From Texas Public Radio:
This is the second part of a three part about the shortage of teachers in San Antonio. Read the first and third parts.
This May, a union representing teachers and support staff of the San Antonio Independent School District held a rally outside the district’s headquarters.
“If you’re in favor of raising workers’ wages, let me hear you out,” union president Alejandra Lopez shouted to applause.
After a hard year of dealing with a shortage of substitutes and hundreds of vacancies in every department, they had a message for the student council.
“We’re here to show the board of directors that they must demonstrate their commitment to the district’s employees by prioritizing pay increases to attract and retain the highly skilled staff our students deserve,” Lopez said.
School boards across San Antonio have heeded that call, approving allowances ranging from $1,000 to $3,600 for teachers.
But when the new school year began in August, there were significantly more job openings in San Antonio districts than last year: at least 772, according to TPR analysis of data from 12 San Antonio school districts. This is almost double the number of vacancies in the districts a year earlier.
Due to the sharp increase in the shortage of local teachers, it is difficult to say whether the increase has affected them. But some areas with the biggest allowances and the highest salaries managed to avoid the increase in the number of vacancies.
Judson ISD, which increased the starting salary of teachers by $3,650, managed to keep the vacancy rate at about the same level as a year earlier: 2.9%.
But the most dramatic change in vacancy rate was the Edgewood ISD neighborhood on San Antonio’s West Side.
Last year, the district had 12% of vacancies. Edgewood didn’t have them this year.
Edgewood officials are crediting their success with two raises approved by the board over the summer.
“It made a big difference because the first raise that was approved was before the date of termination without penalty,” said Mary Cantu, director of human resources at Edgewood.
“It was wonderful. It was just an amazing day,” Cantu said.
One of the reasons for Edgewood’s success—besides the raises—may be that the county knows how to recruit. Like many high-poverty areas, they had a high turnover even before the pandemic.
They already have many initiatives to keep the teachers flowing, such as the “grow your own” program.
This fall, in a bilingual fifth-grade classroom on the West Side of San Antonio, freshman teacher Janie Delgado sat in a circle with a small group of her students and went over a dictionary.
It’s Delgado’s first official year of teaching, but she’s not new to the class. She worked as a paraprofessional at the same Edgewood Elementary School for 27 years. She already knows her students because she was their kindergarten teacher until the district was able to hire a certified teacher five years ago.
“So we have chemistry and I have a connection with them,” Delgado said. “I have a connection with the families because they have known me for such a long time too.”
It’s hard to imagine a freshman teacher with more classroom experience than her. The problem is that most teachers with alternative certifications have far less experience than she does, making them more likely to quit after a year or two. And to really address the teacher shortage, school districts must figure out how to retain more of their teachers, not just hire new ones.
Cantu said the first promotion helped Edgewood retain more teachers, while the second helped hire more. While most San Antonio counties saw a spike in teacher layoffs over the summer, turnover in Edgewood has remained about the same.
“We’ve been very aggressive in recruiting and that’s helped a lot because we’ve really seen an increase in teacher applicant attendance at our last two job fairs.”
The second raise, approved in July, netted them $58,000 for a freshman teacher, the second highest salary in Bexar County. The board also approved a $3,000 signing bonus.
Cantu said Edgewood also ran a targeted social media campaign and distributed flyers to universities and alternative certification programs to make sure newly certified teachers were aware of the raises and incentives.
And it worked—they hired their last five teachers at a job fair they had on the Saturday before the first day of school.
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