School districts facing staffing challenges ahead of new academic year

School districts facing staffing challenges ahead of new academic year
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 10:28 PM EDT
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(WGGB/WSHM) -- Many local school districts are facing staffing challenges and will open their doors to students with several positions left unfilled.

“Our administrative team has interviewed like crazy over the summer,” said Lori Lyncosky, president of the Westfield Education Association.

At the start of the summer, Westfield Public Schools had 30 open teaching positions.

“We had enough openings that everybody, at the beginning of the year, knew that for interviews, it was going to be a full court press in order to get bodies in classrooms,” Lyncosky added.

Lyncosky is still trying to fill her own position – sixth grade STEM teacher —as she moves to a new role. COVID-19 funding allowed Westfield Intermediate school to add four math interventionists. The positions were filled by existing teachers, including Lyncosky.

“Those were gaping holes right away. When you know that you have a small pool to start with, now you have one school that has four openings, that’s huge,” Lyncosky noted.

She said if the district can’t find a stem teacher to fill the role, she’s willing to go back to the classroom.

“I would go. It’s what we do in order to make sure that our team is functioning and is fully ready for capacity for the first day of school,” Lyncosky explained.

She’s not the only teacher impacted by shortages this year. It’s a nationwide problem fueled by an exodus of educators over the pandemic. A June survey by the American Federation of Teachers found that 74 percent of teachers were dissatisfied with the job. That was up from 41 percent in 2020. Also, 40 percent said they’d probably leave the profession in the next two years.

“People could have been easily become overwhelmed and so I think that added to the layers of why people might’ve left the profession, I don’t think it was the only thing that caused it,” Lyncosky said.

Springfield Public Schools’ website listed more than 100 job openings in the past month alone. Superintendent Daniel Warwick wouldn’t said how many vacancies there are, but said in a statement, he told:

“At this time, we do not expect a debilitating shortage of teachers as we open our doors this fall.”

The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents doesn’t track this data, but said that while they’re hearing of some teacher shortages:

“The bigger issue seems to be teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and other staff positions.”

That’s the case in West Springfield, which still has job listings for at least five paraprofessionals.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is the paraprofessionals, the uncertified staff who are integrally important to serving and meeting the needs of our students in the classroom,” said Vito Perrone, interim superintendent of West Springfield Public Schools.

Lyncosky, a former para herself, said these roles are fundamental.

“If we don’t have support personnel, our districts don’t run, so what does that mean? That means that everybody is going to be working harder and faster than they ever have,” Lyncosky said.

Chicopee Public Schools said in a statement that they are “still looking to hire several different positions across the district, especially special education.”

There are more than a dozen job listings for special education teachers on Chicopee’s website. Districts across the board cite recruitment as an obstacle.

“It’s always a challenge to get them in the door when Springfield and Agawam and all the other districts are also looking,” Perrone noted.

Lyncosky, who sits on an interview committee, said they’re vying for candidates who are also applying to other schools within the district and across western Massachusetts.

“The pool is shallow when you start thinking about how many positions and how many districts we’re up against,” Lyncosky added.

Despite all this, she said teachers are excited to start a fresh year with students’ needs at the forefront.

“We want people to feel welcome when they come into our classrooms. We want our bulletin boards done, we want everything to be ready for the kids because that’s who this is for,” Lyncosky explained.