By EMMA BARTLETT
With a national shortage of teachers, Rhode Island’s schools are no different and are still trying to recruit hires for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Anecdotally we are hearing of education workforce challenges across the state,” said Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Communications Director Victor Morente.
However, the agency can’t provide statewide data to shed light on staffing trends across the Ocean State.
“Individual districts would be best to share data as it is very fluid,” Morente said.
In Cranston Public Schools, the district is seeking to fill 30 vacant full-time/part-time paraprofessional positions, 10 custodial and utility positions and three teaching positions. To address shortages, CPS has been working with the (RIDE) to emergency certify eight individuals with one more pending.
CPS’s Crudale updated the School Committee about the district’s vacancies on Oct. 17.
“So we’re trying to explore emergency certification pathways so we can get people in the classrooms,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Michael Crudale at the School Committee’s Oct. 17 meeting.
Crudale said the emergency certifications are in the area of K-12 technology, library media specialists, art and middle school science. The district emergency certified physical education applicants in open science positions at the middle school level. The district had posted the middle school science jobs for three weeks and did not receive a single applicant.
“Phys Ed teachers have a background in science as far as their education is concerned, so RIDE tells them what to do to become fully certified in science,” Crudale said.
In order to obtain an emergency certification, a school district must post a job for a minimum of 30 days. In the event that a candidate has not been found, the district can send someone for an emergency certification which is good for one year. Cranston’s district does assist individuals in finding programs for a full certification, if they would like to pursue a full certification, though there is no monetary incentive.
CPS has non-stop postings on job websites such as SchoolSpring and Indeed for its 30 full-time and part-time paraprofessional support staff positions. The full-time paraprofessionals take on special education roles – working in either one-on-one positions, in self-contained classrooms or in inclusion settings. Part-time paraprofessional positions work as building aids and kindergarten aids and work three and a half hours; the district is looking to fill six kindergarten aid positions. Overall, the district has 243 paraprofessionals – 178 full-time and 65 part-time.
“Some of those are being filled with outside agencies but there are still vacancies within our school system,” Crudale said.
Crudale added that the district’s paraprofessional jobs are not specific to a position. The Special Education Department holds interviews and tries matching the candidates.
The district also has 10 vacancies in its custodial and utility crew – causing staff to work overtime to cover many of the vacancies which are night shifts.
Crudale said it’s not from a lack of trying.
“We have constant postings in School Spring and Indeed, we call applicants, bring them in for interviews and very few show,” Crudale said.
Just last week, there were eight individuals who were supposed to interview for one position and only one individual showed.
CPS also has a limited pool of substitutes at the elementary level. Crudale said the district tries assigning its substitutes to bigger schools – such as Cranston East, Cranston West and the middle schools – because of the amount of staff absences. While there are one or two daily substitutes at a school on a given day, the substitutes cannot cover every absence.
“If we have to, we have to pay staff to cover teachers who are out – especially those out long term,” Crudale said.
Day-to-day substitutes move from building to building to cover absenteeism. These substitutes must have an Associates Degree or Bachelor’s Degree and do not have to be certified in education. Or, they could have completed a minimum of two years of college in order to sub in.
Long term substitute positions are positions when the absenteeism is longer than four weeks. These individuals are reported to RIDE to let them know who the district has in front of students.
“A lot of people are finding jobs with all the openings, so it’s difficult to find people who want to take on substitute positions,” Crudale said.
In regards to vacancies in past years, Crudale stated the following: “In regards to past vacancies, I can say this year has been challenging. This being a national problem has certainly limited the employee pool. I feel good at this point that we have qualified teachers in front of our students. Right now the bigger issue is with support staff. Paraprofessionals, custodial etc…”
While Providence Public Schools have reported extremely high teacher vacancy rates, other towns and cities in the area have experienced deficits tied to specific education sectors.
“All of our classrooms are staffed at this point,” according to Johnston Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. “We have had difficulty recruiting and hiring special educators, math teachers and science teachers. There is also a shortage of substitute teachers to cover for absent teachers. We have had vacancies in our support staff positions such as teacher assistants, bus aides and monitors and custodial staff.”
Like employers across the nation, finding and hiring solid applicants has been challenging.
Compared to past years, “it has taken a longer period of time to fill positions and qualified applications are far fewer,” DiLullo explained.
Rory Schuler contributed to this article.