Providence schools working to fill teacher vacancies with new hiring system

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Schools across the state are facing several challenges ahead of the new school year, including a teacher shortage in the middle of a pandemic.

For Providence schools, challenges include not being able to fully re-open as coronavirus cases in the city don’t meet the Governor’s threshold. It also includes filling more than 40 teaching position for when they do get the green light to start back up.

“We have significantly fewer teacher vacancies this year than we have in years past this time,” Laura Hart, the spokesperson for the Providence School District said. “That’s a good thing for us, especially when you consider that there’s a teacher shortage and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so having teacher staffing is super important.”

The Providence School district is working to fill 48 vacancies ahead of the year, including 25 classroom teachers, 21 non-classroom teachers and 2 district teacher leaders. All positions fall under the Providence Teachers Union.

This number is less than half compared to last year where the district faced 120 openings, 102 of which were classroom teachers.

“One of the reasons we are in this position, and it’s a good position to be in, is because this year, we started something called an accelerated hiring timeline,” Hart said.

In the old hiring system, open positions were determined in March. The district interviewed internal candidates within the union for those positions first. Those candidates could be teachers who were going to be displaced for the upcoming year or teachers who wanted to change positions within the district.

Hart says internal candidates who were not selected during the interview process were then placed in open positions, which sometimes took until May. That means they had to wait until May to recruit new talent, putting them behind other districts going for the same workforce pool.

In the new timeline, union members still get first crack at open positions. However, any position that remains open after the internal interview process can be posted externally, which means they could begin recruiting new talent in March.

Hart said remaining displaced teachers who were not selected during the interview process are still assigned positions, but now that will happen after the external hiring process.

“That doesn’t mean that those union members won’t get a job,” Hart said. “It’s just those placements won’t happen until after the external process, so they got placed in June instead of maybe April.”

The change in the Providence Teacher Union contract was made in a tie-breaking decision led by a neutral party. Hart says Peter McWalters was the agreed-upon neutral party and his decision allowed the district to enact the accelerated timeline.

Hart says the change came just in time as families struggle with the changes that COVID brings to the classroom.

“So what we have done is we’ve changed the process so that we can be more competitive sooner and it’s made a huge difference.”

As much as families depend on teachers this year, they’ll also depend on nurses. Hart says there are currently no open nursing positions.

With the coronavirus, nurses will now have a new task of placing students who feel sick in isolation rooms and connecting with parents to send them home.

Categories: News, Our Schools, Providence