Data shows teacher shortage in Scottsdale is not critical

(file photo)

For most, recounting a personal anecdote about one of your childhood teachers would be a somewhat simple task.

Perhaps third grade is when the class was taught to sing songs learning about the 50 states. Or, in high school the science teacher had a great sense of humor while dissecting a reptile.

For quite some time, but most certainly in recent years, myriad headlines surrounding the profession of teaching is hard to ignore.

One of the many certainties that school districts across the state face is the difficulty in hiring and retaining teachers — let alone individuals with a bachelor’s degree in teaching.

A two-year college program is beginning to bridge that gap by getting prospective teachers into the classroom in order to provide stability to those students who were at-risk of being without a teacher.

Last December a report released by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, called the teacher shortage here in Arizona severe. In 2016 the ASPAA shared survey results confirming the severe teacher shortage in Arizona. Four months into the school year, the shortage continues, they say.

159 school districts and charter schools throughout Arizona participated in a survey that showed 53 percent of teacher positions either remain vacant or were filled by individuals not meeting standard teaching requirements.

In ASPAA’s report, there were 8,343.5 full-time-equivalent teacher openings needed to be filled for the 2016-17 school year.

Arizona’s struggle

Justin Wing, past president of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association expressed that he believes the number of qualified teachers will be a problem for years to come.

Justin Wing

“What field has only half of their vacancies filled?” he asked during a Jan. 3 phone interview. “Unlike other office duties we can’t take on a little bit more. You can’t just leave 28-30 students.”

Districts throughout the country resolve their vacancies differently, including recruiting out of state, hiring internationally and providing bonuses.

Mr. Wing worries about the future of the profession, as the amount of unqualified teachers grow and more older employees — primarily those in the Baby Boomer generation — begin retiring.

“The state has reported that 25 percent of current teachers are going to retire soon,” Mr. Wing said. “Baby boomers who held off on retiring because of the recession, are now retiring.”

Additionally, state universities and colleges reported a 26 percent drop in the college of education, he said.

“More people are retiring and less people are coming in to take their place.”

The Scottsdale way

The Scottsdale Unified School District has not had quite as hard of a time as other districts throughout the state, SUSD officials contend.

A Jan. 10 records request by the Scottsdale Independent shows in school year 2014-15, and 2015-16, the district did not have any certified vacancies.

At the beginning of this school year the district had three positions where the individual was still working on their teaching certification when the school year started.

The district hired a total of 176 people for nearly 143 FTE openings to kick off the 2016-17 school year.

Full time equivalent, or FTE, defines how many classes a teacher instructs. A full-time teacher is a 1.0 FTE; while someone who only teaches four out of 5 classes is considered a .8 FTE.

“It’s different in Scottsdale,” said Scottsdale Unified School District Certified Staffing Coordinator Diane Ellett in a Jan. 10 phone interview. “We can generally find someone by day one, or get a substitute who is willing to start the certification process. It is hard to get these classroom vacancies filled.”

One such certification process, a teacher-in-residence program, is offered by Rio Salado College, and only applies within the state of Arizona. It allows students who already hold a bachelor’s degree to receive employment in a classroom while simultaneously completing their education coursework toward certification.

These programs are approved by the Arizona Department of Education.

“We will allow someone who is interested in teaching a specific area we will allow them to work as a substitute until they get enrolled in Rio Salado’s teacher-in-residence program,” said Ms. Ellett. “And it takes them time — they have to take an exam, get signed up and enrolled in classes.”

The benefits of this program include being able to earn money while working through the program.

“While they get paid a daily rate, as oppose to a salary and receiving benefits, it starts them earning some money — and being there on the first day with their kids,” said Ms. Ellett.

In the eyes of SUSD, a vacancy is any position that needs to be filled.

(file photo)

“Obviously we have vacancies — we just get them filled,” she said. “If we don’t get them filled the principals will get creative.”

Using alternative methods to fill an empty classroom is just a part of the job, said Ms. Ellett.

“We do have troubles, we just get creative when we have to. Every district does,” Ms. Ellett explained.

In one instance, a high school needed a science teacher, and after not finding one the class was split up into five, and other teachers on campus took an extra teaching period.

This requires teachers to give up their prep-hour, but they are compensated.

“That’s how we go about solving those types of problems, which is generally why we don’t have vacancies.”

While Scottsdale has teachers joining and leaving the district every year, there is a healthy applicant pool, according to Ms. Ellett. She says the perception that Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun gives to outsiders naturally attracts employees.

“Scottsdale is an amazing town and people want to come here,” Ms. Ellett said. “We’re really fortunate people seek us out and we have a good applicant pool.”

A new surge

The teacher-in-residence intern certificate program at Rio Salado College is providing new employees for districts within the state by implementing a two-year program for professionals interested in teaching.

The program is available for people who have industry experience, work experience and a bachelor’s degree in a content area of some sort, said Faculty Chair of Education, Early Childhood & Human Development, and eLearning Design Jennifer Gresko in a Jan. 11 phone interview.

Although only a few years old, the program has had about 300 total students between both years one and two. This fall, however, the program surged with nearly 400 students, Ms. Gresko said.

“With the teacher shortage at hand, it helps that pipeline in bringing teachers to the classroom,” she said.

The program offers a partnership, essentially, between the student, the college and the district.

“They are in a program at an institution of higher education, they knew we’re responsible for mentoring, observing and evaluating those individuals as well as the school district,” she explained.

“One of the reasons districts came to like it was because they knew there would be some support with those new teachers. Not only do they have content knowledge, and then they have the foundation. Hopefully what they’re learning in their college courses they’re applying immediately into their classroom.”

Ultimately, the program is providing stability, said Ms. Gresko.

“Ideally it provides stability because in those classrooms if they would not have had a certified teacher, they could have had substitutes in and out, they could have had a longterm sub,” she said. “So with the intern program what it does for Arizona children is we hope we have a stable individual in the classroom who is supported by the institution of higher ed as well as support by the district.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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