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HELP WANTED: Halifax schools face teacher shortage

SoVaNow.com / June 14, 2021
The Halifax County Public Schools website currently lists 71 available positions to be filled before school starts back up in August — 67 teaching and support staff positions, three administrative openings and a job as a substitute school nurse.

“I am worried about it,” admits Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg.

Lineburg said he and the Central Office administration staff “will work through” the looming staff shortage, but observed that Halifax schools are hardly alone in dealing with an employment crunch.

“This year, for whatever reason, we’ve had more [departures] than we’ve had before. I think a lot of divisions right now are having a hard time getting to 100% capacity,” said Lineburg, adding that he hears from other division superintendents around Virginia who are grappling with similar personnel shortages.

“I’ve checked with colleagues across the Commonwealth and a lot of them are reporting higher turnover,” he said.

A combination of factors — low pay, burnout, and the shock of having to adapt to dramatically different teaching methods in response to the pandemic — seems to be contributing to the staffing shortage.

“I think this year has been extremely difficult on folks,” especially with the sense of isolation that arose as teachers and students turned to virtual education in place of face-to-face contact, Lineburg said. “You feel like you’re disconnected from everybody because you just went into your room and taught. Teachers had to teach some pretty different methods this year. They had face-to-face, virtual, and then they had the packets [to prepare to send home to students]. That was a pretty difficult ask.”

Teachers interviewed for this story brought up another big problem: the low salaries paid by Halifax County Public Schools.

Lineburg acknowledged the issue: “Our number one problem is compensation and it has been for some time. It’s one of the six goals in the School Board’s action plan, to raise pay levels.

“Teacher salaries have gone up 13 percent since I’ve been here [beginning in mid-2017],” Lineburg added. “We’ve had pay increases every year. And I know there were years when there were no pay increases [for school staff]. We’ve tried to do everything in our power to address that.”

Despite these efforts, several teachers — each speaking anonymously to protect their job status — said they knew of colleagues who have left for higher pay and better conditions elsewhere. Some are leaving themselves.

“A lot of teachers are driving to other school districts that are within a 30-minute commute because they’re being offered significant pay increases and smaller classroom sizes. I know one of the high school teachers was offered a job in a neighboring county, with a ten-minute increase to their commute, at a $14,000 increase in salary, and will have a significantly smaller class size,” stated one teacher.

“I think if they” — central office administrators — “do not find a solution to lighten teacher loads and increase pay, there will be more to leave the county,” the teacher said.

The School Board has taken additional steps this year to address the pay gap: giving teachers a combined pay increase of more than four percent, partly by adding a step to the step pay salary scale and partly by raising base salaries by three percent, and giving out a $600 “hazard pay” bonus using federal CARES Act funds. But teachers say those steps still leave Halifax at a major disadvantage.

One high school teacher, who will continue to teach at HCHS, has worked for more than 20 years, holds a Master’s degree, and has completed multiple graduate hours in their specialized field of education. Fellow teachers who are leaving for jobs elsewhere have about ten years’ experience and will earn more than $50,000 at their new schools, which is more than this teacher earns.

There are at least three Halifax County High School teachers who are leaving for more money for jobs in Roxboro, N.C. One of these teachers shared their reasons anonymously.

“The increase in starting salary had a lot to do with my transition. It saddens me to leave, I will miss my HCHS family, but it’s time for me to go. I feel like I’ve been looked over for promotions each time I applied. I feel like it is the good ol’ boy system and only those born and raised [in Halifax County] get promoted, and that’s not about race,” said the departing HCHS teacher.

One veteran high school teacher stated, “Most I know who are leaving [are doing so] because they can make more money elsewhere. It is not a problem with the administration.”

The pandemic saddled teachers with a whirlwind of demands this academic year. Teachers had to figure out how to prepare instructions and provide lessons through Google Classroom and Canvas, another online teaching platform. On top of that, teachers had regular surveys to fill out, almost weekly, from the Central Office, on how their students were faring in class. The $600 bonus was awarded by the School Board in recognition of the pressures that teachers encountered.

Still, other divisions have done even better: Pittsylvania County Public Schools paid two rounds of bonuses, totaling $2,500, and Danville Public Schools recently announced another bonus of $1,500, to be paid out through teachers’ December paychecks.

Several teachers expressed another concern: the fact they have not received new contracts for the coming school year.

Lineburg acknowledged that the Central Office has been late to issue teacher contracts for the 2021-22 school year. “If they didn’t go out Friday, they’ll go out [Monday],” he said.

“Our schedule is delayed from where it’s been in the past,” he added, but Lineburg noted that everything has run late this year: “We’re not out of school yet. We didn’t start school until after Labor Day and we’re still in school.”

Teachers, well aware of the depletion in their ranks, said the uncertainty around hiring causes them to wonder if the school division won’t be forced to increase class sizes in the next school year.

“Typically, we would have our contracts by now, and I’m concerned about the furlough clause the administration added last year,” said one elementary school teacher, adding the administration could decide to keep class sizes large and furlough teachers to save money.

With many teaching positions available, class sizes could increase — “large class sizes would be a disservice to the student and the teacher,” said the elementary school teacher. But, “in this line of work, you just hope to sign your contract and do what they tell you to do — there is not much choice.”

Lineburg said he will do everything in his power to avoid a significant increase in class sizes.

“You try to avoid increasing class sizes unless it’s tied to some kind of long-term benefit like [higher] pay,” he said. While larger classes “is always a possibility,” Lineburg said there are some factors working in the school division’s favor — such as the number of students, possibly as many as 250, who will be staying home in the 2021-22 school year after opting for virtual education.

“That doesn’t sound like much — five percent of our student body — but I think it will help to alleviate the problem,” he said.

Lineburg said the administration is also thinking about how it can encourage teachers to stay here notwithstanding differences in pay with nearby school divisions. It helps that Halifax County Public Schools has seen stability with its administration, at the Central Office level and with the principals who lead school communities.

“There has been no administration turnover in three years. This reflects our stability and philosophy of maintaining and taking care of our employees,” he said.

“You’ve got to make people feel like they’re part of a team,” Lineburg said. “We have good folks here. We’ll try to figure out ways we can learn from this year and get better. I’m concerned but we’ll work through it.”

The large number of current openings also reflects a number of backlogged positions from last year, which HCPS was not required to fill because of the pandemic. Some areas of need are more acute than others: “We always worry about our workforce for English, Math, and Special Education” teachers, said Lineburg.

Currently HCHS has openings for teachers in English, Spanish,math, science, art, robotics programing, landscaping, JROTC assistant instructor, nursing, sports medicine, and special education. The middle school needs to hire teachers for English, math, French, art, special education, and a library media specialist. Sinai Elementary needs an elementary special education teacher. Various teachers are needed for the Gifted EGP program, six special education positions, and one elementary school teaching position.

Non-teaching degree positions, also known as paraprofessionals, are needed for special education at Clays Mill, Cluster Springs, Sinai, South Boston and Scottsburg and HCHS and HCMS. Both Scottsburg and Sydnor Jennings are looking to hire a reading/math tutor.

Available administration positions are assistant principal at HCMS, associate principal at HCMS, and director of transportation. There are two positions posted for the HCPS Virtual Academy: one lead teacher and one GED instructor. The school website list 11 maintenance and operation positions and two bus drivers.

To view the entire list of job postings visit https://www.halifax.k12.va.us/news/all and click on the employment tab found on the left side of the website.



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Comments

Who in their right mind would want the job? Can't punish kids. Central office staff gets all the fat paychecks while the teachers do all the work. Halifax does not promote from within, they got outside. Low morale. Glad my kids are grown, my grand kids will either be home schooled or private school

Comments

Crappy job and no support from Admin in many cases.

Pay scale is stupid and was set up by morons.

Comments

BUT HEY, LET’S BUILD A SHINEY NEW SUPER EXPENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL THAT WE CANNOT AFFORD. TO HELL WITH THE TEACHERS AND STUDENTS, WE GOTTA HAVE A NEW HIGH SCHOOL!!!!


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