, Blythe said. All positions are the result of late resignations “that came in last week,” she added.

But as of Aug. 14, 31 positions for non-classroom based but certificated educators — such as coaches, special assignment teachers — as well as a slew of non-teaching staff positions, in the school district remained vacant.

The City’s housing crisis has made current teacher salaries unsustainable for many. Since January, the district has been entrenched in labor negotiations with United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers labor union, which among other things is asking for a 16 percent increase in teacher salaries over the next three years, according to its president, Lita Blanc.

“It’s affordability — the big issue is that San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States,” said Blanc. “Especially for our young members who average less than $30,000 a year — they are holding on by a thread.”

San Francisco hasn’t been the only district stricken by a teacher shortage. A statewide survey conducted last year by the Learning Policy Institute in partnership with the California School Board Association found that 75 percent of California’s school districts were experiencing shortages.

“We think that trends in the state are worsening,” said Tara Kini, director of state policy at the institute.

Locally, Blythe said recruitment in the areas of special education, secondary math and science, as well as physical education and bilingual education, is most difficult.

But the district has developed some seemingly effective credentialing programs to help address this crisis and funnel previously uncertificated but aspiring teachers with experience in the school system into classroom teaching positions.

Launched this summer, Pathway to Teaching is a six-week cohort focused on equity and achievement, placing individuals who have experience working in classrooms, such as teachers’ aides or after school program instructors, in impacted classrooms for training.

“They will be placed in classrooms this year … and will be training throughout the year but will be the teacher of record, a paid teacher, in a classroom,” said Blythe, adding that some 95 people have been placed through that program and are en route to earning credentials.

Since 2010, the district has also offered a Teacher Residency program in which participants are subject to a year-long apprenticeship and matched with a mentor. A three-year teaching commitment is required to earning credentials in San Francisco.

“That gives us a pipeline of new teachers every year,” said Blythe, adding that the district has “invested more money in it and double the number of participants since its inception.”

The district has also shaken loose some of its traditionally strict hiring preferences, allowing for early hires in advance of open positions, she said.

“If somebody seems like they are going to be a great candidate we can make them a job offer in January even if we don’t know what all the positions are,” said Blythe. “So it’s a little risky, but … we have been able to capture more candidates.”

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