by Jane S. Bray, Dean of ODU Darden College of Education and Melinda J. Boone, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools
secondary English, and secondary history and social science.
All grades have shortages of school counselors and teachers of foreign languages, and health and physical education.
During the Governor’s Summit on Teaching in October, leaders announced that the commonwealth had more than 1,000 vacant teaching positions, compared with 800 unfilled positions the year before.
Hard-to-staff schools and positions are primarily located in urban areas, such as the city of Norfolk. While this may pose considerable challenges, all is not lost. Institutions of higher education and K-12 schools must cooperate to find innovative solutions.
One such solution is the Teacher in Residence (TIR) program, a collaboration between Old Dominion University’s Darden College of Education and Norfolk Public Schools.
The program takes a holistic approach in preparing future educators for teaching in the public school system. It has been a highly successful coordinated approach where teacher candidates learn essential skills necessary to engage diverse populations of students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
As a result, NPS has been provided a surplus of middle school science and mathematics teachers. This has had immediate positive effects for students and morale in the hard-to-staff schools in which these teachers are serving.
But this program is not enough. Discussions around the teacher shortage have recently shifted. Institutional leaders are now focusing on how the crisis is a devastating economic issue for communities.
Schools form the foundation for workforce development, and teacher shortages hurt the growth and development of the future workforce. Education must be viewed as an asset and a means to improve the local economy, not as a liability.
As the ninth-largest employer in the city of Norfolk, NPS has about 5,300 employees and an annual payroll of $190 million. Many NPS graduates enter the workforce after completing high school, work in Norfolk during their college years and remain in the community after earning a degree.
Moreover, 12.5 percent of NPS graduates choose to further their education locally at Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Wesleyan University or Tidewater Community College.
The new governor of Virginia has expressed a firm commitment to addressing teacher shortages and teacher quality.
We implore him and all our state legislators to think strategically about education as a core service worthy of investment. To return to a time when teaching was considered one of the most sought-after professions, we need high-quality programs that make teaching, especially in these critical shortage areas, an attractive option again.
The success of the program is explicitly connected to steady and reliable funding. Even during these economically challenging times, NPS seeks a more equitable school funding formula where the fiscal commitment is shared among all the stakeholders, the institutions of higher education, the school division and the commonwealth.
Currently, the TIR program is funded on an annual basis with no firm commitment for future funding. Adding the funding as a line item in the state education budget would be a more reliable solution and would provide adequate time for planning, recruitment, marketing and execution. Once this is established, the TIR program would grow to address other critical shortage areas and help secure the program’s long-term sustainability.
The teacher shortage is heavily affected by high turnover. To keep teachers in the classroom, we must strategically mentor and support teachers after they enter the classroom. The TIR program provides an exemplary model for this.
As we work toward increasing retention rates to limit the troublesome revolving door, Virginia and its localities must choose to invest more in the public education system by supporting more programs such as the TIR partnership. It’s a solution that benefits our community and our economy.